Rearranging Inspiration On Our Dark Shelves

Spent most of the day helping re-catalogue the music in my choir’s library.  According to our librarian, we got through about two-thirds of the job.  Which is good.  But I think, right now, I’d like to describe the library itself.  It has … character.

For starters, it’s a dungeon.  An underground room short of width and long of length.  There are no windows, and only one door.  A cement floor, a few walls of brick, and at least one wall of cinder blocks, the ceiling looks as though it’s held up entirely by a strategically applied grid of masking tape. The room slopes quite markedly, presumably because it’s beneath the university theatre, and the seats slope directly above, facing the stage.  There is only a single ceiling light, which is controlled by a switch located down the corridor.  Outside the room itself.  It is easy for someone to unwittingly shut your lights off and leave you in the dark.

It is altogether grungy.  An asthmatic’s nightmare.  Dark, dust-ridden and poorly ventilated – if the door is kept shut you start to sweat quick-smart.  The atmosphere is heavy, close and strange.  And this sensation is amplified many times over by the room’s contents.

Being our library, significant space is taken up by shelving.  Our shelves are of thin metal, somewhat flimsy, and it is hoped they will soon be replaced with compactors.  Two long rows of shelves laden with box upon box of music scores, a few bright and fresh and in excellent condition, but many too that are tattered and yellow and stained by years – the oldest I catalogued today were published in 1909.  Two aisles lead right to the back of the room, where cupboards are usually filled by our historical archives and memorabilia.  Given that we just had our 100th anniversary celebrations, these cupboards are mostly empty, their contents recently in use elsewhere.  Other miscellaneous items include a rusted barbecue, a box of exploding soft drink cans from fundraisers of years long passed that have, since exploding, been disposed of, and fair quantities of tea towels and soap.  I’m not sure what the choir of old did with its time to warrant such copious amounts of cleaning-related products.  Though the exploding soft drink cans offer some indication.

These are what the choir keeps in their dungeon, this lair of artists.  But only the right belongs to us.  This lair is shared by another group of artists, the student theatre company.  They keep the left strewn haphazardly with items cast off from the real world, a child’s massive box of make-believe spilled out beside our shelves with which to outfit their productions:  countless wine glasses, plastic flowers, candelabras, purses, many more items unexpected, and racks and racks of costumes – coats and hats and shoes and gloves and sunglasses.

Half increasingly ordered music library, half destitute prop department.

In that dark, dingy space, the air is so still.

Not just trying to be absurdly poetic, here.  Actually is.  Glad we kept the door propped open.

Needless to say (having already spent a fair amount of time in there as substitute librarian several years ago) this strange place had already inspired a setting in a story, though not one I’ve done very much work on at all.  It’s about a choir.  Funnily enough.  If today I hadn’t been concentrating quite so intently on trying to catalogue correctly, inspiration may have taken hold again.  And not only inspiration for setting, mimicking the layout and location.  This place has the potential to create more.  Our library, so enclosed, cut-off and splattered by such an odd array of articles and sensations, any of which could spin an intriguing thought into being, I’m sure could work wonders for writer’s block.  Next time I’m at a loss – probably next month, as if I have a crack at National Novel Writing Month I’ll need something fresh on the slab – I’ll bring to mind the close darkness, the cinder block walls and sloping roof, the aged music and the startling brightness of feather boas in the grey.  See if it helps.

I’ll let you know.

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