On a low chair with a blue plastic seat riveted to metal legs I sat beside a unisex restroom for three hours. I smuggled a twenty ounce thermos and a small blue enamel mug into the library that day. I knew the rules, “no food or drink,” but I promised myself not to spill. I mounted the front steps, gave a nod to the statue of Eleanor Porter’s Pollyanna (more on this absurdity in future pieces), and swept through the double doors, eyes low. The one time I had a question, maybe six weeks back, I was ignored. Now every time I enter a lovely middle aged woman of one library kind or another asks me if I need anything or if I have any questions. I smile broadly behind dark sunglasses and take a sharp turn to the lower, less populated level of the building.
“A writer has to write.”
“Just blog for those guys or some other folks, at least you’ll be writing.”
“I’ve heard that Stephen King forces himself to write 5,000 words a day, no matter what.”
These are just some of the pieces of advice left on my voicemail or sent to me scribbled in greeting cards clearly purchased on a whim while the sender was growing ever more frustrated in line at the post office. If I said I started writing to attract chicks I would only be half lying… So I’ve dodged obligatory conversation with the front desk librarian and swooshed down the stairs to my favorite basement desk. Here’s the truth about the Littleton Public Library: there are three basement desks, two foot by three foot white particle board affairs shoved against white-painted foundation walls, but there is usually only one chair. I don’t know why I can’t stand having my back to doorways or crowds, but the quiet doorway and total lack of crowds that is the basement of the Littleton Public Library is no different for me. No matter what, I choose the sad little desk near the bathroom corner to set up. It is there that I drag the creaky child’s chair, and there where I scribble out pieces like this.
I’ll be honest on the following two points: I’m channeling a sort of Rob Gordon thing right now, indeed I have the library’s copy of Hornsby’s High Fidelity sitting amongst my things. And I’m writing this piece about libraries because I figured it would buy me two weeks until my next deadline when I plan to really think of something heartfelt and relevant to Staying, Working, and Playing in New Hampshire. But for now, stay with me on this.
Over educated and underpaid, struggling for stimulation in the doldrums of my mid-thirties, I still have my public library to hold me in her arms and tell me, “Shhhhh, it’s alright, you take as long as you need to figure your stuff out.” As I find myself having less and less direction and more and more free time, I have been driving around the state to different libraries where I spend the better part of a day. (I feel like this cause is noble and that helps me to ask people for a little gas money to propel me on these self indulgent odysseys.) Today, low on gas, I decided to hit my local library, the place I have avoided for so long because what if I were recognized? What if I had to explain why I am dashing to the basement, wearing a nice jacket with an Arizona Flag lapel pin and the elbows covered with iron-on suede patches? It’s hidden from judgement, in the lowest level of the library, next to the bathroom, where I find solace.
The hipsters have their laptops plugged in at Starbucks, the poets scribble in Moleskine notebooks at the bookstore coffee shop, the scholars work at home or quietly highlight long passages in diners while their coffee gets cold, I write in the library and sneak sips from a metal cup I brought with me that I keep hidden beneath a copy of Hornsby for fear that the librarian may catch me and then ask me to leave and I have nowhere else to go just now where they will let me sit quietly without ordering something. But I’m on a schedule too. I put my last bit of US currency into the meter out front, $0.50 that gets me two hours in the library before my car is ticketed $5 for a meter violation. I have to head home at five today anyway because my parents are coming over for dinner (see: making sure I get a healthy meal in me once in a while).
The North Country of New Hampshire offers mountains and trails, downtowns and restaurants, and the too often overlooked public library. I know people who have lived in the state of Arizona for decades and still felt no great pull to visit the Grand Canyon. I admit, I lived just outside of Littleton for five years before I visited the Public Library. As we near closing time I will try to connect these points with equal parts clarity and brevity: Visitors often look out over the ruddy maw of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado with some internal knowledge that they are expected to be impressed, perhaps even enjoy a deep epiphany as was my first experience of the ancient gorge. Some are awestruck and silent, others exhilarated, some dismiss the wonder as just a big hole. It’s these last folks that I want to focus on. It’s this kind of mind that may also view a library as just a bunch of books. And that is a tragically cynical and reductionist outlook for anybody of any age to have on anything.
When I needed exposure to an unbridled, indeed even dangerous, sense of adventure that would make my mind stutter and force my muscles and heart to step up and do the interpreting of what lay before me, I found the Canyon. When my intellect was atrophying and I realized I couldn’t just wander trails until somebody wrote me a check for the novel I haven’t polished enough to share with anybody but my dog, I went to the library. Public libraries are the coffee shops for the broke, the scholarly office for the broken, and the world of wonder for those willing to see more than a bunch of books. So if it’s a weekday and I owe you a couple bucks for gas, seek me out in the Littleton Library, maybe drop a dime in the meter near my old Outback, come down and sit by the bathroom; we can share my green tea and discover the myriad of ideas that will never be brought up in a Starbucks.