The ride to Chincoteague from my farm is about 80 miles. The Island Book Club was meeting this December night and had invited me to join them in a discussion of my latest book, Elizabeth’s Field. In the driving rain, I was questioning my sanity in accepting the invitation. But as in most decisions of mine that I continually question, the adventure side usually wins, wise or not. Any chance to get the novel “out there” is tempting.
The directions said something about parking in the back of a seafood restaurant called “Don’s” and the library entrance was off the parking lot. Turning into the lot, I was aware of boats and waterfront to the right, and to the left, the indiscriminate back of restaurant, and before me, a hexagon shaped structure lighted as brilliantly as a lighthouse, from base to cupola. That couldn’t be the library, could it?
I can’t tell you how startlingly the stage was set from that moment on and I’m sure now this was the architect’s intention, but if one could not be drawn to such a place on a rainy night or any other night, one would have to be temperature and pulse challenged. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Wolfe’s masterpiece, came to my mind and despite the rain, I stood for a moment and took it in. I remembered the feeling–it was similar to the one I’d had as a kid when our Christmas tree was first lighted.
Inside, the circle of chairs in the center and the high ceiling drew my eyes upward beyond the first floor and the mezzanine and made me pay attention–maybe even immediate devotion–to the hexagon positioned walls filled with books–the white railing on the mezzanine and more books behind it–around and around. Computers are not the center of life here as in most libraries now, but discreetly placed inside the railing of the second floor. Lightness and brightness and books surround. This night, there was also a small crowd of welcoming faces, people who take books seriously.
In my recently changed focus from writing to marketing my book online, through a blog, a website, facebook announcements, and store-based book signings where people mostly walk on by, this night was to remind me that while I don’t think of an audience when I’m trying to get sentences to come out right, and the unaccustomed search for audience becomes so time and energy consuming after publication of the work, the bottom line and much appreciated welcome experienced here is what it’s all about once a work is finished, and I found it especially heartwarming. It would be to any writer. We work in isolation. Naively, especially as self-published authors, we enter the unknowns of the world of marketing. But here, sitting in this circle of chairs surrounded by books housed in this building that says we care about the written word, is the Island Book Club, the true reward, if reward is what you’re looking for. We write because we must. The rest is on the periphery. But the live audience who has taken not only this kind of work but the work of many, many writers seriously, keeps our civilization going. Sometimes, I think it is only quiet contemplation that will save us, the place we go to when we read a book or are drawn to a painting or sculpture or a piece of music–the place that goes way beyond ourselves and our current wants and distractions and daily diet of news.
I must tell you how much the members and volunteers of the Chincoteague Island Public Library care. It is impressive.
The hexagon shaped building is an addition to a storefront that was a drug store back in 1887, and a barber shop for 75 years from 1908 on. When the building needed to be saved, it was moved to its present location in 1990. It was the Citizens’ League that raised the funds to save the building, and when it was renovated, it was opened as the Chincoteague Island Library in 1995. Expansion began in 2008, an architect hired, and generous donations by the island inhabitants made the present structure possible, doubling the size of the library, and creating the beautiful treasure that it is.
I shall think of this lighthouse, as I’ve come to call it in my own mind, from time to time. A painting by Barbara Schmitz on the face of a note card from the library hangs above my desk now–a fond memory that balances things out and helps me keep priorities in line. Thank you, Chincoteague Island Book Club, for your warm welcome. I was also delighted to see the painting by my daughter, Lynne, on the wall by the Christmas tree, evidence of the fact that she had discovered the library a while ago. The painting is of the front and street side of the library, the long ago barber shop, and is a reminder of the library’s humble beginnings.
For those of you who may visit Chincoteague Island in future, especially in the summer months when the famous Pony Penning takes place, be sure to visit the library. It’s right there on Main Street at 4077. It’s at the heart of everything.