The bookshelf exemplifies something I heard recently: that someone who is happy or smiles a lot is very wise. The tiny shelf sits by my desk where I work part-time for a low-rez MFA program. I work with writers—around 100 students and 35 faculty—and two writer colleagues, my “partners in crime.” Writing is my world, and yet most of my day is spent on the computer navigating hundreds of emails, advising students, contacting editors and agents, and planning fairs and workshops. This shelf keeps me company. It’s more of a shrine than a bookcase, a holder of wisdom and fun.
There’s an illustrated Tao Te Ching, which, when things are busy, I like to close the door, put my feet up, and open at random. It always tells me just what I need to hear and centers me when academic life gets absurd. There’s a faculty handbook bookmarked to the “sabbatical” page, which I’ve been consulting a lot as I apply this year, a Webster’s collegiate and two old thesauri. I collect old books on writing. Sometimes I pick up the 1950s book of synonyms (mint condition sky blue dust jacket, from the Book Cellar on Beacon Street in Brookline) and flip open to a random page to get inspired and remember my love of words. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the feel of the book itself, its creamy smooth pages, the old-fashioned typeface, and the weight of it in my hand that energizes me as much as the words. And something called The Children’s Hour, with color illustrations and Reader’s Digest-type stories about wolves and horses and all kinds of adventures. I want to remember that spirit in life and art.
To cap it off I added Scottie bookends (from a Home Goods store) that are both crusty and frivolous, a miniature Zen sand tray just for fun, and my all-time favorite: a platinum-framed black & white print (off eBay) of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doing “the Yam.” Voila! Instant elegance and joy!
I love this space that I made. It makes office life gorgeous. Books are an oasis, like the Zen sand tray that everyone likes to rake when they come visit. As they comb the grains, I can see their breathing quiet, their faces soften and their eyes get a dreamy detached look. The shelf makes us all a little happier.
JANET POCOROBBA is an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, Division of Interdisciplinary Inquiry at Lesley University. She holds an M.F.A., Lesley University; M.A., Northeastern Illinois University; A.B., Smith College. She is the Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Intercultural Relations Program, and Division of Interdisciplinary Inquiry.