The Santa Barbara Central Public Library is a house of learning. A very large and exciting one, full of candy for a old child addicted to knowledge. What kind of knowledge? Anything you want, folks, you can get anything you want here, just like Alice’s Restaurant.
Each day, over the many decades I have stepped through the conspicuously heavy glass entryway doors of the Central Library and crossed the threshold on my way to a particular seat in a particular cubicle in a particular quadrant of the upstairs back corner, my duty has been to eat, to consume, to digest, and perhaps to excrete and reconstitute, worldly knowledge.
One fine day, who knows when, I found myself in my cubicle in the far back, surrounded by the required utensils — backpack, ballpoint pens, .5mm mechanical pencils, yellow pad, a jacket in case of a momentary chill, possibly a discrete water bottle. Certainly I made the trip to this very spot for some scripted reason, as always. Yet I can say with absolute certainty that the itinerary and roadmap I faithfully followed this day in the footsteps of my knowledge-seeking forefathers, appropriate footwear included, led me to an unscripted, unsettled, and unsettling destination.
The chair looked and felt the same. The people, if there were any around me, all seemed the same: quietly reading, writing, wandering, staring into space. The air smelled the same as ever: like dusty paper. But this day, I was cast as a disembodied wanderer. The “knowledge” I sought for lunch, the same sandwich as always, perhaps just a different kind of cheese this day, tasted like foregone knowledge, predigested, devoid of nutrients. I could not eat.
I sat motionless, becoming one with the woodwork, staring into a space separate from that of other library patrons staring into the same space.
The Santa Barbara Central Library is forever fortified against those of us who would burn holes in its walls with our piercing, directionless stare. With all this vast, endless smorgasbord of opportunities to increase, to expand, to grow, to vibrate with ever-brighter pin lights intended to lift our heads out of the darkness of unknowing, some of us must yet persist in starving ourselves even in sight of these sweet, sweet offerings. In the name of —
…In the name of what? The eternal question. Why, why would I, how could I, refuse the luscious fruits on this great tree of wisdom whose towering main branch was right here literally at my fingertips?
I have no answer. My mind, and following it my body, walked on down the hall, randomly or maybe not so randomly, picking off the shelf a biography of Jim Morrison. Long dead, like the predigested knowledge that I sensed has defined my very meager and lifeless existence, his life and memory seemed to signify in me some faraway deeply pure and poetic drum beat, heartbeat. It called and still calls to me now. I sat and disappeared into the scraping of his fingernails across the chalkboard of his mind, his world, his passions.
Hours later, years, decades, lifetimes, millennia, after some timeless period of time, long outside and far off that linear path I dutifully trod to arrive at my self-assigned pew in the hidden back corner of the Central Library’s campanile — I believe it was this day that I finally saw behind the bookshelves, beyond the stated intent of the Public Library’s existence and of my intentional forays to this very nook in this very place in this little town.
What I saw was the pinhole through which I might crawl, thin and undernourished, out of knowledge and into inspiration. The dream of following what the biographer Stephen Davis called Jim Morrison’s searing poetic vision and voracious appetite for spiritual and psychedelic experience – if just for a moment.
And for this clandestine opportunity to peer through its walls, I am deeply grateful to the Santa Barbara Central Public Library. Deeply grateful, to this imposing, authoritatively solid and alluring structure to which I am instinctually drawn, just as uncertain and just as real as a moth to flame.