“If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.”

I don’t think it is unusual to encounter a guitar-strumming dude singing folky tunes at an outdoor Saturday farmers’ market. This is just part of the atmosphere, as normal and expected as the people selling local organic honey produced by lesbian separatist bees. But it is probably unusual to find that the guitar-strumming folk-singing dude is your boss, as in the director of your library. But that is what has happened to me a number of times over the past year. My library director is a musician and a writer as well as a librarian. He used to be the dining critic for our local paper. Now he plays guitar and sings in his own band, while also occasionally penning theater reviews for the local alternative weekly paper. He has a rich and interesting life outside of his job, which is something I desperately want to cultivate.

As I’ve been emerging from the numbness of burnout and depression and trying to reconnect with what brings meaning and purpose to my life, I’ve been experiencing these creative impulses and urges that I’m trying to figure out what to do with. I want to create things and have ideas and daydream. I’ve tried learning how to sew for a while now, but I can barely sew a straight line (see: my kitchen curtains). I’m pretty good at crocheting, but I haven’t made anything in ages. I’ve always wanted to learn how to paint, or draw, or play a proper musical instrument (the recorder in the fifth grade doesn’t count), but time and resources are a challenge. So mostly I’ve been expressing my creative urges through writing.

Writing my book a few years ago allowed a new voice to emerge from me, a voice that was a sort of hybrid of personal narrative and a more professional, scholarly voice. Writing in this voice was immensely satisfying for me, but I’ve also found recent satisfaction in other forms of writing. I attended the How-To Festival at the Louisville Free Public Library a few weeks ago, and I went to a session about how to write a sonnet. It was surprising to me how much information and knowledge I had retained about Shakespearean sonnets from high school English, but there it was, just sitting in my head, waiting to be drawn out. We wrote a sonnet in our little group session, and then later, I wrote some more. I’ve written a bunch of them since then, with rhyme schemes and iambic pentameter and everything. There’s something very satisfying and paradoxically liberating about working through an idea in the confined space and structure of a sonnet.

When I read over the sonnets I’ve written so far, there are many recurring themes: a desire to fly, a wish to be free, wanting to embrace what is true and real, a longing for calmness and peace, the yearning to be closer to something that is divine. And these feelings are emerging in other areas of my life. I find myself increasingly distressed and disgusted by my reading habits, my difficulty in focusing on things of substance, and my mindless internet browsing habits. I recently read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and I was startled and transfixed by her assertion: “If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.” I want good books, good ideas, good creations to come out of me so very very much in every possible way, so ultimately I need to feed myself with better stuff.

While I was on sabbatical last year, I entertained lots of fantasies about quitting everything and being a writer of some kind and somehow making a living in this way. This is obviously not going to happen, but I talked about it with my boss last fall. We met for coffee about halfway through my sabbatical and I told him that I felt creatively frustrated and that I wasn’t sure if I could be a librarian forever and what was I going to do with my life and HEEELLLLLP. And he talked to me about cultivating a rich and interesting life outside of my job, how I might find personal fulfillment in doing other things than being a librarian, and while being a librarian can still be satisfying, it can also be the means to support more creative pursuits. And given his regular guitar-playing presence at Saturday farmers’ markets and the like, he knows of which he speaks.

This was revelatory for me. To think of librarianship as a thing I do, a thing that I mostly pretty much like, but also a thing to subsidize other interests and dreams—this was disconcerting but also kind of exciting. For basically my whole career thus far, being a librarian has been central to my identity. So, obviously, having moments of doubt about my future in the profession was very disorienting and confusing. If I’m not a librarian, then who am I? And how did I become someone who anchored my sense of self in my professional identity? If what I do is who I am, then it’s really no wonder that I’ve been struggling with burnout.

You’re not going to find me playing the guitar and singing at farmers’ markets or local stages any time soon, and you probably aren’t going to see me publishing my poems either. But you can find me here, in this space, trying to work through what it means to have meaning outside of my work, trying to feed myself with real food, and jiggling my creative limbs, which were previously asleep, but are now pin-prickingly awake.

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2 thoughts on ““If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.”

  1. This is such a great post, Maria. I think about these things too and have been feeling increasingly like I want to nourish the non-librarian parts of me more than I have over the past decade. I’m not feeling particularly burnt out on librarianship (I ❤ my new job so much), but I am totally feeling the way you do about "cultivating a rich and interesting life outside of my job." I've spent way too much of my free time on "career stuff" over the past decade and now I want to reconnect with the creative stuff I used to do way back when and maybe even some new things. Best of luck to both of us with finding a healthy balance!

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