A date with myself at the local library

creative simplicity

If you’ve read The Artist’s Way, you know that Julia Cameron considers regular “artist dates” to be one of the two pillars of the creative life (the other is “morning pages”). Whether you consider yourself an artist, or simply wish to live a more creative life, I’d definitely recommend this book for getting unstuck, getting inspired, or getting started. You can find out more about morning pages and artist dates by reading the book, but for the purposes of this post, an “artist date” is simply a little adventure you take on your own—something playful and restorative and separate from work.

One of my favorite artist dates is a trip to the local public library. This, for me, is quite different than a trip to a university library. As a college and graduate student (and as a student library employee), I spent plenty of time working in libraries. Many university libraries are perfectly lovely and contain their own sort of magic and possibility, with their stacks and stacks of scholarly tomes.

But when I really need a little creative restoration, I find it at the local library. Small public libraries do not have everything—every book ever written, every article ever published, all of the newest best-sellers—but sometimes “everything” is a little too overwhelming for an artist date. Instead, when I make a trip to the library, I’m really only looking for two things: a seat by the window and a book I don’t already have at home.

I tend to gravitate toward the nonfiction section, or more specifically, the how-to books and instruction manuals. These books usually don’t try to tell you how to think, but rather, how to do. As a hardcore overthinker, I find the whole doing perspective so refreshing.

Last weekend, I discovered the wedding books section, which was delightfully sandwiched between books on dying and anthologies of fairy tales. I even found a couple of gems like Weddings for Complicated Families and Wedding Planning for Dummies. Then I wandered through the shelves and shelves of biographies and thumbed my way through a few travel guides before snagging a corner window seat.

You can learn a lot about a community through its library, especially if it’s a small one. You can notice which books made the cut for their limited holdings, which books have been donated, and which books have a waitlist twenty people long.

I love finding the particular, and I love finding the universal among those shelves. By skimming along the titles, it’s easy to discover that many of the questions that seem so personal have been asked before, and someone, somewhere has tried to answer them. How do I find my purpose in life? Which dog breed is right for me? How is my religion similar or different from others? How can I live a healthier life? Or, a favorite from last weekend, How do I move to Canada?

Everyday questions jostle for space right next to whole-life questions on those library shelves. I think I’m more interested in the questions than in the answers when I meet myself for a library artist date, which is probably why I end up with stacks of library books that I rarely finish before their due dates. They seem to have more magic in their natural habitat, offering delight simply by their juxtapositions on the shelves.