At another crisis of self-examination about why I have imploded my life to move to a new city just to be another struggling writer, I walk up to the central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia with relief. In Boston, the same walk would bring flashback of elementary school fieldtrips with an assigned hand to hold of a girl who that week had decided not to be my friend. Or at the sculpted entrance I would scan over to the park benches where my cohort of punk rock teenagers would meet up to start our habitual hunt for a homeless guy to buy us beer. Escape is rare in a mind molded by a study of history and narrative.
But here I can be anonymous, more importantly my mind tingles from the increased oxygen of new air. At this library I don’t know how the books are organized or where the most comfortable chairs are. At this library the homeless people are not familiar. Here there is only the smallest chance that I bump into an old student from my days living as Ms. Baker.
Here I plop down on oddly lego like red chairs in front of the memoir shelves and scan through where my own book may one day sit – unopened and unread. I have been trying to anchor my writing into a succinct glib statement, ignoring the clench of angst at references the greats of Sedaris, Kerouac, and Burroughs. So I look for their books, to check again if my efforts could someday be among their radii. And the new and the unknown reveal a lesson – those names are not catalogued under memoir. In fact their books do no crowd together in any one section. They float between essays, fiction, humor, non-fiction, memoir…and I am stunned.
The librarian is confused at my enthusiastic gratitude for her looking up those names on her computer. “Do you want to write down these call numbers?” I grin ear to ear, “No no, you have answered my question, thank you, thank you so much.” She turns her screen back and resettles her face to neutral.
But she may have just saved me, chiseling out where I might belong, where my future book could someday sit – the place that no one catalogues the same, mixed in and scattered about.