the public library

Prospect Park on a Saturday afternoon in July is a quick jog from the coffee shop that gives you CBD oil in your coffee and catty-corner to the Brooklyn Public Library. It’s always that way, but my mental map will always include the wispy breezes and small group cacophonies of a Saturday afternoon in July.

What’s your relationship with the library? What do you make of the rows of books, untended corners, and each person clacking at a public-use computer?

My mom and I used to joke that no one outside our family could survive the marathon event of the Johnston-Leggs at a bookstore, or worse—a library. My mom is a children’s librarian, and our rhythm of together, apart, together, apart in any location with books seems ingrained in my DNA. “What’d you find, anything good?” “I’m going to go look at nonfiction…” “Want me to hold anything of yours?” (A classic of my mom’s, even when her arms are stacked higher than mine.)

I notice the too-shiny linoleum floors, the type of shine that only accentuates the scuff marks and cracks that I didn’t know linoleum could have. I notice the Astaire biography on the shelf across from a book about the Russian Orthodox Church, the stark contrast between the types of shows they’re both putting on.

I pass by a poster on how to read the Bible in the original Hebrew; the headline reads “In the beginning” and I start humming a song from Vacation Bible School:

“In the beginnnnnning

(That’s the pacing, I promise. Does anyone know this song?)

My mind tells me go out there, live a visible life, Instagram yourself and drink more alcohol than you already do and fill all the moments with activity. My soul wants to be right in here among millions of words and people who also value them.

The library gut-checks me every time. The library personifies the meek side of my personality that I don’t let breathe very often.

One night last year I drove to Barnes & Noble for the same reason I went to the library this weekend. On my way out,  I walked behind a dad and his daughters; his eyes glanced back at me and: “Annie sweetie, stop reading for a second while we walk out the door.”

I laughed, “My parents had to tell me that too.”

Words are simply magical in their power to connect—isn’t that why we write and speak and sing? Every book has already been written and every song is about about the same kind of love but we’re still putting letters one after another anyway.

One of the reasons I thought I was  most ready to move to New York was the urge to be a small person in a big, big place again. That feeling is so clear in Chicago, where I’m from: even though it’s an accessible city in personality, it’s huge. You could never do everything in Chicago in a day; you’d need a lifetime. This place is the same but more, more, more. Taller buildings and huffier people on the sidewalks and divey-er dive spots for pizza.

but but but: here’s something else I know that I won’t always admit:

Even if you want to be a small person in a big place, you need other people. Even if you’re an introvert, you need other people. I close myself off more easily than I’d like. I know that I’m better for it every time I make the effort to get to know someone new instead of cancelling, or celebrate in accomplishment and mourn in hardship, or tell someone how I’m doing. In the past two months, I’ve celebrated new jobs and new relationships and new cities with so many people I cherish. I’ve also mourned things not going our way, or being treated unjustly, or a foil in that perfect plan for life. But my tendency to shy away from relationship doesn’t get me anywhere close to that until I bite the bullet and start anew here.

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.

e.e. cummings (excerpted)

The world is mud-luscious, puddle-wonderful, and I’ll only see that the most by knowing when to lean into relationship and when to claim time for myself.


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