Today the librarians locked me in the Locarno Library. At 12:28 p.m. the librarian motioned for me to end my Internet session. I shut down, thanked him and heard the 12:30 bells ring. There are always some church or city hall bells ringing here to make you constantly aware of time. I walked down two flights of stairs and when I got to the inner glass doors, they were locked. The downstairs librarians had left. Shops, libraries, city offices – shut down here from 12:30 until 2:30. It’s a tradition in much of Europe. I immediately ran up the two flights of stairs to catch the other librarian, but by the time I arrived he was gone too!
I searched for another exit. None. I looked around, called out in a loud voice among the books familiar only with subdued whispers. It was no later than 12:32, but the place was deserted. I took the elevator down to the first floor (as the librarian must have done) and found myself inside a locked conference room. The first floor in Europe is usually the second floor in the U.S. They call the first floor 0 and in my panic I had forgotten. By the time I raced back, the elevator had sped off. I banged on the door and called out to see if anyone left inside the sacred halls of institutional quiet might save me from a lunchtime alone among the stacks staring at mouthwatering cookbooks and dreaming of risotto ai porcini or pizza quattro staggione.
My heart sped up. My voice echoed down the elevator shaft. Don’t panic, I repeated to myself. There’s no reason to panic. But I’d had claustrophbia as a child and my nightmares consisted of being locked in department stores, stuffed in closets, tucked away in a trunk where no one would find me. From below I heard voices, keys rattling. Noises that stirred hope of release from this intellectual prison. I yelled with desperation. "C’e qualcuno?" Is someone there? "Aiuto." Help. "Sono sul primo piano." I’m on the first floor. But still no response. Finally a voice echoed up. "Arriviamo." We’re coming.
Mike was waiting on the sidewalk outside. He had caught the last librarians locking the thick medieval doors on their way out and asked if they had seen me. They sheepishly returned and set me free.
Time demands respect. In Switzerland a minute late means being locked in or missing the train. In writing too, minutes count. One editor I write for adds a 9:00 a.m.
time deadline to the date and threatens to pay 20 percent less if I’m late (which I haven’t been). In the morning I sit down to write untiil noon and I sometimes feel more motivated to meet the deadlines of immediate demands rather than focus on the long term writing work that requires reflection, experimentation and is somewhere in an unknown publication time. It’s harder to respect my own individual deadlines than those imposed from outside. But a few minutes a day can make a huge difference. Minutes add up to hours and one thousand words a day during two months means 60,000 words – a good basis for a novel or a non-fiction book. All it requires is discipline and commitment. Staying on time may also keep you out of locked places – especially in Svizzera (Switzerland), the home of wrist-watch precision, where trains run and offices close at punctual intervals and the coo coos sing their wall-clock song in the distance. Coo coo.
Copyright, Debra Moffitt, 2008 www.debramoffitt.com