One of my favorite books of all-time is E.L. Konigsburg’s “From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” I was riveted by the story of a sister and brother who run away from home and life in the Metropolitan Museum of Art AND solve a famous art mystery. I gift this book to little aspiring word/art nerds all the time. I recommend it to adults. I still occasionally dream I’m living in the book.
A month or so ago, I came across a tweet about spending the night at the New York Public Library, writing a book about 100 items in their permanent collection. I realized if I was ever going to make my childhood dream of living in the “Mixed-Up Files” book happen, it was going to be with this. I watched the video. I applied. They were only taking 500 people, so I promptly forgot about it. Three weeks later, I received an email letting me know I was one of the “chosen ones.”
I showed up at the library last Friday at the appointed time with a backpack full of pens, notepads of all sizes, a sweater, a bottle of water, some snacks, an iPhone charger, and various other items. Even after consulting the private Facebook group for the event, it was clear no one knew what to expect…
We were 500 word nerds locked overnight in one of the most famous libraries in the U.S., running around locating rare objects, touring the infamous library stacks, and causing a sweet ruckus in the main reading room. I realized the only way to describe this event properly was by creating a photo diary of the images I took that night. If you read the lengthy captions, I promise it will feel just like a blog post.
Now that I’m on the other side of it, I can say nothing about that night was ordinary. We came. We saw. We wrote the book. It is now in the permanent collection of the New York Public Library and all of our names are listed as authors in the library’s catalog. The night was a reminder of how awesome and awe-inspiring working with a group of strangers can be. It was also bittersweet, in that we all recognized how special a library truly is; what it has given and continues to give us as a public institution. It was very likely each one of us in that room had been touched and inspired by books in our local libraries. They were our dealer to the gateway drug of words. It’s only right that we all take a moment and a dollar (or more) to give back, so that other little nerds have a home to feel the same way about books as all of us did and do.
If you’re in New York, you can still play a version of the game we played in the library (which acted as a prompt to write the book), by clicking here.
P.S. If this had existed as a “thing” before the 500 of us inaugurated it, you can guarantee it would have been on my life list.
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Tagged books, E.L. Konigsburg, find the future, From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, gaming, library, literature, nerds, new york public library, nypl, things that are awesome, we came, we saw, we wrote the book, word nerds, writing
If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #58, See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre, is ongoing. This is the third post in the series on #58. You can find the first post here and the second one here.
Back in April, I attended a performance of Christopher Shinn‘s play, “Picked” at the Vineyard. It was a solid production of a play filled with fascinating ideas about a film actor, Kevin, who subjects himself to neuroimaging, intense, in-depth interviews and testing in order to deliver an emotionally authentic performance for a legendary director. We learn early on the film script is being developed around the results of the lead actor’s tests. It’s all big ideas and James Cameron-like dreams of moviemaking. To some extent, it’s not far from the truth of how movies, especially the high-tech, high-concept ones, are almost intangible ideas. I had recently come from working on a movie where a majority of our central characters were computer-generated. Human actors would recite dialogue to a red dot placed in their eye line. We would shoot whole scenes where the set would be the only thing to look at, for now. There’s an interesting challenge to work on something that feels like a movie, but it’s only half there.
Similarly, in “Picked,” Kevin isn’t entirely certain what all the testing is building up to. He spends a year of his life fulfilling his contractual obligations without ever shooting a frame of film. He has no idea what the script is (if it’s even any good) and he takes a huge gamble in his first leading role. This is not unlike how the moviemaking process really is. 200+ people show up every day to work on something that may/may not be good. Your life is held up for the better part of a year or more while you were insane hours, lose friends and alienate those you love. But, you also make friends, too — your trench mates. The people you see and communicate with the most over the course of a production. “Picked” also offered a subtle glimpse into the major build up behind a film, from shooting (and the inevitable high to low everyone experiences when a production wraps) to anticipation of release, and running the crazy and repetitive publicity gauntlet.
The most interesting aspect of “Picked” was the ending. It was real and honest. Shinn captured an eloquence and melancholy that was pitch-perfect in its execution. A lovely, solid (and somewhat insider-y) exploration of the beginning of a career all the way through the end — for those who live a life absorbed in a specific world for so long and then begin to fall out of love with it.