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The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse: Covid Edition #47 – “Why I Missed My Deadline, Excuse Number one Thousand, Nine Hundred, and Seventy Two”

Written on 10-27-2020.

This morning I slept late.  I was avoiding the world. I didn’t want to deal.

When I finally got up, I abandoned my usual morning routine. Just not in the mood. So I didn’t start writing this column, due by noon today.

Instead I turned to my latest project: organizing my library.

For years, as long as I can remember, really, I have responded to stress by organizing my books. When I can organize my thousands of books by subject matter and author, I am rewarded with a sense of accomplishment.

There is a deep satisfaction in handling all of these books, most of which I have read, if not cover to cover, at least enough to be reasonably familiar with their contents. As I slide each book into its assigned place on a shelf, sandwiched between similar fellows, I feel a sense of continuity with my past. I remember when I first developed a taste for detective novels, for example.  

How, at 13, I read dozens of Agatha Christie’s stories and here they are and here is 13-year-old Charles, safe and sound, tucked on to the shelf. And along with Christie I can find Conan Doyle and Stephen King. I am reconnected, at once, with my roots. I am 12 years old, staying up in bed until midnight, tramping the moors.

I leaf with pleasure through my decades old copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and remember when I first thought I might be a writer. Here’s Anne Sexton’s collected poetry and I am instantly 15 years old, discovering contemporary poems for the first time. Amazed at the wit of, “You, Dr. Martin, go from breakfast to madness.” How is it done, I wondered. How is it done?

I find it difficult to give up books, although I have done the occasional purge. I don’t want to give them up, because, sitting at my desk, I can raise my head and look at all these familiar titles organized on the bookshelves that line the walls of my office, and I feel solid in my existence. I am me — I have a past — I have a history — I have a recognizable inner life. And if I never again open or refer to most of these books on my shelf, the mere sight of their titles brings their contents to consciousness, and I am richer for it.

Looking at the books on my shelves is a bit like looking through old photo albums. Not of vacations or classmates, or grandparents, but photo albums of my inner life, the one that counts more than anything else.

Until I die, friends and family and adventures will come and go, begin and end, but I will remain until taken by death or senility.

In the meantime, my library is an anchor for my soul.

And that is how I dealt with the world today: I slept late and spent the remaining hours shelving books.

And that’s why I missed my deadline.

It was worth it.