Like most people, places and things, the Somerville Library would be beautiful if it were only lit correctly. The peeling paint could acquire an antique charm, the missing ceiling tiles a sense of mystery, of the forgotten, and the painted horse engravings edging the wall could occupy a fascinating territory between ballroom and barnyard — at once unassuming and glamorous, sparkling with champagne, chandeliers and hay dust.
It could be the kind of place you run away to.
And running away, at least a few times a week, is very important. Woolf claimed that all it takes is a room of one’s own, but that doesn’t quite cut it. What we really need is a fort. A place for tree bark and invisibility, a secret place, sheltered by leaves: the kind of room you need a ladder to access.
Admittedly, I do not know the precise recipe for “correct lighting” — the necessary placements, angles, intensities and limitations or lack thereof on the color spectrum. But if there’s one thing we can all agree is certain, it’s that high-ceilinged fluorescent overhead lights are simply never involved.
The Somerville library is a small, three-story square sitting on top of a green hill with reasonable views of Boston and suburbia, and it’s lit with the kind of poison that makes you simultaneously want to leave right away, and forget how. Not unlike depression. I’d traversed the third floor at least three times before I realized I’d seen these people and places before. The air was stagnant, the quietude heavy, the faded armchairs worn and bent with butt potholes. Two floors away, ancient keyboards sounded a subtle, dooming percussion. I plunked down at a table near a large window and began to work.
“Uh, holdonholdon hold on,” I said to myself with some alarm. ” . . . What are you doing, again?”
“Right . . . ”
“You’re reading 330 pages of magazine listings, so you can figure out where to send things. To publish them. Because that’s how people who write become writers.”
“Ah, of course. Hey, thanks.”
“Okay . . . then. So! I’ll just . . . um, open this book, I guess, and . . .”
“Say, as long as we’re speaking, allow me to suggest that you write something really worthwhile today. Something impressive. Beginnings are important; momentum is crucial.”
“Hmm. You’re probably right. I should prove myself. Like immediately.”
“And you should make a game plan, for the future. Like tomorrow. What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Christ, I hadn’t even thought of tomorrow!”
“And there will be days after tomorrow.”
“Yeah, but. For some reason I feel better about those.”
“Probably because you can put them off.”
“Hah! You know me too well.”
“You should keep a journal, too, just to make sure you write something, every day.”
“. . . right.”
“Hey, I’m bored and it’s depressingly dimbright in here. Can I leave?”
There was a time in my life when I loved libraries, but that was a time long before required reading and paper writing. I relished every book, every nook and cranny into which I could curl my skeletal limbs. But for a long time now, the main feature and drawback of the library has been its silence: stillness numbs my ears and weighs heavily upon my eyelids. My brains begin to feel like overcooked noodles. This is a place for work, the library says to me, sternly. Shhhhh.
Five hours and eighty pages of magazine listings later, I felt justified in leaving. I had . . . uh, websites, to look up. Things to type. I stumbled squinting through the library doors, back to reality. Bird were chirping, people were peopling, a wind began to blow — every sensation came as a shock. The breeze shook my bones and tore through my hair.
Holy Jesus, there are leaves, I thought. Oh my God, sidewalk. Buses, cars, noise, noise NOISE I love it noise!
I began to run.