While visiting in Winnipeg, I took my wife to see one of the libraries I grew up in. It was late at night and we'd just finished a long, private dinner. We talked about the future, tried to figure out what choices we were facing and what plans we should make. Our daughters are edging into adolescence while my wife and I are sliding into middle-age, so these discussions can get a bit intense. Large emotions and expectations are compressed into a relatively short discussion, and a bit of breathing space and perspective is needed as a nightcap. My old neighborhood seemed like a good evening destination.
The library hadn't changed a bit. There it stood, next to the arena: one little box sharing a parking lot with a much larger box. I felt compelled to at least try to take some comfort in this — if the exterior was any indication, the interior might be unaltered as well. I remembered the bright florescent lights, the stacks devoted to 70s pop culture, vinyl cushioned chairs that made a kid so comfortable he lost track of time and had to be gently informed by the librarian that his mother had called to say supper was ready.
Of course, the interior has changed; so has the content and technology (card file and microfiche, say hello to the Internet). I knew this. It is a very different library from the one I spent my days in, so it peeved me to face an exterior that was unchanged. I didn't want to feel nostalgic toward this building. I wanted to see progress — add content, open up the space a bit, make it more inviting to the public. I wanted to face an aesthetic smirk, something that in effect said, “We've moved on, you geezer. What about you?” But I was facing a smirk of a different order.
The nearly immaculate preservation of an old library strikes me as a strange thing for me to get tetchy about, but there it is. Coincidentally, I've been playing a bit with my own appearance. When I finally recovered enough from my pneumonia to walk around town and visit with people, I received numerous compliments about how young I was looking. Losing 15 pounds will do that, but I'd also let my hair grow: my traditional buzz-cut was shaggy and some of my curl was back. At first, when told I looked “10 years younger,” I was tempted to reach for the clippers and combs, following a cussed impulse to look my age, dammit. I asked my wife for some insight, and she agreed that I didn't look as gray with longer hair, but more to the point, I also didn't look as severe (or probably grumpy, mopey and obsessed with mid-lifey things) as I do with a buzz.
The barber's chair still beckons, and I'm still tempted — especially when some photos look suspiciously like a guy who's trying to camouflage his receding hairline (one of my grandfathers had a notorious comb-over). But I've got enough hair to play with, so why not play? It's not about “looking younger,” it's about exploring possibilities and potential that in fact are there.
Next: a few Winnipeg photos.