Sanctuary of Thinking: Why the “Sterling Room for Writers” is important to me

Posted: September 28, 2013 in Experiences, On Beauty, Poems
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

If you’ve been following me for a while then you know that I love to write; you also know that I began blogging to “keep my ‘chops’ sharp” even when my “real job” is not that of “author”. In the past 2 years I’ve posted over 100 times and have had nearly 10,000 hits. In the grand scheme of “bloggers” my accomplishment is minuscule. (Perhaps I should have cooked my way through Julia Child, or something, and then secured a film deal. Then again, maybe not. Maybe it’s just hip enough to be myself; and to share my examined life for a few friends). So, as a guy who really only writes for myself, I’m pretty happy that I’ve been “found” almost 10,000 times.

On The Ritual of Thinking

I really do hope that I am a positive influence on you who find me. I don’t expect to find anyone who always agrees with me. I rarely even agree with myself from week to week. In fact, if you want to find inconsistencies you need look no further. I’ll point them out myself if you so desire. All I want is to live an examined life and to share it when I feel that it will make others think. In fact, all I really want is for me to THINK, and for my THINKING to help other people THINK.

Although I sometimes still consider the possibility that my old friend and teacher, John Lilly, was correct in proposing that Cetaceans may have an intelligence level equal, or exceeding, that of humans; I don’t think there is any credible evidence to show that humans are anything other than the planet’s most rationality-capable beings. I may someday be proven wrong, especially given how insanely the world’s most powerful human’s behave! But, I live my own life as if my species is unique in our ability to REASON and to take action thereupon. So, just as I love to swim to keep my heart in shape and to lift free-weights to keep my musculature in shape, I read and I WRITE to keep my brain in shape. In other words, this blog, my poems, and what I post on Facebook really are, in a direct sense, FOR me. The controversy, wacky humor, and argumentation are all really mind games that I play with myself. I just like letting all of you watch it happen.

On the Sanctuary of Thinking

Now I’d like to set aside the subject of WHY I write and to take up the subject of WHERE I do so.

I have a set of free weights at home; I have a heavy bag and speed bag in the garage. Still, the most progress I make in my weight lifting is when I’m at the gym; and a single lesson in the ring with my friend, the great woman boxer Molly McConnell, is better than all my workouts on the home bags combined. The reason that this is true is a very simple thing called “focus”. When Molly is holding target mitts, I have no choice but to FOCUS. When I’m in the gym, on a weight bench, it’s far easier to CONCENTRATE than when I’m at home. This is true for almost everything. Praying is easier in Synagogue than at home. Walking is easier on a forest trail than around the block. But, I’m misusing the word “easy” when I say that. What I should really say is something like “more powerful”,,”more fulfilling”, or “more conscious”.  I admit, even as an individualist, that part of this comes from doing things with other people. But……….

……… But, I believe that an even greater part of it comes from environmental appropriateness. By this I mean that a Synagogue or a church was BUILT FOR praying, a gym was BUILT FOR working out. These spaces are in a sense (yes I’m about to misuse a word for which I can think of no better) SACRED. They are places where one feels that the tasks done therein are APPROPRIATE.  I don’t want to sound too much like Christopher Alexander in “A Timeless Way of Building” but, in my experience, there is value to the synergy between task and space. We do our best work when we do it where it most feels “right”.

So here I am, sitting a a wonderful block-paneled room. It is a simple room: three bookcases, 4 desks, a coat rack, and some lamps. Surrounding this room is the, dare I say, “grandeur” of a large, modern, urban library. But within this room is a feeling, almost an energy, that writers of the past are sitting beside me. It’s a room that was kept largely untouched when this library was remodeled. It is not dark, or dank, or “old”, or shabby. It is APPROPRIATE. It’s the Multnomah County Central Library’s “Sterling Room for Writers”, a room that preserves the history of writing in Portland Oregon, a room where it feels RIGHT TO WRITE!

I’m been working in this room for over 15 years. I wrote most of the poems in my new book, “The New Poetics of Isolation” (ISBN 978-14 90907659 – available on Amazon and from most other booksellers) in this room from 1998 to 2003. I can virtually guarantee that, had I not been allowed to use this room, many of those poems would not have been completed. I’m going to be borderline-narcissistic by sharing this but I want to show you all photo of the book.


What is special about this photo is not that it shows my book. But that it shows my book in a display case, here in the Sterling Room. I brought the book here so that it could see where it was born. In so doing, I acknowledge the importance of this space and the fact that, without this space, the book would probably still be a bunch of Microsoft Word docs that would never find a path to wholeness. So, yes, I’m proud of putting the book here. But more than that, I’m grateful that the library makes this space available to writers. It’s a little treasure buried in the back of a big library and it’s APPROPRIATE for the work I do when I need to keep examining this little life of mine 🙂

The conclusion I want to draw (other than the obvious and unabashed suggestion that you buy my book -hehehe) is that WHERE we choose to do thing affects the SUCCESS of our doing. Thinking, and using our rational faculties, is something that deserves the same cognizance of space and the same focus as does any physical or creative endeavor. So, I appreciate (and I hope you will take the time to appreciate) the Sanctuaries of Thinking that present themselves to you!

  1. michelle bombet minch says:

    Well said…perhaps this would help convince my twin 12 year old girls why homework and studying is best done in their room, at their desk and without the distractions of the kitchen area. We all need a place to go for our best thinking and writing.

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