Friday, May 13, 2011


The quiet, old, musty-smelling, echoes of history. The library has survived fires, earthquakes, floods. This makes it biblical, mythological, the field of Elysium for the mind life.

I have come to this library in late spring to read, to write, to consider where my life is going. All the students have left, and I am alone with my thoughts, and the thoughts of those lining the shelves. Mute testimonies from another age. I hear the voices calling me. I walk between the stacks, selecting random volumes: 1909, 1921, 1894, 1910. The spines are creased and lined, the type worn away. I open the books and find some have not been checked out since the 1950s. There they sit, waiting patiently for someone to come along and bring them to life again by reading.

The library is a four-story affair built on the side of a hill. You enter on the third floor. Spanish colonial architecture, all arches and vaulted ceilings. This is the reading area, now filled with computer stations. Above is a sort of balcony fourth floor—open-air, lofty, overlooking the main floor. I take the elevator down. The second floor houses the audio-visual department and more computers as well as a warren of offices and work rooms. The first floor is my destination. The stacks. Far side, a long narrow room of tables, shelves of art books, and windows with a view of the Pacific Ocean only a few miles away. This is where I belong, my home. Outside the window, a twisted pine stands sentinel. I am the monk at my wooden table dedicated to a life of study and reflection, staring out the window at the world. Here I can think, reconsider, revise. Here, there are no cell phones or computers. Here, paper and leather binding rule the world. I am Charlemagne in my purple robe of thought. I am lost and I am found. I am a paradox. I contain multitudes.

I have been told over these last months that we must imagine the lives we want in order to create them. Somewhere, all our dreams exist. In the minutiae of the universe, every possibility occurs, fracturing space like cracked glass, radiating out in every direction. This is the life I want: solitary, monastic, a place for the written word, but not the spoken one. I long to take a vow of silence. I will remain on this perch at the library table until all my thoughts return, until everything makes sense again.

From here, I can see forever, on and on, until the earth curves and the sky ends in the sea. I can sense the rising columns of warm air, the coming of summer, all of history both forward and back. I can speak with Magellan and argue with Galileo. I can climb the steps of Montmartre, and dip into the Aegean Sea with Odysseus. I can laugh with Whitman and cry with Mary Magdalene. My soul splits like an atom with the force of megatons.

This is the house of questions with a million answers.

I will stay here forever, even after I am gone. This is the paradox—I am alive in the midst of dead trees that record millennia of human thought. I am joy in melancholia, summer in winter, dreaming when awake. The paradox is inexplicable, the angel at my table. This is the crystal moment in the plasma-pause of time. In the library on the hill, light is primordial, elemental, eternal. Ideas echo and double back, swirl and gather in the afternoon shadows. I listen to the whispers. I feel the acceleration of time, past, present, future. Every thought that ever existed, lives here and now. I am poised on the precipice of the universe, listening.

*Check out Vicky the Archivist's discussion of my post and the library here. Vicky writes a wonderful blog about the life of an archivist in this digital age.  For those of us in love with books, printed matter and photography, her work makes for interesting reading.


  1. Great piece, Paul. I also am a lover of libraries, but I don't think I could express that as poetically as you. Good to know there are others like me out there.

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  3. To quote Dickinson, "So there's a pair of us..." I suspect there are a lot more than two of us library lovers out there. We must continue to haunt the stacks so they don't close up shop and ship the books away. I am afraid I will wake up one morning to find the library torn down, the books gone, and a Walmart constructed in its place. Perish the thought! Thanks for the comment.

  4. Of course, and in a stunning use of the double negative, we are not nobody. Pass it on in a whisper, seeing that we are in the library of the mind.

  5. Why did I not see this before? (Too busy?) Thanks, belatedly, for describing the wonderful place where we hang out. There aren't too many libraries that allow their books to wait so patiently to be looked at and appreciated. Deo gratias.

    I'm going to point my library students to this post.

  6. Thanks for your kind words, Vicky. I almost feel embarrassed about my days in the library. You all must be wondering how I have so much time to hang around. Truth is, it feels like home to me. All too soon I will be back to work, but for now, I love the chance to read, write, and study in the library. And I appreciate when you enlighten me about the archives and your work to preserve the books and Mount history. I find it extremely interesting. So thank you for also being a good teacher and your students are very lucky.

  7. I almost cried reading this. You expressed my sentiments exactly. I love that house of questions, it provides the warmest shelter with it's million answers.


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