Michael teaches yoga and meditation, practises bodywork, and does philosophy relating to the mind, body, and yoga.

library musings

The last two weeks have seen me enter a relatively quiet phase in terms of writing new words. The pace I've grown accustomed to this year has been one thousand words a day, six days a week.  Nothing makes me feel more like a superhero than writing a thousand words. I stand at my elevated kitchen counter, which is right at elbow height (the perfect height for a standing desk), with something in my headphones that will make my bones and my brain cells dance. The words dance their way through me too. And mostly they're nonsense but I don't care. I start out at zero and I make it to a thousand and I know that nothing else I will do that day will feel as patently challenging. (I have, after all, already done the most challenging thing of the day when I somehow made it out of bed. [How do I do that, I wonder? Every day, it feels impossible. But every day I somehow manage. And so do you. So well done. {And if ever there is a day or a few days when you don't manage to make it out of bed, don't be so hard on yourself. It's just a drop in the proverbial bucket in the grand scheme of things. And sometimes full days in bed are simply necessary}])

But at a certain point, someone needs to make sense of it all. And I need to get away from my normal writing spot so that I can stop dancing around and actually focus for once. So that I can tie together all the dangling threads, and arrange things in a way that doesn't look like somebody's just made me laugh alphabet soup out my nose and onto my computer screen.  So that I can be honest with myself about what's decent, and what just needs to go. (Really though, none of it needs to go, it's all absolutely brilliant you'll see.)

So my editing office for the last couple of weeks (and, in all likelihood, the next several weeks as well) has been the Berlin Staatsbibliothek Haus Unter den Linden. The Berlin State Library. The place that dreams are made of.


They don't know it yet, but the library staff are soon going to be my best friends. There's the one smiley lady who looks in my clear plastic bag to make sure I'm not smuggling in chocolate, or fizzy drinks, or more books than I've declared, and who has recently taken to calling me "Rasta Man." I like her. Then there's the guy who checks my rucksack. He has ears like Jeff Sessions, but the rest of him bears no resemblance (thank goodness). He acts like he hasn't taken a shine to me but he's still perfectly friendly when he's not half asleep. Sometimes they switch roles, and I imagine they're doing it just to see whether or not I notice. I do notice. The rucksack check fellow seems to like his rucksack job better than the "Rasta Man" lady's job. "Rasta Man" lady seems perfectly happy either way.


The library smells like books. Books smell like magic.


The desks in the reading hall are almost always all occupied. People plugging away at PhD theses in linguistics and masters dissertations on art history and popular books about yoga, philosophy, and embodied consciousness. Sometimes I like to pretend that I fit right in. I'm not a yogi, I'm a scholar! I've even figured out how to use the online catalogue to order impressive-sounding volumes from the other location. (My most recent one was William James's Essays in Radical Empiricism. Beat that, Humboldt doctoral candidate So-and-so! [It's a competition to see who can be most academic, right?]) 

But mostly, even though I'm surrounded by people doing ostensibly the same kind of thing I'm doing, it feels a bit lonely because nobody in the reading hall seems all that interested in speaking to me. So luckily the musicians keep me company. Brian McBride is a new friend. And so is Nicola Cruz. And Question & Freddie Joachim followed me to this library from the library where I wrote a lot of my dissertation last year. Hiatus Kaiyote comes in to funk things up for me sometimes. Most often it's one of the big three: Pantha du Prince, Panda Bear, or Uji (whose SoundCloud I'm seriously worried might break down due to how often I listen to this particular set. Also, they got me in trouble last week because the rhythm got into my legs and I was tapping my foot against the desk and didn't realise that the sound was echoing through the whole reading hall.  So one of the librarians had to come round and ask me to desist. In German, it sounded as though I had used up one of my strikes. [And in German, it sounded like maybe I only have two strikes total, instead of the three that I'm used to as an American.] Oops!).

I listen to a full album all the way through as I wrestle with the beast that has somehow made its messy way onto my hard drive over the course of the last several months. When one album is over, it's time to take a break. So I get up, go to the loo, walk up and down some stairs, check Facebook, and see if anyone has happened to text me in the last albums' worth of time. Usually it's nobody. But sometimes it's somebody sending me a hug.

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I take a lunch break around 14:00, when everyone else has already eaten and Mitte is moving a bit more slowly. I take a walk, I go to the bookstore (I know, I have a problem) and maybe I'll listen to a podcast. The walk usually does me good, gives me ideas. (Or maybe it's the coffee. [Probably it's both.]) I come back to the reading hall ("Rasta Man" lady and Jeff-Sessions-ears fellow are so happy to see me again, even if they don't show it I can tell. While I'm up there listening to Jamie xx and adding a 2016 study about the human nasal cycle to my bibliography, they're together planning exactly how they can muster up the courage to ask me to join their book club. [Don't be bashful y'all! You know I'll say yes!]) I sit down at my computer again (still feels weird to sit down) and switch the order of chapters 5 and 6, and take a whole bunch of material that had been in chapter 5 (the old chapter 6) and move it to chapter 8 (which is still chapter 8). This is it. This is the edit that is going to make sense of the entire narrative. I am beaming with excitement, trembling with blissful anticipation as I imagine my agent reading the latest draft, I put myself in her shoes as I scroll through my document again with its brand new formatting, and as I scroll I realise that everything I've ever written is absolutely heinous and should never actually see the light of day.


If I get stuck for what my next cut (and, most probably at this stage, paste) should be, this is what it looks like when I look up:

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I like to imagine that, when the library closes at night, little book elves parachute down from that sculpture and sweep up all the dust and the remaining salt from the evaporated tears of students' frustration with little tiny brooms (I'm imagining it like the scene from A Muppet Christmas Carol where all the rats the work for Mr. Scrooge tidy up when they close up shop on Christmas Eve. Maybe even with that same song.)

Around 19 or 20:00, my brain feels like somebody has been taking a rolling pin to it all day. Punch-drunk and bleary-eyed, I gather my belongings and stumble out of the reading hall. My library staff buddies seem to have gone home and I just don't have the energy to develop that kind of close rapport with these evening interlopers. I'm sorry.

This weekend I'll be in Hamburg, giving my brain a break. I'll miss you "Rasta Man" lady, and Jeff-Sessions-Ears fellow. I'll miss you, Essays in Radical Empiricism. I'll miss you book elves. Sing some special songs for me until Monday. 

my 100 best songs of all time

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