I love that at the library anyone can find a book to suit their taste. It’s a place where people can privately explore secret interests or openly celebrate their favorite passions. For me, the library is a place of comfort, discovery, and sanctuary. Where I can be alone with my thoughts or tucked away in a corner with a Beloved book. This haven of books and the magic they hold will always be my home base.
I have fond memories of visiting the library as a kid. Sitting between the shelves, reading comics with my friends. The joy of discovering a favorite new author. The pride of finishing a book that I was considered too young to read. Yet my favorite experience in a library happened when I was an adult. A couple years ago, I had the chance to work in the library After Dark.
I had decided to take part in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. During the month of November, participants in NaNoWriMo were challenged to write a novel, or at least fifty thousand words, in thirty days. At first, the challenge seemed to be A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor.
Let Me Be Frank With You, I wasn't sure I could do it. I love telling stories but I've always found more enjoyment in imagining those stories than actually writing them down. I've got dozens of notebook pages and word documents filled with ideas. Fantasy worlds plotted, interesting characters designed, and complex narratives story lined. Unfortunately, whenever I set out to turn my ideas into actual stories, I'd run out of steam halfway through and leave the piece unfinished.
Despite my doubts, on the first day of November I started turning one of my ideas for a fantasy epic into a completed novel. Within the first week, I was caught up in The Grip of It. I was on pace to finish by the end of the month. I soon discovered that my town had a local NaNoWriMo group and leaned on them for support when I felt my pace or enthusiasm begin to lag.
The thing that excited me most about the writing group was that they were holding an after-hours event at the library. The library would be serving pizza, soda, coffee, Cakes and Ale. There were even prizes for the people who managed to write the most words during the event.
This write-in was held in the library's private reading room. A room I didn't realize even existed. It was on the library's fourth floor in an area I once thought to be off limits to library patrons. With my laptop bag on my shoulder, I filled my plate with food and made my way into the private reading room. From the moment I stepped through The Door, I knew I was In a Perfect World for writing.
I was instantly hit with the sensation that we were Creatures in an aquarium. The outer wall of the reading room was all glass. The large windows started at the floor and curved into partial skylights on the ceiling. The room's bright lights contrasted with the dark night outside, turning the windows into mirrors. My own reflection watched me as I got out my laptop and quickly ate my food.
Invigorated by the energy in the room, I powered up my laptop and began writing. Words flowed from my brain into my fingertips. I wrote a chapter where conspirators meet In a Dark, Dark Wood. Hidden in shadow, they speak of The Prophets' predictions and the Good Omens suggested by their prophecies.
During the three-hour event, I wrote over four thousand words. The most I've ever written in a single sitting. There were other writers in the group who managed to write even more than that during the event. Even though I ended up winning Nothing, I walked out with a sense of accomplishment and a newfound confidence. From that day forward, I had no trouble turning my ideas into fully realized stories. Whenever I found myself stuck on a chapter or unable to come up with a story's conclusion, I'd head to the library. There, sitting in the quiet, inspiration always finds me.
People often think this is odd, but one of my favorite things to do on vacation or when I'm On the Road for work, is to stop by the local library of whichever place I'm visiting. I find the differences in architecture and book collections between libraries fascinating. I got in the habit of visiting libraries while traveling after the death of a loved one.
A Death in the Family may seem like an unusual catalyst for such an activity but being a hundred miles away from my home base left me desperate to find a temporary outpost. A week after my cousin Garrett passed away from cancer, his family held a funeral in the small town of Lebanon.
It proved to be an emotional day. Garrett's passing was the first time someone close to me had died. At the funeral it fell to me to comfort my aunt Helen. She was devasted after the loss of her only child. Throughout the service I wanted to be strong for her, so I forced myself to Choke back my tears.
Later, at the cemetery, it got even harder for me to hold it together. As Garrett's coffin was lowered into the ground, I watched Aunt Helen fall to her knees and let out an anguished Cry to Heaven. The pastor had assured us that since Garrett had lived a good, Christian life, his soul would avoid A Lush and Seething Hell. I tried to take comfort in the thought that now Garrett would get To Live Forever in paradise.
Too emotionally exhausted to drive home afterward, I checked into a cheap motel before setting off on foot to grab dinner from a nearby restaurant. The easiest option was the McDonald's across The Road, but I decided against it. A group of rough looking Vagabonds were milling about in front of the restaurant, picking cans out of The Ditch.
Wanting to avoid any hassle, I looked around for another dining option. In the Distance I saw the sign of a takeout place called Number One Chinese Restaurant. As I waited to cross a side street on my way to the restaurant, I looked up the hill and saw the city's library. Instantly drawn to it, I abandoned my dinner plans and made my way up the hill.
I would soon learn that the building at the top of the hill didn't just house a library. It was also a museum celebrating the rich history of Route 66 and the Lineage of towns like Lebanon that sprung up alongside the storied interstate. I took a few laps around the library floor, scouting out the size and location of each literary section. Then I headed into the museum.
The history of Route 66 and Lebanon was laid out in chronological order. I stood and marveled at an old car in the center of the first room. I wandered further into the museum and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders temporarily made me forget the day's sadness. I finished my circuit of the museum and then returned to the library section of the building.
I stood in between two aisles of shelves in the fiction section and felt a Shiver run through my entire body. The stress and emotion of the day finally caught up with me. I sank onto a bench and wept. As I cried, the librarians set about closing the library around me. They let me be, obviously sensing that I needed the space.
Finally, when the staff were ready to close the building for the night and head home, one of the librarians approached me. She placed a hand on my shoulder and gently told me that the library was closed and I needed to leave. I stood up and followed her toward the front doors. Before the librarian closed the door behind me, she said, “Every Heart a Doorway, let your sorrow flow. It'll be alright, everything will be okay” Then she locked the door and I headed down the hill. As I returned to my hotel I felt comfort wash over me.
Due to the power of that experience, whenever I visited a new place I always made time to check out the local library. If you're looking for quiet inspiration or you're A Stranger in a Strange Land, the library and the books it holds will always be there for you. The library is my home base. Perhaps it can be yours too.