Souls are places; I’ve always thought about this. A soul can be explored like a place and felt like a place. A soul can be retreated to like a place and intruded upon like a place. A soul can be fragile or strong depending what it is weathering and what it is built upon, just as a place.
I’ve always found my soul to be a castle, the interior of which is an endless library. The castle is high on a rock overlooking a vast sea. Outside it is always night. Too much light would ruin the volumes and volumes packing every available space inside. Books which contain my memories, my knowledge, my ideas. They stretch out into every room of the labyrinthine castle, up into towers and deep into basements. The castle is sturdy. It has to be. The sea brings many storms.
Here in this forever night, it is quiet and still. Here I can be reflective and private, contemplative and questing without noise and distracting light^.
My light is that of bright, but flickering candles and shimmering silver stars.
The library inside the castle is curated by tiny creatures who store away my knowledge and thoughts in volumes of clothbound* books. Everything is lit with a glowing candlelight, warm and comforting.
The highest tower has a glass ceiling where the galaxy of stars can be seen in all their majesty. I keep the door locked. Only I am privy to this place. This is where I seek inner peace and solitude. This is where I recharge. There is a hearth here, and comfortable seats of all kinds. Upon the hearth are the moving images** of those few beings who have touched my soul. The fire is not a fire. Instead, there is a resonating glow, a pure unearthly and unbound light, warming and healing. This is where my soul touches something bigger, something I do not fully understand, but have always felt connected to. The light in the hearth is where my soul touches the Universe***.
The books in this space pertain to my morals, fears, hopes, and truths. They are always expanding. There is also a chest where my deepest secrets are kept. The key is around my neck. It cannot be removed even by me. I have opened the chest for only a few. I have emptied it for none. There will always be a secret in the chest.
There’s a children’s wing filled with toys I loved, imaginary friends who once danced through my life. There is a tree with gold leaves. The books kept here are those that ignited my imagination as a child. Characters come and play here reciting old poems and favourite passages from long lost memories. A shabby treehouse sits between the branches. I know there was a light in there at one point, but it sits dark now. I’m too big to get up the ladder. The child that plays here doesn’t ever go there. Someone sits up there though; sometimes dripping can be heard.
Recently a new wing opened to me. It’s been opened a couple of times before and closed again. I like it here now. Everything is different than what I ever remember it being here before. This place is warm and smells faintly of the sea. There is passion here for many things, for life and love and work and happiness. A man sits here, smiling. He is surrounded by books about sports and sailing, about battles won and lost, and odd snippets of information pertaining to many subjects. This room radiates love. Honest love. Devoted love. Intelligent and respectful love. Though the outer world is always night, here there window which lets sunlight in. Here I can say anything. Even the ugliest shameful parts of me are accepted. Here who I am is always enough.
There are many monsters which roam the library of my soul. They vary in shape and size. One is a pushing, violent thing, with teeth which bite and claws that cut. One is sweet and small and gentle to encourage trust, but it always lies. One is always moving and carries a clock with a dial which spins too fast. It likes to jump out onto the shoulder and whisper maddening prophecies in the ear. The worst is nothing but a blackness which feeds on me when I am not looking. It likes to lurk in places it shouldn’t and is often trying to break into the highest tower.
There are many weapons available to combat the monsters. The weapons are easy to find but hard to wield. Courage is a shining silver sword. There is a humble long-bow which can be armed with arrows made of truth. Acceptance is a shield. Trust is a dagger that must be given away.
Other artefacts reside in the library of my soul. I have a spyglass which allows me to see benefits which may still be far away but are worth waiting or fighting for. This spyglass is patience. It doesn’t have a fixed place and can be hard to locate. There’s a compass for the lost which always points to the heart. There’s a little candle which pops up whenever needed. It’s flame changes; it can be tall and unyielding, or dim and in need of cultivating, but the candle is always lit even if just as an ember. The candle flame is actually a little living thing, made from the hearth fire. It is hope.
A dragon stalks the halls sometimes, which of course breathes fire from time to time. I’ve tamed him somewhat. Right now he is raging beyond my want to control him. I spend energy putting out the blazes, but by the time I get there he has already taken off to some hiding spot to regain his strength. I’ll get around to catching him again soon. At the moment I need the fire a little bit. It’s helping to keep the dark monster at bay.
I’m not sure where the castle ends, there are new places being revealed all the time. There are towers that are shut away and stairways up and down. I may never discover every element of it. I haven’t divulged everything here now even, just that which I needed to remember. Just that which needed to be rediscovered to aid me through recent events.
Perhaps your soul is a carnival or a garden or a humble cottage at the edge of the world. This is only what my soul has always been, a castle library on an unpredictable sea beneath a vast universe.
~The featured image can be found here (I don’t own it, yadda-yadda-yadda) and is the Ravenclaw Common Room (which is ma house. Big up my fellow kind of wit and learning). Honestly, one does not affect the other. It’s just coincidental that this is the nearest comparison to what I’m describing. But that in itself is pretty amazing, I won’t lie.
*Not leatherbound. No animals were harmed in the formation of my soul.
**Much like the paintings in the Wizarding World, although in my renditions, the figures are unable to move between portraits. I’m not sure what this means.
***It occurs to me, I say this a lot but have never really explained it. There could be a post about this in its own right, but for now, I will say the following. The Universe is not a god. I don’t believe in a divine being who wrote a book of rules or came down to greet us in human form. I believe in what I see, a great vast expanse permeating everything, connecting everything. And yes, I hear when it speaks to me, and yes I speak to it. It’s hard to explain, but I do not have to explain. I’m not asking you to understand or to believe. The burden of proof is on me, but I have no proof for what I experience subjectively….. It’s just what I feel. You’ll have to roll with it.
Plymouth Central Library is relocating. Today will be the last day it opens those particular doors to the public. And as I sit here in the old stacks one last time*, I am filled with deep nostalgic sadness.
We go back, this old building and I. Practically back to my first few months in Plymouth when I was naught more than a disillusioned teenager trying to find my feet in my newly independent world**. Initially, I went with an associate in my University course*** trying to find a reference book for an essay, all copies of which had been checked out of the Uni library for weeks, and thus had a waiting list you could march a parade on. Rumour had it, the public library had a few non-lending editions on their stacks. So, we hopped in her car, and went searching.
I didn’t really start using the Library until my final year of Uni, when I lived almost opposite in my studio flat. During the days of not being able to afford the heating, it became a sanctuary of warmth and study, with a quiet room which saw the creation of a significant portion of my dissertation. After Uni, when I lived in my basement room at the noisy centre of the basement, it then saw the crafting of several creative experiments and ghostwriting projects. There is not a corner of the stacks I haven’t hunkered down in at some point, either hunched over a table scribbling or with my nose in fiction. Over my penniless days, I participated in free film screenings^ and book sales, just grateful these things are open and available for impoverished writers with dreams of greatness^^.
There are many memories of my youthful days locked away among the stacks in that building, and while I know the Library is moving not closing, I feel like I am saying goodbye to an old reliable grandmother.
I understand the relocation. If libraries are to thrive in the modern world, they need to adapt to modern standards. The new building is more central, and completely open-plan, leaving behind the rustic, academic atmosphere which, I suppose, can be intimidating to non-academics who just want a place to read and relax^*. Concerns I had about the move have been waylaid by researching what is to become of the now shell in which the library was housed. The plan is to convert the space into part of the History Centre with support from the Museum next door, with ideas of introducing better heritage resources for the community. And the new library appears to have everything its predecessor had, except in a more open and colourful environment.
The only fear I haven’t managed to quell through understanding is what might happen to the stain-glass window. The window on the main stairwell of the library entryway depicts an array of literary figures in the style similar to what you might find in a cathedral, and I have coveted it and been awed by it since I first laid eyes on it.Unfortunately, I’m not sure if they’ll somehow transport the glass over to the new building, maybe incorporate it into the internal decor, but I hope so, and if not, I shall miss it.
Tonight the lights of the library will go off for the last time. The books will be boxed up and moved, and the stacks will be empty, and the quiet room will suddenly be silent in a way that was never intended. For now, here I sit*^, sadder than I thought I would be, staring round at the old familiar rooms, like sitting in a spot of endless time, where all the past and present mes^^* are together feeling and growing in this place in a single moment.
I walked around one last time, remembering. I sat at the last table in the reference room, where I perched many times poised at the keyboard, and I touched the old wood of the shelves, I took out some books and returned some others, just like all those times all those days ago.
I said goodbye to an old friend.
*I really did pen this upstairs in the study room, but I did so the previous Friday to the date of publication. For the sake of drama you can pretend I’m there on the final day of opening, maybe the last to leave those huge studded front doors, a tear wistfully rolling down my cheek, a bittersweet song of memory playing in the background.
**I was not a pretty picture back then by any means.
***Not Creative Writing at the time. This was the year I was trying to make my parents proud by choosing a career path which wouldn’t land me in a box in a dark alley warming myself over a burning kerosene barrel. My mother was genuinely concerned writing would lead to harder drugs, like following my whimsy or joining a circus. Of course, she meant well, and she is actually pretty proud of me now I think.
^Including The Hobbit and Les Miserables, two films based on books which I have read, both of which I borrowed from that library, and both I was pleased I didn’t spend a ton of money attempting to see at the cinema.
^^That was a very youthful ideal; to be honest I think I would’ve been happy with just getting off the ground.
^*And that is the point of the library. Much as the old timey academic ambiance suits serious study, it goes over a lot better if the environment is welcoming to everyone, especially children, and conducive to finding joy in reading and books.
*^ Again, days before. This is beginning to feel like I might have strange time-travelling abilities, but I suppose if I did this wouldn’t be an issue. If anyone out there knows Dr Who, please feel free to point him to this blog. Tell him to come now. I’ll wait….. No, huh? Worth a shot.
^^* Does ‘me’ have a plural? It was either ‘mes’ or ‘mesai’ and the second sounded too Japanese to be right.
I endeavored to get a lot of writing done today, but I did not. I did some, and what I managed to pen sat happily on the page, but my heart wasn’t into the craft today, probably because the weather turned for the better. I had a desire to wander Plymouth in the sun, especially the hoe, and barbarian, but recently I have been plagued by painful muscle spasms, and I thought better of it. Unable to write and unable to walk too far, I took to the fiction stacks downstairs. Libraries are wonderful places for poverty stricken writers, and poverty stricken readers. After an hour browsing the central library’s vast collection of fiction, I maxed out my loan limit, and that was following a brutal ‘which books do I place back to borrow later’ ritual.
Unfortunately, there are many pieces of essential – in my opinion – reading, the library doesn’t yet stock, either that or many people share my literary tastes and the titles are permanently taken out; I have yet to rummage through the virtual catalog. A list of books I must some day buy is mounting in my notepad. If I enjoy a piece of fiction, I like to invest in the author; it just seems good writing etiquette. The list is mounting; if I ever reach financial security, Waterstone’s will make a mint off me. I feel cheeky pondering the store’s stocks, and goodreads, finding books which take my interest, jotting the name and author in my notebook, and scampering down to the library to check if they have a copy.
Neil Gaiman wrote a blog-post about passing on books here. I’m doing my best to support the authors who impress me, and not take the library for granted. I’m wondering if it’s also possible to donate titles I have bought, but not truly enjoyed to the library.
In a few weeks I will traveling to see my folks, and then onward North to see my sisters. Hopefully, the literature will hold out for the journey. If not, it’s another round through the stacks to fill the train time.
Two girls in the library were eating an easter-egg while working on a project together. I suddenly released how close to spring we are, and I remembered seeing buds, tiny pink spores of life, beginning to grow on the trees, and it hasn’t been overly cold for quite some time. More birdsong in lighter mornings, and walking home from work at 17:00 in the daylight, and warmer rain, have escaped my attention until I noticed people have started to buy and eat easter-eggs. I’m so glad winter is drawing to an end, because although I am found of the season, I can’t wait for the time when I don’t have to wear a coat. However, I am worried the library will become inordinately hot, and the fans will be on max, meaning pages will fly all over the place and I will no longer be able to work there.
Speaking of fans, my computer is still suffering from spontaneous bursts of whirring fits, and I’m getting to understand the sensible idea would be to have someone examine it before the hard-drive over-heats, and bursts into flame.
A drunk man stumbled past the stacks, muttered something incoherent at me and continued into the navel section. A few minutes later he reemerged with a book about the development of navel power throughout the 60s and 70s, and all I could think as he sat down to read it, reeking of alcohol, was ‘can he actually understand that?’ I wonder if I could convince my friends to try to undertake the task of reading this book while they are hammered one evening, and write down their results before they reenter the land of the sombre. Not sure any of them would go for it, but the process would be interesting. After all, this particular intoxicated individual seemed content to sit and rifle through picture-less pages; maybe reading books on the enhancement of boat technologies is easier under the influence. Maybe that’s why sea-men are infamous for their drinking habits.
Another gentleman and his wife were speaking loudly at the computer about the details of their attempts to discover their great aunt-Gertrude on the library consensus pages. Apparently she worked in Plymouth during the early half of the century. They were in their 80s, and spent nearly two-hours sifting through the information. I think they were successful in their search, because they high-fived a few minutes before they left. Team-work, I suppose. They were politely asked how long they meant to be on the computers by a member of staff, because another lady was waiting to use the ancestor database. Gosh, thought I, there sure are a lot of people on the hunt for their relatives today. Turns out the library is running a special week-long event to help people fill the gaps in their family tree; I found that on a poster on the way out. One day, I continued, I should do that, because my known family is tiny, but I know it branches further than family ties have been able to hold together, and I would like to know better where I descend from. Not now however, for I am writing a novel.
I need more highlighters. Having had a productive day writing by hand at the library, scribbling down notes on plot changes, and word alterations on a rough-draft, I have realised possessing highlighters of more than one colour will make the editing and type stages much more efficient. I know I have an orange one somewhere, which when flipped becomes yellow, but I seem to have misplaced it.
A man hovered near my table for a moment, but when I looked up to see if he meant to address me he gave a quick smile and walked away. I wonder if he was reading what I was scrawling, and I wonder if he was enjoying it.
I read a beautiful poem by John Donne, called A VALEDICTION OF MY NAME, IN THE WINDOW. I looked it up because it was mentioned in the book I spoke about a few days about, and I now connect what Miss Collins was referring to when she briefly noted it in her work. Mostly the second verse, for anyone who may have finished her beautiful novel A Trick of the Dark this verse may be of particular interest. If you haven’t read it, you should. I promised a review didn’t I? I’ll get round to that at some point. For now, the verse is this one.
‘Tis much that glass should be
As all-confessing, and through-shine as I ;
‘Tis more that it shows thee to thee,
And clear reflects thee to thine eye.
But all such rules love’s magic can undo ;
Here you see me, and I am you.’
I have to write poetry for this novel, and I am not very good at crafting words in this format. I wrote down possible inspirations in my notebook, but I shall also have to gather books talking about how to write poetry. I did a module in the basics of writing verse at university and I studied reading it in another, but I’ve never been captivated by the idea of creating my own pieces. I blabber rather than carefully construct. I actually wrote down beside the possible inspirations ‘must not blabber, but carefully construct’. I’m concerned as to why I found the need to remind myself of this; I think it’s an obvious point.
Maybe if I kept my mind on what I was writing as oppose to what is going on around me, I’d be further in my novel.