Hobbyist Corner

Hobbyist Corner

Hobbyist Corner

Warhammer 40k, Table Top Games, Arduino computers, Homebrew and everything in between.

A Map to Where Muses Live, or How to Build Your Home Library

What Harlan Ellison, Guillermo del Toro, Ray Bradbury and Tolkien have in common? They all built a home library. We explore how and why build one too.

I urge you to arms; we are in great danger.

Writers, artists, architects, musicians, entrepreneurs; all of us. There are hard choices ahead of us and swift actions must be taken before history repeats itself.

You see, contrary to popular belief, the burning of the Library of Alexandria was not a single day event, but a curse of our ego that spans through years of abuse and disdain for our culture, condemning us even to this day.

Once a great Egyptian library dedicated to the nine goddesses of the arts with spacious lecture halls, green gardens that stretched as far as pyramids grew, shelves that held an immeasurable collection of human knowledge, Alexandria became fire, then burnt scrolls, then dust. It went from the keeper of the world’s culture to crumbs left on the plate of humanity.

[…] Alexandria went from the keeper of the world’s culture to crumbs left on the plate of humanity.

Well, I say kill me with a sword and I will die, but kill me after I’ve finished my work and, like the caterpillar hiding in its chrysalis, I will be reborn into a monarch butterfly! So, just as the caterpillar, it is time for us to spread our wings and fly!

But first, something must be done to ensure our work will outlive us. The chrysalis must be built. The luxury of believing the digital realm will last forever, as some sort of eternal keeper of our creations its is as dangerous as a crazy general with a torch in his hand standing in front of Alexandria.

If we refuse humanity, if we chose to believe the digital gods, the night will fall–upon all of us. It may come after the hand of a solar flare caresses earth’s atmosphere, or after someone barks orders into the intercom of a bunker until a button gets pushed. It may even happen after a virtual disease copy itself onto every storage system on the planet at the speed of tomorrow. It may come as something new, it may come as something none of us has even heard about yet, but rest assured; it will come.

Should we not listen to reason and continue on this path, our work will become invariably destroyed. Alexandria will burn, once again.

This time I am afraid, our love-hate affair with technology will be the match that lits the fire. Our tendency to centralized systems has put us under Poe’s pendulum once again.

The culprit? Not Julius Caesar telling his generals to burn his fleet at the shores of Alexandria, but a home appliance. That’s history, laughing at us.

This time I am afraid, our love-hate affair with technology will be the match that lits the fire. Our tendency to centralized systems has put us under Poe’s pendulum once again.

If you ever experienced the helpless “file corrupted” phenomenon while using a computer, then you understand why it is imperative for everyone who creates to move away as slow and steady as possible from the digital format; or be doomed.

Buried deep in the caves of Spain, France, and all over the world, the Neanderthal teaches us to hunt. To fish, to hide, to survive. His chosen weapons; ink and scroll. Ink made out of charcoal, spit, and dirt. The cave walls as his eternal scroll. Thoughts that survive to this day and, as the caves they have been painted on, will survive long after we are gone.

But what will survive from us in ten, fifteen thousand years? Will that book we wrote last weekend in a Word processor survive us? Will that digital canvas carry your painting to the future? Or your sculpture? How many of your originals?

LinkProof flame icon +38 people subscribed through this story in the last 24 hours verified checkmark linkproof Verified by LinkProof

When Elmore Leonard passed away, he donated more than 450 originals drafts penned by hand to the University of South Carolina. There are boxes and boxes of letters (around 30,000 pages in total) by late author Ray Bradbury still being curated at the Center of Ray Bradbury Studies at the Indiana University. The Vatican safe keeps DaVinci’s soul only because he poured it into his journals.

Same goes with Mark Twain, Thomas Edison and many others who have cared enough to leave their legacy on a piece of paper. How many of us are conscious of what we are doing by torching our creative legacy every day when we walk away from our desks without a hard-copy of what we’ve done?

Without realizing it, we’ve become our own Julius Caesar’s, setting on fire our ships, not being able to return home and erasing, without really wanting it, our steps on the proverbial sands of time.

Best Seller author Tom Clancy at his home libraryBest Seller author Tom Clancy at his home library

Enough prophecy. My plan of action: to erect my own Alexandria, right here, in the middle of the house. But not any library, mind you. This will be an archive, a secret fountain of inspiration and knowledge, a playground for the mind and the imagination, growing only for those with the soul left to see and understand.

It will be raised high and away from those who despise culture. Away, hidden from the glassy eyes of bureaucrats of the state, from the thick red tape of moral censors and from those who have lost half a brain idly tapping their phones. Their hooves won’t destroy this Alexandria, nor have a saying on its content.

Why at home? For the same reasons, great architects build parks in the middle of busy cities! Because libraries are living organisms! They give us life with every second we are around one of them. Plants breathe our CO2 and in return, gift us with air. Books breathe our ignorance and, in exchange, kind us with the most valuable gifts; knowledge. Humility. Wisdom. On our selves, in the world around us. On what was, what is, on what soon will be.

It should serve to inspire us and better us in our daily tasks. It should be our fortress of solitude, our bat-cave, our watch-tower. If possible, it should be a quiet spot, reserved only for the eyes of those we deem worthy allowing entry.

Space, you may think, may present us as a problem. True, it just might. But don’t despair: the real Library of Alexandria was moved to the Serapeum temple after the initial fire took place, so you see there is no reason why yours shouldn’t grow the same way. It can start as a small project, become a corner, later a room, maybe then even a house, as it happened for talented film director Guillermo del Toro.

See, while some build a library in their homes, Del Toro built an entire house around of his; he calls it The Bleak House, a name Charles Dickens would probably agree on.

Space was as much of a problem for him as it is for anyone else, but after working on his library for a few months, it became quite clear that more space than what he initially had was needed. The result? He moved out and allowed his library to grow wild. The place now fulfills the honorable purpose of lodging an archive of the amazing.

And as an irrefutable argument, I present you with a fact: lately, I’ve been noticing how many tech enthusiasts build their own server space right at home. Some use the space under the stairs, some the basement, some use the attic, some an unused closet, or the garage, some even make room inside an old a cabinet or a book shelf on a hallway. Their purpose? Moving heavy files through the computers of the house in high speed.

[…] while some build a library in their homes, Del Toro built an entire house around of his.

If someone who’s only trying to stream clips of the latest family vacation to the in-laws to the living room can find a space at home to build a computer server, why can’t us creators do the same?

It is vital to understand that we ought to think about our archive as if it were doctor’s apothecary cabinet; we go to it in desperation when we either wish to do some research, need something from its shelves to better ourselves, or a college is in town.

The late Harlan Ellison decorated his house, the Aztec Temple of Mars, with this sole purpose. Although I’ve never had the pleasure to visit his study, a documentary opened the doors for us. In his home, Harlan’s entire study was dedicated to the craft of storytelling, with hundreds of books on fiction, magazines, comics, music records, trading cards, awards and everything wonderful that helped heal his imagination from the modern mediocrity of the medium.

Ray Bradbury’s famous office was so cluttered with masks, books, paintings, posters, and sculptures that there was hardly any space left for him to walk over to his desk! Lucky us, we can catch a glimpse of it for a few seconds in the intro of his TV series, The Ray Bradbury Theater.

But building an archive is no easy task, no matter how little or how much space we are willing to invest in the enterprise. In my particular case I am afraid that, for the moment, mine will be no larger than a small fridge. Yet, it will still be treated and curated with the love and attention that a vault of cultural valuables, worthy of the name of Alexandria deserves. Because it will be, as we squareheads like to call it in computer programming, version 1.0.

Building an archive is no easy task, no matter how little or how much space we are willing to invest in the enterprise.

Now, stacking books may sound a rather straightforward and dull task for some, barely deserving of an essay; but truth to be told, it is merely the first step into a comprehensive archive that can fatefully serve our proposes. Something those studying the fine art of archiving history know very well.

Documents, sculptures, the so-called “zines”, memorabilia, paintings, photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, music, comics; they all are to be taken into account if we intend to build a cornerstone of the wisdom of the stature of the great Egyptian Library.

Large corporations understand the undeniable value of having an in-house archive: Disney, Best Buy, Boeing, Delta Airlines, Procter & Gamble or IBM only to name a few. Even companies like Coca-Cola are devoting large portions of their time and resources into keeping an archive. Future generations of marketers and entrepreneurs can instantaneously travel back in time to the company’s first days and find out as much as they wish about how they mesmerized an audience of millions with their products. Even the Vatican has an archive right within the walls of the holy city! And what a fantastic place to visit that is!

So, as long as we stay true to our objective, which is the preservation of our work, history and professional culture, then the size or resources of our archive should not be a pressing problem for us at the moment. There is always time to expand, to improve.

LinkProof flame icon +37 people subscribed through this story in the last 24 hours verified checkmark linkproof Verified by LinkProof

An archive is the Rosetta stone future generations will use to translate our creative life. They will look at our books, the paintings we stored, the letters, the music that inspired us and say “Oh! So that’s why that story was written!”, or “Oh! So that’s where the idea for that building came from! For that painting! For that composition! For that sculpture!”

The contents should be carefully chosen, of course. Cataloged and preserved with specific criteria, which will be different for each person as it is different for each craft, from writers to painters or musicians: no one size fits all. Every item should be jealously preserved in a way that they won’t suffer the merciless passage of time.

Film director Guillermo del Toro sourronded by his own archive of the extraordinaireFilm director Guillermo del Toro sourronded by his own archive of the extraordinaire

Humidity will be our number one enemy from now on. I’ve taken the liberty to look into the guide after guide of how to assemble an archive, written by professional archivists, produced by a large range of institutions and privately held corporations to learn as much as I can from their experience.

What follows is my blueprint on how to build a successful Library of Alexandria of a relatively small space, extracted from the files of the Cabrera Brothers company (20017 revision).

This is what we are going to build. As big as a dream, as small as a shelf. Here’s my map to get to where the muses live.

First, we must carefully consider regarding any new material that we come across with is if it is worth bringing into our archives. If it doesn’t excite us, if it doesn’t motivate us, if it doesn’t inspire us, if it doesn’t scream us to jump out the window and fly into the morning sky, then it should be promptly discarded.

Archivists call this phase “appraisal stage” and it involves several criteria, like age, type of material and physical quality, among others. Since we have a specific goal with our Archive, that is, to inspire our heart and give oxygen to our soul so it keeps on burning, then our appraisal of the new materials becomes a simple matter of instinct and love.

This is what we are going to build. As big as a dream, as small as a shelf.

Correspondence, notes, and memoirs, sketches, interviews, paintings, doodles, photographs, everything is valuable everything! Despite their physical quality or appearance. Our job here is to archive, to safeguard the passage of time through those things that allow us to breathe.

Digital files ranging from production notes, press releases and everything in between should be printed on acid-free paper, then produced into a scrapbook.

Scrapbook? Did I say scrapbook? How long has been since we have heard that word? Nowadays it’s all about digital collections one can carry around through all our unmeaningful devices with a single account to link us all and in the darkness bind us.

For our purposes, a physical book we can hold on our lap, pass around at a party, show to some college or simply delight ourselves with one Saturday afternoon when the muse denies us with her passionate lips, will do plenty of fine.

Following the traditions of the medieval ages, our book needs its own true name. In my particular case, I’ve gone into the liberty of naming one Necronomicon, honoring the infamous tome bringing madness to whoever read from its pages, borrowed from the exquisite works of Howard Phillip Lovecraft. Did I say one? Well, yes, there needs to be at least a dozen! That’s what you will end up with, eventually.

You can already guess what lurks between the pages of my Necronomicon.

Correspondence, notes, and memoirs, sketches, interviews, paintings, doodles, photographs, everything is valuable everything!

Order, for our enterprise, is not paramount. A certain amount of organization it’s certainly desirable, but it should be as personal and organic as possible. While archivists need special criteria for this stage, involving removing clips, staples, pins among other items that may add rust to the materials, our purpose calls for these small details to be kept in place. They add life to our archive, meaning, character. It speaks about what tools we had and the situation surrounding those objects. It tells their story. Our archive, then, shall not be a museum, but a carnival of curiosities, ready to trap and wonder anyone passing by with its wonderful scent to cotton candy and dazzling illusions.

Paintings and photographs should be hanged where we deem them worthy to be felt, not admired. Music records should be thoughtfully placed where they can sing to us; they are sirens mesmerizing us to play and dream with them, once again. Letters and printed communications: freed from their envelopes! Stuck, wall to wall if possible stashed inside books that scream to be opened and read.

Transparent, acid-free containers are to be used to store any other value. Cardboard boxes are to be discarded from our archivist toolbox; they might protect our materials from direct sunlight, true, but will also deprive us of their own natural brightness.

Where shall we place this monolith of creativity? It might be all around you, in your office. It might be a small portion of your desk, it might be on a bookshelf. It might even be an entire wall of your office, always present, always within sight to be devoured. It might be, as is my case, at home, on my corner. It doesn’t matter where you set it as long as you can visit it as often as needed (and if you have ever created, I don’t have to say how often that can sometimes be).

Thus, by having our own Alexandria Library, our great archive of the imagination that serves to inspire us, to speak us when we most need to be spoken, the places where the muses live, will always be home.

Photo credits: Harlan Ellison study, taken by the talented Patton Oswalt.