Better take the easy way for now.
I’m looking at things hanging on the cork-board in my office. They’re mostly my things, not work related at all. Little things really, trinkets, gewgaws. I'd like to say that they’re little reminders of who I am, peepholes into the shadow box of my psyche, but that would be something of an exaggeration. Really there’s lots of things here that reflect the dreams that I’ve never really been able to fully explore. They tell not of who I am, but who I wish I could have been.
Take the pamphlet for the Boston Athenaeum. The Athenaeum is one of the finest private libraries in the country with and august history and holdings at which I still marvel when perusing the list:
1) Approximately one third of George Washington’s personal library;
2) One of the most important collections of abolitionist tracts and pamphlets in the world;
3) The complete collection of Gypsy materials assembled by Francis Hindes Groome; and, of course
4) Stack upon stack of far more mundane but terrifically entertaining STUFF.
I first heard about the Athenaeum in the latter days of my undergraduate career and was positively entranced. Here was an organization which, for better or worse, appealed to some vanity hidden deep inside me. Of course I couldn’t be a member. I was too mundane, too middle class, too intellectually inferior. But if I could, oh, the world would open up to me! I could wander the stacks, pulling Byron off the shelves and with the intent of standing on the terrace overlooking the burial ground (did I mention how amazing the building is?) and… well, I don’t know what I’d do, exactly, but it would be magnificent, and stupendous, and the world would have known that I had arrived. I would be accepted, known, and, of course, somehow revered. It was supposed to be the ultimate justification of all of my intellectual pretensions, the ultimate reward for all the years I had been scorned as a "brain" or "bookish" or just a plain old "geek."
Well, it wasn’t all that. I learned years later that the application process for standard membership wasn’t that vigorous. It helps if you have a member listed as one of your recommendations (I did), but really they’re just another non-profit organization which seeks to promote itself in the midst of an overwhelmingly apathetic climate. I became a member. There was no fanfare. No accolades. No triumphant arrival into the who’s who of Boston, New England, the United States. No, it wasn’t splendid at all. Well, on second thought, it was and wasn’t at the same time. It’s still a beautiful place to read. There are constant offerings to satisfy one's curiosity (a reading from “The True History of the Kelly Gang”), need for culture (noonday music at King’s Chapel), appetite (afternoon teas), and all manner of other things. There are book groups, puppet shows (I love marionettes), readings, black-tie balls, art exhibits. All of this is still happening even though the building that houses the Athenaeum has been closed for renovations for about two years.
I’ve been to almost none of it.
Now, I suppose that the way that I’ve been talking about this that you’re thinking that I was somehow disappointed that membership in the Athenaeum wasn’t the grand event that I had hoped and wished for, but it’s far more tragic than that. No, really it’s just that even though I’ve been a member for some time now, I still don’t think I deserve to be a member. I still haven’t come close to achieving all of the things that I thought that gaining access to this library would mean and I am disappointed in myself and more than a little embarrassed. I’ve assumed while at the few functions to which I have gone that someone would recognize me for the fraud that I am and have me summarily tossed from his/her presence. Here, like most everywhere else, I live in constant fear that someone will motion to a burly security guard, point at me, and say something cliché like, “Get that creature from my sight!”
Still caught up in my own illusions of grandiosity even though it’s generally been the utterly ordinary that has held me captivated. (And there will be more on that later, too.)