Thursday, October 30, 2014

There Are Libraries

by Kelley Lindberg

Boston Public Library
(Photo by Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons)
There are libraries.

And then, there are libraries.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at a business meeting in Boston. (Okay, I didn’t just wake up and find myself there. That sounds like the start of a thriller movie starring Scarlett Johannson. I actually booked the flight and flew there on purpose. Better? I’ll start over.)

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself with 40 minutes to spare between the hotel breakfast and the start of a business meeting in downtown Boston. I was determined to see more of the city than just the inside of the hotel conference rooms, so I slung my laptop bag over my shoulder, chose a revolving door at random, and stepped out onto the sidewalk.

I had no map and no desire to waste precious minutes bringing up a map app on my phone. This was Boston. Every square inch of this city is historic. Culturally rich. Vibrant. Alive with its own character, noisy with its own rhythm. I just began walking.

Within a couple of blocks, I was already in love. A mother and young daughter jogged by in perfectly coordinated running togs (yes, togs), while business women navigated cobblestone-like brick surfaces in high heels and sharply-dressed men juggled their phones and coffee cups. Cars jostled for space and invented their own driving rules in ways that would impress Sicilian drivers. Centuries-old facades shouldered up against modern office buildings in companionable acceptance.

Johnson Building (Photo by
David Jones, Wikimedia Commons)
And then a huge, modern building with interesting arched windows rose up beside me. It took up a whole block, it seemed, and I looked for a sign: “Boston Public Library.” Perfect! I walked through the glass doors and a bank of metal detectors, past a nondescript desk. Signs inside announced renovations. I stepped into the main room and discovered…well, okay, a library. A normal library. A low-ceilinged, white-walled, municipal library with shelves of DVDs crowding out the shelves of books. Frankly, it was all very ordinary. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from the Boston Public Library (a bronze statue of Paul Revere greeting me, perhaps?), but this wasn’t quite it.

Shoulders slumping, I put my disappointment down to the “renovations” and trudged back out of the library onto the sunlit sidewalk and kept walking towards a promising-looking church on the next corner. As I reached the corner, however, I noticed that the modern building had given way to a more traditional-looking building. I read the inscription across the front and realized I had been wrong.

This was the Boston Public Library I’d expected to see.

The Boston Public Library system’s Central Library actually consists of two buildings: the modernist Johnson building, which holds the main circulating collection, and the original McKim building, which now houses the library’s research collection, including many rare collections. Founded in 1852, the library’s original building held 16,000 volumes. It quickly swelled beyond its seams, so a new building, designed to hold 240,000 books, was opened in 1858. Two decades later, even that building had grown too small. So the Renaissance-style McKim building was commissioned. When it opened in 1895, it had the capacity for 2 million books. Two million! It must have seemed limitless. But limits are destined to be stretched. Now the Boston Public Library holds 23 million items, making it the second largest public library in the U.S., behind only the Library of Congress (which holds nearly 35 million items). (You can read more about the Boston Public Library and its history here.)

I walked up the broad steps into the granite building, through the ornate doors, and into a foyer with lovely mosaic ceilings arching over me. From there I stepped into the main hallway and caught my breath. Ahead of me was the grand entrance stairway, with two huge marble lions standing guard beneath stunning murals.

I passed a door to Bates Hall and froze. Through the door, I could see tall wooden shelves filled with books, and long tables with green reading lamps throwing a small circle of illumination at every seat. This was my classic image of what a library—a real, honest-to-goodness library—should look like. It’s probably been in a thousand movies, and that’s why it informs my mental image, but it stopped me in my tracks to see a figment of my imagination take physical shape.

Out a window on the other side of the hall, a courtyard beckoned—an open-air columned gallery in the center of the building that brought to mind ancient Italian cloisters. A fountain splashed, and tiny cafĂ© tables and chairs offered a perfect spot for some light reading.

In just a few minutes, however, I was due back in the hotel conference room for my meeting, so I only had time for a handful of photos.

And for standing perfectly still in the hallway, listening to footsteps ring off marble floors and high ceilings, breathing in the scent of books and old stone, and absorbing the faint whispers of all those ideas and dreams that have been infused into that building for nearly 120 years.

All those stories. Both the written ones, and the human, living ones that have walked through those doors, paused in the turmoil of their lives and struggles, and lost themselves in the ideas pulsing from those written pages….All those stories.

I only had a handful of minutes to walk through downtown Boston, but somehow I found the place I needed to be.

A library.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

10 Signs You Weren’t Too Old to Attend Last Night’s Punk Rock Concert

By Kelley Lindberg

I can't get enough of these guys!
The Offspring at The Complex, Salt Lake City 2014

1. You're proud of yourself for standing for 5 hours because it was general admission.

2. You made it home with both shoes. (Not everyone did.)

3. You survived the mosh-pit circle, which you accidentally got shoved into and then had to shove your way back out of.

4. You're about the same age as most of the musicians in the four bands that played. Even younger than a few. Not that you’re counting.

5. You were older than everyone in the audience, but they didn’t care and stilled tried to push you into the mosh pit.

6. You're slightly sore from dancing all night. But you danced, dammit.

7. One of the original, Irish, old-school punk rock musicians on stage was wearing a casual, knit polo shirt. And not ironically.

8. Your worst injury is a bruised toe or two, despite being trampled and slammed all night because you scored a spot up by the stage (and right under the speakers).

9. Only one of your ears is still ringing this morning. Like a fire alarm. On steroids.

10. The teenagers you took with you to the concert still speak to you.

Bad Religion at The Complex,
Salt Lake City 2014
Stiff Little Fingers at The Complex,
Salt Lake City 2014

Pennywise at The Complex,
Salt Lake City 2014

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Alone But Not Lonely

By Kelley Lindberg

Yesterday, I got the wind knocked out of my writing sails.

This morning, a writing friend breathed a little wind back into my sails and got my rudder pointed in the right direction again.

This is why I have writing friends.

I know writing is supposed to be a lonely profession. I know I’m supposed to sit huddled in a garret, with no heat, dim light, stale bread on a chipped plate for lunch, and fingers cramped and stiff from the cold, isolated from human contact yet somehow able to capture its essence on the page anyway.

Screw that.

I prefer my well-lit, cozy home office and a hot cup of decaf sitting on a handy little mug-warmer beside my computer. For lunch, I’m thinking nachos instead of stale bread. And I definitely prefer having a network of writing friends to lean on when I need a little support.

Yes, we writers spend time alone with our thoughts and keyboards. We must and we do. But I don’t feel isolated. When I first decided to quit my “day job” and become a full-time freelance writer, I worried about being lonely. I am a fairly social person, and I enjoyed talking to people during the day, going out to lunch with associates, and chatting in the hallways. Would I be able to handle being alone all day? Would I drive my husband crazy with pent-up dialogue the minute he walked in the house at night? Would I be looking for another “day job” within the first month?

Turns out I never felt isolated at all. There was this thing called email. When I needed a quick break from writing, I could email friends and – wait for it – they would email me back. Sometimes it was just a fast little sonar ping that said “Hey, you there?” and “Yep, I’m here.” Other times I’d get jokes, office-drama updates, or “guess what happened last night” anecdotes. A few minutes of communication like that to shake out the cobwebs and roll the knots out of my shoulder muscles, and then I was ready to jump back into my writing. Email was my electronic water-cooler. And when I needed more than that, we would meet for lunch.

But those friends weren’t always writers, and I began to crave connection with people who also wrote. So I found writing organizations with chapter meetings I could attend. And I discovered that a couple of the moms who dropped their kids at the same preschool mine attended were also writing, and we arranged to get together for coffee. And again the next week. And again the next week. More than a decade later, we’re still meeting for coffee every week, and other writers have joined us. I’ve joined organizations, gone to conferences, met more writers, and even become a mentor to some.

Now, in addition to emails, there are a plethora of electronic communication avenues like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, where I can tap into conversations about writing anytime I want to. My traveling companions on this writing journey are all around me whenever I feel the need for that human contact.

That’s essential for me, because we cannot, simply cannot, write about the human experience without participating in the human experience. So I seek out and treasure my writing friends. There is safety in numbers, but more than that – there is sanity in numbers. Those writing companions of mine have edited me, critiqued me, bolstered me, humbled me, and strengthened me. They’ve helped my writing break through clumsy walls, assuaged my doubts, cheered me on, and picked up the pieces and handed me a bottle of glue.

So I sit here, alone at my keyboard, surrounded by supportive writing friends.

Lonely profession? Not a chance.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shaking Off January

By Kelley Lindberg

Creativity. That fickle tease.

On the one hand, lately I’ve been feeling like my creativity has evaporated into the atmosphere and is never coming back. On the other hand, I was telling my son this afternoon that relationships are like building computers from scratch – before you take home a box of well-intentioned but random parts, you have to look at compatibility issues and meaningful features, you evaluate strengths, and you try a bunch of combinations to see what works and what doesn’t for you.

Yeah, that’s pretty creative, right? Finding a way to reach my geek-boy on his own terms?

Then I sit down at the computer and the words go all blue-screen-of-death on me.

I blame January, of course. Here we are, 187 days into the first month of the year (yes, it really is that long of a month), and I am growing very, very tired of the color gray. Gray sky. Gray snow. Gray air. Gray trees. Gray people.

I need color. I need vibrancy. So I took to the internet. Yeah, I know. But I did.

I searched “poetry and technology” and found what I needed. Young people ranting. Old people musing. Pro and con. Con and pro. Passionate. Articulate. Profoundly angry. Disillusioned. Defensive. Supportive.

And all of them always, always creating something new about something new from the same old raw materials—words.

So sit back on your heels, January. I refuse to spend the rest of you moping around in a gray haze. The English language is curling around me like T.S. Elliot’s yellow-fog cat, and I think it’s time to scratch its ears and make it purr.

(Want a taste of what I found on my internet inspiration-hunt? Try this one on for size: “Touchscreen” by Marshall Davis Jones.)