Rendered Fat Content


Yi Taek-gyun: Books and Scholars’ Accouterments
책가도 (冊架圖) (late 1800s)
Ten-panel folding screen; ink and color on silk

" … the research librarian remains a doubtful skeptic."

The Muse and I moved down the Portland sidewalk like the old hands we were, for she had just been recalling that I'd brought her to this neighborhood on her first visit, twenty-five years before. She said that she did not miss the bustle of living in a city, though, as we slipped around a clog of people doing jello shots and smoking at a sidewalk bar. The restaurant that used to tout its hundred beer taps now advertises its space for lease and this city seems weary and confused. From our hotel room, high atop an anonymous city center tower, I can look into the upper floors of a marvelous old tile-fronted office building, its upper floors just as empty as any abandoned warehouse, and no more elegant. New development continues, surrounded by vacancies and boarded up storefronts.

I feel enlivened by the variety, though, the juxtapositions attract my eye.
The low income housing existing right next door to the highest end residential high rises, that's some kind of chutzpah showing. The greater vitality, though, seems to be happening along the periphery of what I once knew as the city's center. That center shifted northward into Pearl and beyond, while the original center grew shabbier by comparison. This world grows in concentric circles, hopping ever outward, abandoning the known and conquered in favor of 'new and improved' which ain't. New seems less improvement than callous abandonment, a rejection of history in favor of fresh stories. Human nature sometimes disgusts me.

We slip into one haven from the past, Powell's perfect bookstore, a perennial safe space on the game board here. I marvel at the easy familiarity of the place after so many forays through there over the years. My first wife and I used to come here on dates when the kids were small, hiring a babysitter so that we could spend the evening within what I came to understand was a SynchronicitySwarm. We're all familiar with the sensation of realizing and how that sometimes seems to happen just when it's most needed. A flash of insight reveals some needed secret. A slight twist of perspective solves some mystery. That's synchronicity and it usually comes one at a time, often with lengthy absences between occurrences. It's generally a rare-ish phenomenon, but not at Powells.

I'm uncertain how to explain this situation, for, like synchronicity itself, its swarming version easily eludes description. It most often even eludes awareness of its presence, perhaps because it operates completely within the pre-conscious. Awareness comes later, upon reflection I might come to recognize what happened. In the moment, I'm immersed within the experience and unaware of its existence, other than a sparkly satisfaction with whatever I thought I was doing. Book browsing at Powells induces precisely that sort of sensation, a mildly other-worldly internal satisfaction. I believe this happens because of the proximity to such great variety. Walking down any aisle immerses me in a universe, it seems, with titles and colors and shapes swirling around to create otherwise unlikely connections. Apples and oranges seem to organize themselves into proximate orders. Even opposites seem to belong together there.

I quickly found the title I was seeking, but just as quickly spotted a title on an end cap display that just seemed to belong with the one I had been seeking. I became the connecting agent, combining two previously unrelated universes in a sparkly act of synchronicity. This happens to me every time I enter this store. I remember it also used to happen whenever I'd shop in an old-fashioned department store, one which held everything from refrigerators to underpants under one roof. Those, too, displayed enough variety to spark strange connections. One thing would quite naturally lead to another and a synchronicity would reliably result, and often a swarm of them.

Such experiences seem impossible to produce when shopping online. I suspect that online isn't sufficiently immersive to spark those connections, not nearly swarm enough. Libraries still hold this power to induce such swarms, but only if visited in person. It's also very helpful if, when visiting, the patron feels bothered with some question. Back when I was pretending to be a scholar, I'd immerse myself deep into the library stacks, hoping some book containing the answer I was seeking would fall off the shelf at my feet. It will surprise nobody, I suspect, if I confess that this tactic actually worked, though the research librarian remains a doubtful skeptic.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus

Made in RapidWeaver