The brightest sunshine in the darkest labyrinths.
The Library Book.
I carried the beautifully-designed orange hardback in through the front doors and started to deposit in the book drop, and then decided I couldn’t do it; marching up to the front I found a raven-haired young woman typing important things into a computer. She smiled as I approached.
”I just finished this book” - I held it up -
I continued, “I cannot in good conscience return this without telling you how great it is. I don’t know what kind of books you enjoy, but you work here so it’s required that you love books and I have to tell you: this book, “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean is soooo good. It’s a non-fiction story of the big library fire in Los Angeles in the 1980s and it covers all kinds of ground in talking about the history of libraries and the role they play in the world today and how they’re relevant and it’s just…so compelling and wonderful.”
Her patient grin grew bigger as I finally put a period on the sentence. “I read it!” she said. “And I love it too! I loved it!”
“You read it?!” I said. “Seriously? I am so happy to hear that.”
That is what I said, and that is what she said, and we spoke for a short minute, a shorter minute than I would have liked, as I was accompanied by a young intern (not yet two) anxious to do some research on food books and Alan Moore comics, so the interchange was simple and short, and I exited with a recommendation:
“I’m an eclectic reader,” she warned. “It’s a novel, more of a fantasy book, not non-fiction, but it’s called “A Darker Shade of Magic.” It’s by V.E. Schwab and is inventive, magical…it’s a wonderful book too. Entirely different than Orlean’s book, but really good as well.”
“Thank you,” I said, as I scribbled the title and author on one of my scraps of paper.
I’ll tell you about them sometime.
OK, paranoid human.
After racing down the labyrinths adjacent to a convergence of adult fiction and adult non-fiction, he grabbed a large softcover of The Simpsons and a slightly-smaller one of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen comic book and raced to the opposite end where there is a table with a little sign that says something to the effect of : Eat here. In the children’s section.
He plumped himself down, pulled out his lunchbox, as it was only two hours until noon, and frantically squished a fourth of an oozing PBJ sandwich into his mouth. I lunged for the books and barely averted them from sticky disaster, swearing him to complete his pre-lunch lunch before stickily burying himself into books belonging to the public good.
He finally finished, and was mightily distracted by a primary colored, thick book about food that was not written by Alan Moore.
Two additional notes:
1. Yes, I have been watching Damien Lindelof’s HBO take on Watchmen; a television adaptation that, to my understanding, does not have co-creator Alan Moore’s approval. Lindelof’s interpretation, two episodes in, is…really good. But that’s not the point. Does it not seem, more and more, as if you go from a private conversation with someone, and then suddenly you have references to things you’ve discussed showing up all over the place shortly thereafter? I know there’s a psychological phenomenon that places this into a “it’s a mind trick” category…but in this age of always-on surveillance, live streaming, Alexis-listening…big data really does have us in their scope. Constantly. So I was watching Watchmen, and the next day our son (who most definitely did not watch Watchmen, to my knowledge) grabbed a copy of Watchmen off the shelf, and they’re totally disconnected, right? Right. Coincidence. I’m reaching…right?
2. He did not share his sandwich with me.
I have two, and so do you (ideally).
Occasionally I hear something nice about what I write.
It feels good. Thank you to those who let me know. It means a lot. I’m going to say thank you again in a minute (see below).
I also shoot. With a camera. I have been documenting, filming, recording, capturing, for pushing twenty years.
People have sometimes asked what are my strengths as a photographer, and I would say what makes me a decent photographer is also the strength I bring to scrawling thoughts, dialogues, and stories.
My ears. Listening.
I’ve got pretty subpar vision.
But I’ve got pretty good hearing.
More importantly I try, I try,
I try to listen.
To be ready for moments, but also to give attention and focus to what’s happening around. Awareness.
If I’m interacting with someone, to give it - the best I can give with children frequently floating, dancing, interrupting - the best attention I can give.
To be off my phone. That’s a good start. Like 100% of the rest of the world, I cannot simultaneously engage to the best of my ability with another person when I’m also darting back and forth between them and my phone.
Listening and the giving of attention is one of the great foundations of many, many creators in the past.
And I believe, no matter how technology changes our lives, that those things will be more important than ever.
that I’m getting addicted to eBay.
There’s an iPhone 10,
she said with a gleamy dreamy smile,
for ten dollars.
Go read a book.
In fact, go read one of Roald Dahl’s short stories that are not for kids. It’s time for you to read Lamb to the Slaughter.
And left, and I envy the time she has to read and read and read,
and be ordered to do so by someone.
Later, I’m going to sneak behind a closet door and whiz through a couple pages of Lincoln in the Bardo, which my friend Lindsay not only recommended highly, but went so far as to bring her pristine copy and demand that I dive into. Which I shall.
And ideally return it pristine.
Regarding people who read what I write.
I have had a big uptick in traffic since posting The Road to Gilead recently. Thank you for reading, and for your comments that have come to me in various forms over the last week. Thank you greatly.
I have heard from:
Washington, Oregon, California,
Florida, Texas, Arizona, Colorado,
Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan,
Virginia, Montana, South Carolina, Pennsylvania,
Connecticut, Wisconsin, Tennessee,
North Carolina, New York, Georgia,
Kansas, Ohio, Hawaii, New Jersey,
Utah, Maryland, Idaho, Arkansas,
South Dakota, Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana,
Mississippi, Alaska, Oklahoma,
North Dakota, Nevada, Wyoming,
Missouri, Rhode Island, Indiana,
As well as:
Morocco, Canada, Australia,
United Kingdom, Japan, South Africa,
Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, India,
Romania, Portugal, Serbia,
Dominican Republic, Sweden, China,
Thank you. THANK YOU!
If I was to break down my writing process into percentages, it would likely look something like this:
in my head.
what I want to say…
in my head.
moving thoughts from head onto paper or screen,
i.e. the physical act of actually writing
(finally to the ‘not in my head’ point).
5 or 6%
the intangibles and forgottens.
“I sort of wish I needed glasses,”
she said, ambling down the hallway.
”I think I’ll start reading in the dark. That damages your eyes, right?”
This is how I erase : I don’t (that’s what crossing out is for).
I walk around everyday with crinkled crumpled scraps or paper in my pocket. When I have a delicious bit of conversation, or overhear a spot of fascinating dialogues, or ram together two ideas or stories in my head that simply must be remembered…
…I scribble them on one of my scraps. That’s what helps me remember.
I always plan to empty my pockets at the end of the day. But it doesn’t usually work that way. I get around to it eventually, and start piecing together my notes and editing, and…
You might wonder:
…”wouldn’t it make more sense to just keep notes on your phone?”
I would say.
”But then I wouldn’t have scraps in my pocket to write on.”
I am more interested in the imperfections of memory than the sterile and absolute coldness of reality. Writing on paper, and writing on my typewriter forces me to slow down and edit imaginatively, thoughtfully, brutally about what’s important. It’s so much easier to leap around on a computer; to delete and back up and start over. And sometimes what’s easier is not better.
The long shadows of a cloudy rainbow, part I.
I went to libraries long before I knew her; I spent large chunks of my childhood buried and immersed in libraries. But the sixteen years she spent working in the library I went to most frequently was a not-inconsequential part of the connection I built with her. She loved books and ideas and culture and people; things which every good library person must love. Things I love.
Then she was gone, and I still love libraries. I always will. But yet. The pounding thud of memory is a heavy boot.
The long shadows of a cloudy rainbow, part II.
I want her to read The Library Book someday, and maybe have a chat about it over coffee - or sticky PB-jelly sandwiches - at an undersize children’s table in a public library. A wholly discordant and illogical place to have a chit-chat about a deep-researched and thoughtful adult book. Which means it’s the perfect place on a too-sunshiny day.
There’s an app for that.
“Something smells interesting,”
I said. “How’s your diaper?”
”My diaper is doing well,”
he said, looking up.
“Well,” I said carefully, breathing in the morning sunshine, and other aromas. “I don’t think it’s been changed this morning, and I think we need to.”
“We don’t need to,” he said confidently.
“We do.” I said confidently.
“If I were to guess, I would guess it hasn’t been changed in about six months,” I continued. “That’s how certain I am, based on what I smell, that we need to change your diaper.”
“Mama already changed it.” he said with a sudden burst of memory.
“Mama is not here.” I said. “She couldn’t have changed it.”
He thought carefully about this for a few seconds, and then suddenly his memory flooded back:
”She changed it!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Mama changed my diaper over the phone!”
Technology is simply amazing.
She hates rainbows too.
“I just realised,” I said as we exited the library hand in grubby hand, “that I really like you.”
”I like you.”
He said, looking up at the October blue.
“And I like sunshine.”
We strolled across a quarter-dead parking lot in silence, until he jauntily ripped the quiet.
“Mama said she doesn’t like sunshine.” He grinned up at me. “And I do like sunshine. And she does not.”
“Mama is funny.” I said. “Sometimes she doesn’t like it to be too hot. But I know what you mean. We’ll have to ask her about that one.”
He laughed much more enthusiastically than my comment deserved, and he wiggled out of his jacket and grabbed a book on food he’d just borrowed from the library. I hope he properly checked it out. Library police are hardcore.
If you work at the public library, you are hardcore. Thank you. We’ll try to return all books minus the jelly.