Thursday, December 27, 2012

the library, and step on it

I do things like get in a taxi and say, "The library, and step on it.”

David Foster WallaceInfinite Jest

Well, speaking of the library - my return to work will be this evening. The holidays always make me feel delicate, fragile, shattered, held.....but I think it's this way for many people. And maybe some of them make their way to the library - that particular spot of comfort and safety. I sometimes wonder if I can really remember how libraries make a person feel, because I've worked in so many of them, off and on since I was in my early twenties. When you work in a library, your approach to them is different. For example, you walk in via the back door, most often. I don't usually get the early morning shift, but when you do, the library is empty, quiet, the place is humming with anticipation. At night, especially in the winter, you turn off the lights, and I swear the place is full - of thought-noise, a residue hum of everyone that was there in the course of the day. The books absorb it all and sit fluffed up, purring on the shelves. I've been listening to John Cage lately, and reading his book, Silence and also the biography on him. (Both in recommended reading, above). Thinking about silence, in the context of the library. How the public library isn't very often quiet, and this makes some people more comfortable, and perturbs others. For some, the quiet of libraries can be so full of noise. I remember trying to study at the university library - how full of noise that sort of quiet can be. How, I've spent years, wishing for silence, an exterior silence, when what one needs to cultivate is an inner silence.


Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. 

{a thank you to those of you who read and commented on my poem essay below....means a lot to me....xo S.)


  1. What a wonderful image of the books fluffed up and purring! I just found my old library card from EPL and is soft from repeated use

  2. Yes, back to work. As I'm sure you know your blog is an accompaniment with my morning coffee and this post has got to be one of my favourite. It has that feeling of coming off a winter vacation – a combination of hesitancy, anticipation and even a tad bit of regret.

    I especially find these lines to be true when I to into a library, as a patron and stroll down rarely used aisles: “The books absorb it all and sit fluffed up, purring on the shelves.” And, the last half hour before closing “I swear the place is full - of thought-noise, a residue hum of everyone that was there in the course of the day.”

    While seeking silence for so very long, I must admit when I come close I usually veer towards noise. I understand noise. To use and appreciate silence is, I think, something learned and I am not there yet, however, the journey is proving to be interesting with challenges and discoveries along the way. Often, it feels like I'm taking one step forward and a couple back, but what other choice do I have but to continue.

    When seeking silence, I often go (when not working) to the art gallery on a week day morning or a favourite bookstore or I sit alone in the condo in the morning by the window. That little fellow sitting on my shoulder yelling at me to get up and do something - I flick him to the ground, although, I find he has sticky feet.

    Thank you Shawna

  3. Margaret - I think it's so lovely that you still have your EPL card!

    Pat - I love your thoughts on seeking silence, but understanding noise. Wonderful images of you in a gallery or bookstore. And the stick footed fellow. And it is a journey - the path where I walk the dog is beside a busy road - busier all the time. It's noisy. I used to find it deafening. But somehow, the noise if falling away - or I can better withstand it. Perhaps one day I won't hear it at all....


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