Yesterday my wife and I were at a lecture at our local museum. It was about eccentricity in Japanese Painting. It was okay. But two things from it stick with me. One was about how in 17th or 18th century Japan, Zen Buddhism was very powerful and corrupt, and a new Zen school came in from China with a kind of back to basics focus, centered on the principle that desire makes you unhappy. It had great impact and influence. The other thing that stuck with me was a story, in a painting from this same period, about a wealthy, successful poet who goes to seek wisdom from some wacky sage who lives in a tree. After much travel he finds this prophet or sage or whatever he is, up in a tree, and the poet asks the guy in the tree what the meaning of life is. The prophet in the tree says something like "Be nice to people." This makes the poet pretty mad. He says "Do you know who I am? I came all this way seeking your wisdom and you give me some crappy platitude? Anyone could have told me to be nice to people!"
The sage says "It is very easy to say, but very hard to do."
All this got me thinking about how there is a great power in reducing back to the distilled essence of something. If you can get it right, at that simple level, all the energy that has sprawled out in its interpretations and applications comes back with massive power into a single, pre big bang like point. I am reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and think it's just great. Part of why it is so great is because it does just this. He says "Eat food, mostly plants, not too much." and it is a key of power. It takes all the energy of a hundred years of madness about food, takes it all back to something almost absurdly simple, and unlocks a great door, and a wise and interesting book.
Walking around my Library, with, as I often do, Library thoughts swirling through my head, I thought, what would this essence be in the describing of our Libraries, these places with all their computer classes and programming and coffee shops and games and meeting spaces and wifi and outreach and technological gimmickry? I know we're not talking about fundamentally corrupt institutions with Libraries, were talking about largely wonderful institutions, but I often feel like the core of where I work does get a little forgotten in all its ever growing peripheries and expansions. I wondered what there would be in naming this essential core of a Library, what it would feel like. Here is my try:
Get as many good books as you can, put them in a place you can read and keep them, and make them as readily available as possible.