Thursday, January 15, 2009

Third Floor at the Library


I discovered the warmth of the Concord Library and the two tables on the third floor two weeks ago. An entire upper floor devoted to the 600s and 700s hides an enclave for the writer who wants solitude. I am sitting on a faux green leather chair--to my right an open space looks down upon a reading lounge--to my left a six shelf stack of books the length of the room. I've selected the seat closest to the stacks and away from the view of anyone in the lounge. A woman passes, looks my way and then hurries on to the furthest reaches of the third floor. By the time the architects arrived on the upper floor they settled for a plain plan with pipes painted the same white as the walls. I am seated under a water sprinkler.


The Boston Public Library exudes confidence in its collection and public service. Yet an old woman died in the library when she wandered away from a group and opened a door, entered a hallway, perhaps closet, perhaps the entrance to a warren of hallways, and could not open the door back to the starting place. It is said that the people she knew looked for her inside the library and then beyond the library. She was forgetful and probably wandered away. I guess there are many doors leading to rarely used places in the library because she wasn't found for days or was it weeks. In time someone opened the door to her self imposed catacomb, notified her relatives, and suggested some alterations to the Boston Public Library. Is that a true story or an urban myth?


Two lions protect the New York Public Library.

They’re a common meeting place, "I'll meet you in front of the lion."

Many of the books, when I went to college in New York City, remained in stacks away from greasy, sweaty, or oily hands and away from the fiend who tore pages out and left with the purloined pages in a backpack or under a shirt. The collection was so vast that allowing everyone to roam unassisted might create turmoil in the stacks. I remember filling out request slips, handing them in and then waiting patiently. One day I waited for twenty minutes before approaching the desk. "The book you’re looking for," said the librarian, "is gone." What does gone mean? Did someone else have that tome or was it something far worse.


Because I was in Salem for the day and had seen the usual tourist attractions I sought something off beat. I ended up at a library that housed some of the original depositions used in the Salem witch trials. I identified myself as a writer interested in writing about Rebecca Nurse--one of the women accused of being a witch. After producing a number two pencil and a yellow pad and listening to the instructions for handling the document, I was escorted to a large polished mahogany table. A huge book was brought to the table and opened to the depositions against Rebecca. I recall the sepia colored ink and the handwriting that defied my ability to read more than a few words per line, but enough to fear for Rebecca--for the volume of words against these women threw me back to those times.


Libraries reflect the tastes of those who purchase the books. My home library has a vast collection of graphic novels and the history of the early comic book artists. The head librarian's particular expertise is the graphic novel and its place in history. I recall that comic books weren't banned in my home, but they weren't given a stamp of approval. Yet when I had an illness that kept me in bed for several weeks my parents purchased comic books because I couldn't read for any length of time. Besides the heroes and heroines of the comics became part of my fantasy play. But it was the book I had borrowed from the local library that supplied most of my role-playing stories --Nobody's Boy and Nobody's Girl. The librarian had suggested those two books.


The librarian passes by with her rolling cart and the books to be shelved. I imagine a book sitting on a shelf for years with no takers, no one to peruse the words an author wrote hoping for an audience—the plot of a tragedy.


The library is also the place that encourages subterfuge. My bottle of water, wrapped in a plastic bag from Shaw's Grocery, is hidden in my purple backpack. I sip water when I don't hear footfalls.

Monday, January 12, 2009


A Treasure Trove

I've found a treasure trove accidentally. It started simply enough when I wanted to find a book of Chinese Paintings and then intended to stay in the 700 room and write. That's the room in the Concord library that stores the 700 books, several tables and computers. It's warm and quiet there --womb like.

Today all the tables were occupied in the 700 room. I found two books and headed to the second floor where fiction and non-fiction to 699 is stored. Again--”serious” students or cold residents occupied all the tables.

I went upstairs to the 800 and 900 stacks. A man, several books and the ubiquitous computer occupied one table and the other table was empty. I was both hungry and thirsty and intended to stay long enough to do some quick writing.

Another man has just entered. He's wearing a beret and carrying a briefcase--probably encasing a computer. He eyed my table because the only available spot was a much smaller table with a less comfortable chair and facing a blank wall.

The treasure trove is to my left. I am seated next to shelves containing books about writing. From here I note Francine Prose's book about reading as a writer, a favorite.

Cocking my head sideways allows me to read some of the catchy titles like The Sinless Writing or Will My Name Be Shouted Out?

Erroneous title--when I approached the shelf the Sinless Writing disappeared. Possibly the letters close up morphed into something else.

I did find Carol Bly's book on writing non-fiction. I'm noting some of her techniques: instead of saying," Ask yourself questions about your writing she's quite specific".

"What would be a specific example of the generic noun I just put down?" I call that naming.

Naming is powerful and it can be ruthless.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Path

I am connected to the accepted ways of welcoming in the New Year. I check the experts who pick the best books of the previous year and find several books I want to read. Then I wonder at some of the picks--favorites of reviewers, darlings to the critics. Too many critics accept the mantle of selecting the best, the “push the envelope style”, the author, the musician, the poet, the football player to keep in your sight.

I read the news analysts who both look back and project forward. They remind me of the horrors of war, the broken truces, the genocides, the religious strife, what leaders are in and who has been ousted. They offer possibilities for the following year--we'll continue to flounder economically, we'll make a slow recovery. Our social agenda will be mired in the fear of moving too quickly, our social agenda will be on a springboard ready to usher in a new tomorrow. And they will unfurl a list of accomplishments, of bravery, of brilliance.

The Globe lists those who died. This, again, is a selective list. Your grandfather won't make this list. Perhaps your grandfather made the list. My grandfather painted the interior of houses.

Yesterday I went to the American Heritage Museum to see Sherman's portraits of Ellis Island immigrants. Portraits without names. Some have handwritten notes. "This family went to North Dakota" "Tattooed stowaway. Deported." Only Emma Goldman's portrait has a name "Emma Goldman, anarchist, deported." Did any of those people make a list? —maybe their children or grandchildren.

Have you made your New Year's list? If no one reminded us to create resolutions, if no one suggested that the new year, like the first day of school, meant new beginnings, if we didn't believe in new beginnings, would we make lists of resolutions?

When I taught learning disabled students they brought their new notebooks to school the first day. One student said, "It only takes a day for my book to look like last year's book. The teacher talks and I try to take notes and I'm lost." New just doesn't happen without some intervention, instruction, grace.

My list of resolutions— influenced by what is around me, by my flights of desire, and the myriad possibilities in the universe. Many items on the list will plummet to the ground because, to quote C.K. Chesterton, they were too hard and I gave up. A few will take root--everything must have some roots to succeed.

Every year I have a food wish--eat healthy foods, abjure excessive sugar, and lose five pounds.

Send out two pieces a month. Hallow the time when I write,

Write more poems. Love words for their acrobatic nuances, their connection to time, and their bridge to the past. Read broadly, expansively. Put down a book that doesn't ring true for me. Forget the critic.

Stanley Kunitz says of poetry, "The craft that I admire most manifests a form of spiritual testimony."

I signed up for a drawing course. Usually I don't put in the effort to progress beyond a shaded apple--put in the effort, move, finally to where my sketches say something.

Keep up with my online teaching.

Be open to change. Grow as a spiritual person. What does God want me to be doing? That doesn't mean a supine position waiting for some intergalactic message. It means be open to the universe and the small still voice that can't be heard if I'm surrounded by the cacophony of my own business.

But I still can't help listing:

I want to walk and hear the earth inhale and exhale --but I'll accept the days when concrete is under my feet.

I want to read a book a day, but realize that impossibility, so I'll read as many as I can and put down a book if it doesn't resonate.

I want to climb a high mountain and stand on the top--but I'll accept the lower mountain and relish the sweat poring down my back.

I want to wander in new places

I want what I do to be meaningful

I want to continue to love and be loved