My Mind Library

March 1, 2016 § Leave a comment


About a week ago, the copycats and I were discussing our mind palaces. The places we go to think through ideas and solve puzzles. I already wrote about my unhappy place, so I think it’s time to talk about my mind library.

I first explored my mind library several years ago, in a poem I wrote about the imagination contained in a so-called commonplace notebook:

And it is there in the library of thoughtful books
that gently age on their sun-warm shelves.
There in the gloaming dim, with its dust motes cascading in golden highways,
leading to that eternal resting bench – on the hill, in June.

My mind library is in Oxford. It’s in a very old room, long and quite thin. The shelves reach the ceiling and require ladders to reach the highest and oldest books. It’s quite a light room but dappled, throwing certain corners into comforting and enveloping shade. The sun that illuminates other parts falls in golden blades; late afternoon sun but still with some warmth if you wanted to lounge on a window seat.

Looking out of a mullioned window with skinny glass, pooling at the bottom of the pane, you’d see a bustling street and beyond that, a perfectly green quadrangle shimmering in the late August light. It’s strange, but up here, you can’t hear a thing. The only sound is the gentle sigh of the pages you turn and perhaps the spitting of the fire when a log shifts.

I come here when I have a problem to solve in my writing. Searching for a solution, I’ll cross-reference all the books and articles and poems and blogs and notes and conversations I’ve been lucky enough to store away over the years I’ve been collecting for my library. They’ll converge and dance, rewriting each other into the right answer.

[Commonplacing is a relevant concept here. From a lecture by Steven Berlin Johnson:

…all of this magic was predicated on one thing: that the words could be copied, re-arranged, put to surprising new uses in surprising new contexts. By stitching together passages written by multiple authors, without their explicit permission or consultation, some new awareness could take shape.

And this is how I learned to write. Copying and remixing. I still write poetry like this, pulling out bits and pieces of things I’ve been reading. Perhaps it’s how I write everything. After all, there is nothing new and I only have at my disposal the same words everyone else has. That’s what makes this a craft: base metal into gold.]

Sometimes a visit to my library is a peaceful browse over the shelves, fingers dancing across spines like a pianist’s; sometimes an eleventh-hour rummage. Sometimes I’ll need to flick through the reference drawers to find the name or date I need. But all the time, I know it’s there. A warm place of mottled leather and faded tapestry, growing old in dusty grace. The place that makes me the writer I am.

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