The New York Public Library is my safe haven from the cacophony of Manhattan. Bleating horns, bike messengers racing to earn the next pick up, taxis playing chicken with each other, surprise wind tunnels on side streets that butt up against an open field in Central Park and then whip all that vast pent up energy into us up against a wall. My senses are assaulted, I feel grimy, I’m carrying too many research files and a lap top and cord in one bag, a purse in another, and the New York Times is in a deli bag along with a protein bar, muffin and tea that is spilling all over both.
In the midst of this madness, I am a writer seeking calm and a good place to concentrate. There is no book-lined, peaceful study at home overlooking a forest or seascape in my life in the way that I imagine Virginia Wolfe or Leo Tolstoy or the modern John Grisham writing their oeuvres.
Once I’ve battled my way to New York’s famed Forty-Second street and Fifth Avenue, I then sit on the glorious steps of my sanctuary in this urban jungle we call Manhattan: our very own masterpiece oeuvre: the New York Public Library.
Up the marble steps, I smile at the huge Lions I used to visit as a little girl (and leave cupcakes for)…and into the magnificent Beaux-Arts building, where so many cultural events, charitable benefits, and even Hollywood apocalyptic scenes as in The Day After Tomorrow took place. Another majestic flight to the Rose Reading Room inside and I feel one thing: SAFE.
The Rose Reading room is a place for people to explore their minds and, in my case, communicate my thoughts and beliefs into a work of fiction that hopefully touches people. It’s anguishing to realize I can’t think of the right word, to write a sentence I don’t fully love and know others will find fault with, and to tap into my deepest feelings and fears in the process. I need to feel safe in order to execute my craft. Or try.
Every day each week I spend my mornings in the library to write after I drop my children off at school. I find peace and calm that is the polar opposite of every expression and impression this city throws at me. I’ve written two books in the New York Public Library. My first novel, The Manny, was written in a wintry six-month blizzard of time to meet a deadline. This current book, The Idea of Him, took almost three years start to finish. I got divorced during the inception of the book, I had children’s emotional needs tugging at me, I’d grown a bit as a writer, and had deeper (and scarier) things to say out loud on the page.
Ergo…the womb that is the Rose Reading Room. It’s quiet. People look at each other across the tables knowingly and our eyes say to each other – “I’m concentrating. I’m studying. I’m exploring something I never knew existed. I’m trying to advance my career. I’m trying for that degree…(or simply)…Hi. I’m working hard and I know you are too.”
New Yorkers toil hard, most often cramped side by side. We also have felt unsafe together and talk about real safe havens…where we would meet our loved ones in the event of another tragedy. New Yorkers are all compatriots that way. I don’t use the word safe haven lightly in this city. It is the means with which we plan to find our families and how, on the happier side, we find refuge to create and explore our greatest intellectual passions.
Let us focus and say thanks to that gift of haven that is embodied in the very structure of the New York Public Library. No greater gift can a city gem offer than this: offering us the peace to do our work calmly so that we might ignite and unleash our minds’ greatest potentials.