an absorbing errand

I often wonder at the magic of libraries, how it is that the right book finds its way to the right reader, like a lost sock finding its match. There are certainly times I enter the library with a mission—to pick up a book on hold, to search for a specific title–but more often than not, I wander around the library simply looking. I make it a point to circle the sections of creatively arranged books, what’s new in fiction and non-fiction, but most often I spend my time in rows and stacks of old books that I somehow missed when they first arrived.

When the perfect book lands in my hands, I feel an odd mixture of daring and delight. I read these kinds of books slowly . . . savoring the words, re-reading passages, pausing to write quotes and sections of meaning in longhand. Perhaps this will be a book that will change my life, shape my thinking in some new way. Or a book that reassures or confirms some notion I have, some way of being.

I walked away from my recent visit to the Snow Branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library with an armful of inspiration.

Like a new friend that feels instantly like an old one, this book has been my constant companion all week.


An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery, by Janna Malamud Smith

The good life is lived best by those with gardens—a truth that was already a gnarled old vine in ancient Rome, but a sturdy one that still bears fruit. I don’t mean one must garden qua garden (I am myself desultory in that regard, gung ho in May but disinclined in sticky summer. When serious gardeners don their straw hats, I retreat to our dark, cool library). I mean rather the moral equivalent of a garden—the virtual garden. I posit that life is better when you possess a sustaining practice that holds your desire, demands your attention, and requires effort; a plot of ground that gratifies the wish to labor and create – and, by doing so, to rule over an imagined world of your own.
. . .
As with the literal act of gardening, pursuing any practice seriously is a generative, hardy way to live in the world. You are in charge (as much as we can ever pretend to be—sometimes like a sea captain hugging the rail in a hurricane); you plan; you design; you labor; you struggle. And your reward is that in some seasons you create a gratifying bounty.

This is exactly how I feel about my photography practice which leaves me with a deep sense of private satisfaction.

Whether by design or by accident, many of us seem to find enduring gratification in struggling to master and then repeatedly applying some difficult skill that allows us to at once realize and express ourselves.
— Janna Malamud Smith