|A book that might be available at a library.|
I'm a serial misanthrope. A hypocrite of gargantuan proportions. Too cowardly to 'drop out' and live a genuine revolution of the self, too many excuses for myself. I sit, on the sidelines and snipe at meaningless targets and align myself with mediocre causes. I trundle along in the middle lane doing a half decent job of a half decent job and live a half decent life when I remember to be happy.
Remembering to be happy isn't easy. Maybe happy isn't the right word. To be content, to be calm, to be present now, not hypothesising about the future and the terrible things that will happen. Not opening the door on the stomach churn, the stab of glass, the discordant high pitched whine.
In my mind, all too often I'm the centre of my own storm. The swirling vortex around me, out of control and me at its axis. This isn't how it is. I'm nothing, I'm just dust, I'm just an insignificant thing, doing what it takes to survive. I'm a flea, a slug, a bowel dwelling parasite, a tiny fly hovering around a fetid puddle. I think therefore I am does not mean I think therefore I am important.
It's the thinking I matter that brings the rotting doubt, the crippling nausea of circumspection and self analysis. It's thinking I've got 'something to say,' 'something to achieve,' 'life goals' and all that that brings with it all the competing mania and stasis. I truly begin to believe that I'm happiest (again, same caveat about the meaning of the word) in a kind of pseudo animal state, rest after exercise, living on my wits, using my senses, seeing what's round the corner. Trudging, feeding, sleeping. Repeating. Not thinking.
I am aware however that this isn't a healthy place to be, at least not all the time. To deny the intellectual, to be totally self absorbed (or totally vacant perhaps), to live life just as a process seems to be somehow a waste of the body and mind. It seems dangerously wrong, to apply this sort of unthinking en masse.
It brings me to the crux of the matter. I need to think, but I need to think about things other than me. I need to think and I need to forget. I need to be and to be able disappear. I need to hide from myself. I need to be able to destroy my own illusion of self importance without destroying my ability to think. I need to go places in my mind, to travel the roads, to visit the clouds and the stars.
As much as I tell myself I am nothing, I am not. I am unimportant, but I am not simple. The older I get, the more I am aware of this, the more my head yearns for experiences, the more denying myself what I need seems to have an impact. The older I become, at times it seems the less certain I am in my convictions about what I want, the less I understand myself.
With every passing day, the more I am aware that life isn't, contrary to what I believe I would see if I ever bothered to put the TV on, a multicoloured multi-lane highway of opportunity with an infinite number of exits to possibility, every drink a tropical explosion of sand and sun, every decision a chance to define yourself in a way that makes others envious and aspire to be a little bit more like you, every purchase a definite statement of self.
The more I become aware that life is a narrow, single lane highway bordered by grey concrete and that the only way to escape this is to stop, pull over and scrabble up the banking. The exits, the opportunities are an illusion, a mirage, forever in the distance.
I'm tired of pursuing distant shimmering mirages. Lets make our own escape.
Turn the pages of a book. Absorb yourself in the life of someone else. Absorb yourself in the sounds, the sights, the smells of the far away, the exotic, the past, the present, the future. Let yourself be taken from here to there.
Civilisation has many drawbacks. The mucky mess of unregulated greed we swim through at the moment has more than its fair share of things which make you wonder if really, we'd have been better staying in the caves and fighting with sabre toothed tigers and scrawling on walls instead of creating the kind of precarious torture, the dentists chair nightmare that modern life can be. But it has libraries. They might have vaulted rooms, they might be glazed red brick, they might be pebble-dashed concrete and polystyrene ceiling tiles, but they have books, ordered, arranged and labelled.
Free for anyone to take, free for anyone to run with, to climb into the nearest tree, hidden by the shade of the leaves and bury themselves in. Free to be carried in handbag or backpack and read on the journey, free to be placed beside the sofa for the moment at the end of the night when you phlumppp and exhale, at last free from the duties of life, free to be read whilst eating, before sleeping, to be held precariously above you in the bath, or to make the inevitable expelling of bodily waste into a time of rare joy.
Free. Really free, without adverts compelling you to sign up for the premium service, without messages from our sponsors, without coupons and tokens and boasting claims of 'the best in town' or 'award winning.' Without guilt inducing requests for support or small print reminders that you will be charged £x.xx per month if you don't cancel before the end of the trial period.
You just take it back when you've done with it. No questions. No means testing, no sign up fee, no subscription or credit check.
Books with long, beautiful intelligent argument, coherent and thoughtful explorations and explanations. Books that bare the soul, labours of love. Books that push the edges of what a book can be, books that comfort, books that teach. Books that scare, books that reach inside you and make you see things you never realised about yourself, books that leave you stunned and confused. Books that make you yearn for people and things that don't even exist.
The end of libraries is the end of civilisation.
I don't believe it's possible to live a life that reflects the kind of manic happiness that is represented all around us, I don't believe we can exist on the cusp of material actualisation, quasi psychedelic joy or vain-glorious basking in our own perfection. This is the happiness of diminishing returns. This is the happiness of caffeine and though it is energising, though it is addictive, it will leave us hollowed out and empty.
The joy of the book, the commitment of time, the ideas, the flow, the poetry, the sheer fucking amazement of the moments where somehow you connect with someone who wrote a thing once somewhere in a room, some complete fucking stranger you never even met when, man, for fucks sake you can't even connect with people you've known all your life half the fucking time is worth everything. Everything.
I want to live in a world where to think matters. Where to think is more important than to own and it is stunning to notice, there, in plain sight, there hiding amongst the space colonised by zombie half shops that resell things unwanted or sold in desperation, chainstore coffee shops retailing lifestyle drinks, endless variants on exactly the same vaping craze or mobile phone accessories, cardboard signs declaring 'we sell fidget spinners' in the most bizarre locations and the few slick, beautifully lit emporiums of taste which offer a better label or the same shit in classier packaging, is a temple of thought. A library. It's jaw dropping. It's like something from a different world. It's like discovering a steam train still working on the mainline that somehow got forgotten about, like finding that actually the dodo isn't extinct.
Think about all that has been lost as we march relentlessly on to the drum of the free market. Think and wonder again that the library still exists. That the books are still free. To take and return. Free. That somehow we still do this. We're still allowed to do this.
Take your nearest item of clothing, take a permanent marker pen and write "Read Library Books: Be Happy" on it in big bold letters. Wear it as a statement.
There are times when I feel manic, when I want to change the world, when I think I matter or at least when I think I could matter, but right now, I think all I could ever want is the time to slowly browse the shelves of a quiet space, the soft hum of voices, the essentially municipal air warmed by a shaft of sunlight from a high window casting a slanting oblong of light across the floor and up the shelves. Choosing, thinking, taking and returning.
I can't think of anything to persuade me that wouldn't be a life well lived.
The above was written in the knowledge that in many places the library doesn't exist anymore and with the acknowledgement that I am insanely lucky to live in a place where I can walk to a library that isn't to my knowledge under immediate threat of closure. Many local councils are placed in an invidious position by being forced to bear the brunt for central government cuts and it is tragic that local libraries are not seen as essential but also understandable that councils when faced with cutting provision for the elderly or youth work may choose the library. It is my humble opinion that it is a very deliberate, very transparent and very disingenuous strategy by the Conservative party to deflect blame for the decimation of services as a result of their miserable and wrong-headed austerity policies on to local councils.