Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Afternoon at the Library

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Alexandria library, escaping some noisy work being done at my house (and, yes, the siren songs of email and internet). I’ve been to this library a couple of times, and I am always struck by how silent it is. The design is modern and open with vaulted ceilings, so it’s echoey—but I find it remarkable how little there is to echo. A cell phone going off—and quickly silenced—is like an explosion of sound. There was a crying baby, and a couple brief conversations, but mostly this library is like the libraries you might remember from the past, where “Shhh” was both a word and a way of life.

What’s also amazing to me is that this library usually is PACKED. If you arrive too late in the day, you can’t get a carrel, unless it’s a carrel that has no chair or no light or some other flaw. Maybe the city of Alexandria should have built a bigger building, but I like to think that this library is crowded because it is meeting its goal: usefully serving many purposes to many people. (I love the goofy “teen sanctuary” nook with paperbacks and bean bag chairs slouched on the floor…once or twice I’ve actually seen a real, live teen in there, though one guy was sleeping and another time a girl was listening to her iPod, no books or homework in sight.)

I guess that’s one thing about today’s libraries—though this one is as silent as the library I remember going to growing up back in the day, a large percentage of people are not there for the books. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t even have a library card. We’re there because we want a quiet place to get work done (laptops abound in the carrels), or for wireless, or for the free, public access to the internet. In fact, when I arrived this morning, I was surprised that the parking lot was virtually deserted. Turns out the public computers had been scheduled to be down for an upgrade that morning…but once they were back up in the afternoon, the place filled up again. There is never an empty computer terminal, never. I presume everyone is researching important things like the man whose screen showed an image of a woman wearing a garter belt I passed by….as I said, many purposes to many people.

But I like the change of scenery. I think changing things up is important in the creative writing process. After I finished my work for the day, I stopped by the periodicals room (not as cozy as “teen sanctuary” but some comfy chairs) and skimmed an issue of The Writer magazine and came across these quotes in an interview with author Rick Moody. Both seemed very apt for my day spent in the library:

“I like to revise on the subway sometimes [in New York City]. I find the subway enormously conducive to correcting drafts of things.”

I often find answers to tough writing problems while I’m staring out the metro window, but I never thought about actually revising while riding public transportation. I’m intrigued by the thought….

And this, also from Rick Moody, reminding us of what it’s all about:

“Tenacity and talent are important in equal measure. I have seen truly great aspiring writers lose heart along the way, and that’s to the detriment of literature as a whole. So stick to it, do the work, and make the practice of the craft your goal. The practice of it will never disappoint you, though the market will come and go.”

The practice of it will never disappoint you. So true.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.