Trip to the bindery…

I know I haven’t written lately, mostly because I’ve been busy this year getting my life back on track . Defense, commencement, parents coming in, job applications, more job applications, article draft, revisions… And here we are. And no, my life is still not on track, but it is getting there. My summer was a big blur, not sure how it passed. Somehow during that time a lot of things/people disappeared from my life, some of them for good. But finally the graduate school approved of my format revisions, I had my page numbering in correct order, I had my acceptance page in the right place, I had my complete CV, a synopsis, etc… After numerous back-and-forths with the graduate division, the dissertation was finally approved in July. My only requirement was to get it bound and leave a copy to my department. It was only two months later that I had time to even consider it. I checked the site and it said that I can get my dissertation bound in Smith Bindery. I diligently copied its address, noted the phone number, checked their hours/days (which weren’t that long) and gave them a call. When I finally reached them, a lady answered the phone and asked several questions regarding the page count, title length, etc. When I asked her how much it would cost, she asked, “Are you sitting down?” Apparently, I wrote too much.

At any rate, two days ago I decided to take my dissertation to Smith Bindery. Apparently, it is a yellow little house that blends in and disappears into thin air in the middle of the town. When I finally found it, I was stunned. I was expecting something like IU Print House (which was nearby) but instead found this dingy little old house with a broken sign on its door that was barely visible, let alone legible. When I walked in I got a distinct smell of books, not the new kind, but the kind that I used to smell when I was browsing the used bookstores Istanbul. A smell of dust, paper, ink… This was a very old house with wooden floors that creaked as you waked and had a narrow stairs that went somewhere that I wasn’t able to see. In addition to books that were either already bound or were about to be bound, there were paintings, bunch of stuff, not sure what. I assumed the paintings were there to be framed.

As I rang the old-fashioned bell to ask for assistance, I marveled at the place. It was straight out of a Dickens novel, in the middle of the town, unnoticed, untouched, a historical landmark discovered perhaps mostly by graduate students who were trying to get their dissertation bound like me. The lady with whom I spoke on the phone appeared, I don’t know from where, there wasn’t enough room to move and said “Oh good, you found the place.” A very elegant woman with curly gray hair, seemed younger than she really was. I made a comment about the sign not being visible and she said that it was recently broken in half and she never got around to fixing it. I gave her my dissertation. She looked at the front page, shuffled the papers several times, first asked me where I got it copied and then asked me how I pronounced my last name. Then she looked at the weird “g” in my last name and said “Well that half moon on your “g” may be hard to find, not sure I have it,” hoping that I would say “don’t worry about it.” But I didn’t. It was an important part of my name and I wanted that to be there. I looked at her and I said “It took me four years to write this thing. The least you can do is to find me half a moon.” She understood. She probably understood how much effort went into writing that, how much grief, pain, and joy was involved in producing that, but she said “Well, it’s gonna cost you extra… six dollars. I’ll have to make this thing.” I didn’t care, by god I was going to have the half moon on my name as it was meant to be written. I thought to myself, I deserved it.

While she was filling out the paper work, which, by the way, was being hand-written on a carbon sheet of paper (something I hadn’t seen done in ages), she asked me the usual questions. Where was I from, how long had I been in Bloomington, was I thinking of going back, etc… All of which were extremely annoying questions that I normally tried not to engage in. I wasn’t one to make small talk, I just wanted to get the transaction done. But since she seemed like a very pleasant old-fashioned woman, I answered her questions politely.Then I started asking her questions because it seemed like it was the polite thing to do. She told me she had started working with Mr. Smith (by golly! there is a Mr.Smith, who knew?) since she was 17 in 1971 and she had been there since then. The bindery used to be located somewhere else, but was moved to this house even before she started working for Mr. Smith. I thought to myself, no wonder the place smells like used bookstore. She brought her drawer of leads to see if she had a half moon and started picking up each one to see if any of them would be used to make the letter. Apparently, she was making most of the binding and lettering herself, a process that took 8 weeks. As she handed me the carbon copy of the receipt, she informed me that not only she only accepted cash or check, but that she wanted at least half the payment up front. While I was writing the check, it dawned on me that this was the best check I had ever written. I said so as I handed it to her. She asked me how long I had been in the graduate program. I said twelve. When I was got up to head out the door, I said “It was nice doing business with you.” She asked, ” Are you staying here?” Another very annoying question that keeps coming up. I thought about it. Did I want to stay here? After twelve years, all the hardship I endured, all the papers I wrote, all the classes of taught, all the heartbreaks I had, all the friends I made, all the joys and disappointments I experienced, my answer was a definite no. I gained friends here, I lost friends here, I lost my first dog here, I went through numerous relationships here, I lived in numerous apartments here, I laughed here, I cried here, and now, I wanted a clean break. A new life: Control+Alt+Del. Twelve years ago, I had come to Bloomington from Istanbul with nothing but two suitcases, I left everything behind me, and now, I wanted to do the same. After some pause I told her probably not. “What are you going to do? Where are you going?” Again, I thought about it briefly. I had no idea where I was going and what I was doing. I said “Where ever the job takes me, I guess,” then blurted out a strategic phrase that I hoped would end the conversation: “I am weighing my options” which, of course, I had no idea what it meant. She looked at me long and deep, probably sensed the hesitance in my voice. Maybe she sensed that I didn’t believe in anything I had said. Maybe she realized that I was about to begin a new chapter in my life. After a brief pause, she said “You’ll be fine.” She didn’t just mean it as encouragement, but rather, as if she looked into my eyes and saw the ambition, persistence, and the desire to want more, or maybe she even saw my future, who knows? As I came out the door, I told myself “I’ll be fine,” and believed it. I was still was not sure if I what I had experienced there really happened or if the house really existed.

Update (Dec 10, 09): When I went back to pick my dissertation up, the place was open but she wasn’t in. After calling for her, I decided to pick up my dissertation and leave the rest of the payment on her desk. But I took some pictures of the place… Though I must say, the flash light totally kills the ambiance of the place 🙁


The front entrance with the broken sign on the side of the door.

Front entrance

Door from the inside


Interior stairs

Interior with bound dissertations in view. The thick one on the left-hand side is mine.


My dissertation and the trophy that my chair’s husband made for me: Don Quixote with a laptop that says “Second Life.” The summary of my dissertation 😛


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