I’m writing this column in the room where I’m blessed to do most of my writing. I’m sitting in the third-floor library in our home overlooking our backyard and its huge maple trees. When I’m ensconced here, it’s tough to pry me out (though my family seems quite content to have me sequestered here, sometimes for hours on end).
We undertook a massive renovation of our home back in 2008. And when I say massive, I mean our 1913 home was completely gutted. At one point, the roof and third floor were … well… gone. I remember standing in our second-floor bedroom and realizing that above me was not the ceiling I knew so well, but blue sky. Now you may want to sit down for a moment and gather yourself because I know this will be a shock to any Leasider, or any homeowner anywhere who has tackled a renovation, but ours took longer and cost more than planned. Yes, I know, it was a stunning development. But in the end, we were eventually able to move back into our new home and have loved it ever since.
Beyond having our third floor and roof back where they belong, the library is my favourite part of our renovated home. There were other contenders for that coveted designation, including central air conditioning, a spacious family room, a bathroom where the shower and the bathtub are two different things, and a beautiful back deck that will never collapse during a party as our previous one did. There were no injuries, other than debilitating embarrassment. But in my book, pun intended, the library wins for me, hands down.
Despite the headline on this column, which I have stolen from a Virginia Woolf essay, this room was never intended to be “Terry’s library.” It belongs to the whole family. But I suspect I could claim squatters’ rights based on how much time I spend here. Floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves filled with our books – some of which I’ve even read – surround and inspire me. Kidding. I’ve actually read many, even most, of them. But there remain quite a few I haven’t yet cracked. And that actually makes me feel good. I know that in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, or if I’m home alone with nothing to do (I think that happened once in 1993 for about 90 minutes), I can ascend the staircase to the third floor, scan the shelves, pull out a book, drop into the red easy chair that once graced my grandparents’ living room, and fall into a book. If the weather is nice, I can read on the library’s balcony deck communing with the squirrels in the upper reaches of the maples. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Certain artifacts in this library take on new meaning in the COVID era when I’m able to spend much more time in here than I ever have before. A metal replica of the Eiffel Tower reminds me of the Paris we will not be visiting this year. An antique Underwood typewriter, its inner workings rusted and seized, sits on a shelf directly in my line of sight, offering encouraging vibes from long-gone writers. Above me on the wall, almost presiding over my writing, is a photograph of Robertson Davies, a novelist I revere. Instead of putting my shoulder to the wheel and getting on with the writing I have to do – like this column for instance – I often discover my eyes wandering around the room, savouring the sight of favourite books read and new ones still to read. There are far worse places to isolate and ride out these strange times.
In a pandemic, you pause more to appreciate what you have, and then you get back to your writing.