Holiday Hazards, Library Fantasies

The noodle was the last straw. 


January 15, 2015

There’s nothing more domestic and nourishing than a noodle, nothing more benign or prosaic. We use our noodles to figure things out; we noodle around to see how something works. Writers do a lot of noodling with their noodles.

That’s why, after I’d picked with my thumb at the tiny stick-noodle dried hard in a bowl and it stabbed under my nail halfway to the cuticle and broke off, I felt...betrayed. There was no reaching it now—try poking tweezers under your nail, as I did—and it was softening from running water and blood and wouldn’t pull out in one piece even if I could catch the end. A high insistent pain, bright and sickening, made me see why the method is used for torture. I’m pretty stoic, but it handily broke my will, and twenty minutes later I had to drive to the oddly-named Green Door care clinic, where I was willing to let them do anything to make it go away. The medicos saw only irony. 

Noodle, huh? You got a lil’ noodle under your schnoodle, buddy? Let me give you these two shots in the end of your thumb and cut a big bloody notch out of the nail, then scrape out that mean ol’ noodle with my medical probe. Here you go, I’ve smeared it on this sterile paper. All better? Watch out for those noodles, buddy, and have a blessed day!

The noodle, waiting treacherously in a dirty soup bowl left on the counter by some family member, was just the last in a series of symbolic fails. The transmission broke on the minivan this holiday season, so I’ve been stranded for five weeks. I ripped cartilage in my knee working for the children’s theater, which caused me worry with no relief in sight. The kids had some malaise that wasn’t the flu. It rained so hard it overwhelmed the French drain I’d dug, and I had to swab water from a bedroom. The oven stopped lighting—gas flowed dangerously anyhow—and expensive parts were slow in coming, so I had to make do with baking on the propane grill. 

Worst of all, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who believes being the biggest tool in the land will prove him worthy of its highest office, says that “Louisiana's colleges and universities should be prepared to sustain anywhere from $200 million to $300 million in cuts during the 2015-2016 school year.” This, after 42% of state funding was cut in the previous five years. My boss texted yesterday to say we’re “on the verge of economic disaster...looks like the university may have to cut its operating budget in half next year. Unfathomable.” Well. Winters are nice, buddy; we nearly won’t need houses.


Be more present, says Bill Murray to Charlie Rose. Alert and available. His goals are simplicity, experience, fulfillment, generosity, and good humor. People promote him as an American Bodhisattva these days, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice. With luck his reputation will survive his own impromptu public shenanigans.

Still, worthy goals. To be unhostaged. To listen, for the first time, independent of gesture, expression, and inflection. To make something good. To be fit, comfortable in simple, well-made clothes. Self-sufficient but appreciative of what others give. Not to be bored with myself. The enormous satisfactions of well-used tools, sharpened again and again, oiled, and stored securely. To help in ways that actually matter.

I dreamed I was a dragon in a ranch house, guarding plain paper boxes, the size of takeout containers, tied with twine and stacked neatly floor to ceiling. No idea if there was anything in them. With a sudden recognition of futility I flamed the neat little boxes into conflagration. Isn’t it funny how meaningless our dreams are?


I’m all for getting rid of unneeded possessions, but books will always be a sticking point for me. When I’m stressed I spend a lot of time imagining an even bigger personal library, and the lovely space it might occupy.

I’ve long been following the Tiny House movement, but I can’t remember seeing a Tiny House library. There are creative bookshelves in some, but I mean a devoted library, maybe 10,000 books, with comfortable chairs and excellent lighting. Tiny houses are usually built on trailers that could be put in a back drive as a retreat and workspace, or otherwise used as a library for rural or poor communities, with more comfort and semi-permanence than bookmobiles. 

So what would it take, as long as I’m self-soothing? Tumbleweed Tiny House Company’s most popular model, the 130-sq. ft. Cypress takes $27,000 of materials if you buy the plans ($759) and have the time and skills to build it. Completed, it costs $57,000, but for that you could buy a real cottage or add on to your house. Buy something Tiny used and prices can be lower, but there are some real Cousin Eddies out there, and you have to get whatever it is home. Add shelving (I make built-ins from board lumber), lights, rug, chairs...call it another $750.

I’d need maybe another $3,000 to finish filling shelves with reading copies picked up online, at rummage/estate/friends of the library sales, and at used bookstores. Notices of sales can be found at Book Sale Finder.

To sum up: The cost of my joy, after cutting corners and using my own labor and time when the state eliminates my job: $20,000, a crazy sum. And there is, as the poet said to Hemingway, the problem of sustenance.


Looking at these magnificent European libraries, I note that one has post and beam construction not too different from an old barn’s. It was always a desire of my father’s to rehab a barn for another use, and I inherited the wish instead of real estate.

There are already libraries in barns. Here’s one in Jackson, New Hampshire, at the American Library Association’s website, which also shows other “reused” buildings serving as libraries in various communities. Here’s the Gilmanton (NH) Year-Round Library, the Writing Barn in Austin, and an unidentified barn that reminds me of a rustic Trinity Library Long Room. Here’s a writer’s home library in a stone barn in the Loire Valley.

So you’ll need a barn, say, from this site, buyer beware, which will have to be disassembled, moved, rehabbed, maybe engineered, and reassembled on your own land. Or else buy a frame already restored, such as one here from the 1830s for only $15,000 plus shipping. Or start with a new timber frame (surprisingly affordable at the smaller sizes) and finish it yourself.

Add architect’s fees, land if you don’t have it, engineering stamps, work permits, site improvement, poured or stone foundation, mechanicals, plumbing, electrical, cladding, roofing, insulation, flooring, sheet rock, fixtures, and paint, and you might end up with something like these beautiful finished barn projects.

Furnishings and shelves. A lot of shelves. A lot of books, too—maybe the stock of an entire used bookstore, given the space. This thread at LibraryThing has a five-year old discussion of inventory costs, as does this undated piece at The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association.

I’m a hardhead, so I bet I could build something relatively small but great for...200 grand. Caught in the flames of desire that lead to more suffering...


Photo of Trinity's Long Room used by agreement with Creative Commons. Thanks, Superchilum.


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