By 6 a.m. this morning, I was prying books from my main book shelf, which has served as hearth and archive for 8 years. The task may seem impossible, given the time frame of moving on February 28: pick out ONLY the treasures, and bring just what I need to live happily in a bedroom. This means fewer books. Mostly, not very many books. In fact, hardly any books at all.
At first, it was reassuring to realize I could easily hear the voices of the real friends – the books I truly love – above the noise of words that have simply drifted into my life (which can drift back to the library sale from whence they likely came). At first, this clear intuitive sense of connection calmed me down, and gave me hope for rolling my boulder up the hill. But then, I turned my attention to letting go of the vintage children’s books.
People have often thought I was joking when they ask what kind of books I like to read, and I answer that I only like books with pictures in them. But mostly, I am not kidding. There’s quite a stack in this bookcase alone – let’s say 2 dozen. Pete and the Mouse, The Mittens, Romany Free, I Went to the Market – carefully winnowed from library sales and thrift stores based solely on the quality illustrations. It means a lot to me to imagine that I can re-sell these books online to another collector or artist who will bless the Color Kitten’s and Bill Dugan’s Busy Town as much as I do. It means a lot to me to know I can spot a special illustrator. Here is what it means:
My ability to discern a unique visual voice matters to someone. My special talent for distinguishing how form and color and line speak has been noticed. And I am so lonely for recognition of my own voice that the best I can imagine is to show people the beautiful things others have made.
But, standing in the kitchen, pouring cream into my third decaf, (it’s 8:32 am – you do the math), I heard the voice say, “What you want is ART, and the books are your way of getting it.” And of course, I started to cry.
How people made the pictures in books – of fairies and castles and hedgehogs in waistcoats – and how I could make such good pictures, too – was a puzzle that worked its way into my most secret heart as a child – a problem I didn’t dare let anyone know I wanted to solve. Surrounded by painting and drawing, I knew I would fail to do what grown up artists could do. And I knew from experience that adult artists didn’t really like it when I said, “Show me how…”
And you know, that is not a problem that more room, or more money can solve. Neither can any number of whimsical pictures encased in hard board and hidden away from my envy-hungry eyes give me what I need. Until I let myself know how much it matters to me to see my own pictures take shape, I can sift through images others have made, piling up page after page, and still not solve the mystery – for I am searching for a secret that only I can tell.