Back in 2010, I had my garage fully converted into a library. It’s something I’d hoped to do for years, and I finally had the means to do it, so I did. I’d always wanted a single room where I could store, display, and enjoy all my stuff – where everywhere I looked, I’d see things that represent what I truly care about.
Since then, I’ve turned the room into exactly that. 16 bookcases, three display cabinets, various tables and stands, and every inch of free wall space are now packed with things both big and small that represent my interests, my passions, my past, my aspirations…in other words, who I am. Taken as a whole, it’s a reflection of my life; a place where everything you see represents every aspect of who I am, and reminds me of people, places, events, and interests that make me happy, and give me strength.
A very general snapshot: standing in the doorway, I see photos of my sons, three shelves of my childhood toys, four bookcases filled with the works of Ray Bradbury, and eight others crammed with favorite books by other authors. I see a shelf packed with books that once belonged to my old friend and professor, John Buck, still marked up with his hieroglyphic notes and backward checkmarks. I see three shelves beneath it brimming with books and knick-knacks that belonged to my grandparents. I see a photo of me with Brian May of Queen, a photo of me with Harrison Ford, and a photo of my grandfather in his World War II uniform. More photos: of close friends and loved ones both here and gone, of the Venice Beach pier, of Snoqualmie Falls, and of the bridge at Spring Creek Park. I see scores of items in display cabinets, along with stuffed animals, a lamp, and masks, all of which once belonged to Ray, who kept them in his library and house, and which I am now deeply gratified to have in mine. I see a set prop from one of the new Star Wars films that a friend from the UK somehow acquired and sent to me, sea shells from every beach I’ve visited, a pair of Roger Taylor’s stage-used drumsticks from Queen’s 1977 tour, and handprint art my sons made for me. I see gifts and postcards from former students, a trowel signed by Kyra Schon from Night of the Living Dead, and a little plaster frog my grandmother painted for me when I was a little boy. I see a grandfather clock my great-grandfather built, mementos from Indian Caverns (which closed for good two years ago), and an unopened bottle of amontillado that my friend and editor Anne Hardin sent me after we finished Darkness in the Valley. I see the bench, red hutch, and stool from my grandparents’ kitchen. I see two shelves holding copies of my own books, magazine publications, and anthology appearances. I see a hand-drawn birthday card from my friend and illustrator John York, a lace doily hand stitched for me by the grandmother of one of my first students, and stones from a riverbed that remind me of one of my favorite days.
That’s all in a glance. There’s far, far more, but you get the idea.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “They’re just things….possessions.” And that’s absolutely true. If the whole place blew apart tomorrow, I’d be fine (unless I was in it at the time), because of course all my experiences, all the relationships I’m fortunate enough to have, and all the people I care about are the only things that are truly priceless. But at the same time, things – the right things – can hold immense value…not monetarily, but (for lack of a better word) intrinsically. They can reflect who we are, yes…But they can also inspire future actions by reminding us of our past, trigger (not always a bad word, even in the 21st century) our deepest emotions, and comfort and give us strength when life is difficult by reminding us how exciting, precious, and beautiful it can be at its best.
That said, keeping it that way sometimes requires work. Certain parts of the library are constantly evolving, so while the vast bulk of what’s in there will remain as long as I do, I also have clear outs every once in a while. Sometimes memories that were once special become negative due to shifting circumstances, certain doors in life shut while others spring invitingly open, interests change, and priorities shift.
So last month I spent two hours pitching things into trash bags, one headed for a landfill, one headed to Goodwill. On top of that, I boxed up five dozen books and took them down to Half Price Books. It was extremely satisfying…as if I’d given everything else in the library room to breathe. The cleanouts remind me of life – of the need to jettison what’s no longer necessary, what weighs us down, what no longer works, and what hurts rather than helps. In doing so, you make room for more of the good stuff.
Because in short, what I really want to see when I look around my library is love. And anything that doesn’t make me feel that has to go.
Every day should be spent, at least in part, by doing something we love and spending time with who we love. And the physical objects that really matter should remind us of the many ways we do that, and suggest other ways still to be tried. They’re catalysts. To surround ourselves with reminders of what really matters in our lives also reminds us of our own great worth. It reminds us of who we are at our best. It reminds us of what we are capable of achieving. And it reminds us of just how much there is to celebrate during our brief, transitory time on earth.
What you see should be an inspiration, because inspiration is the wellspring of identity.
Inspire yourself to know yourself. Know yourself to inspire yourself. And use love as the engine to do it. In this way, a self-perpetuating cycle is created that will never, ever let you down. It isn’t always easy, and you won’t always succeed. But we must always strive to keep that cycle going.
It is the only way to truly live well.