Day 144: On The Terrace Alone, With My Good Friends

The 144th day of 2011


“We read to know we are not alone.”

C.S. Lewis


Books make me happy.  They com­fort me as well as inform and enter­tain.  I think of them as com­pan­ions, best friends.  Some are old friends and show the wear of trav­els through my life — a jour­ney that’s had a num­ber of starts and stops along the way.

And there are my newest friends still in freshly pressed out­fits (oth­ers call them dust jack­ets).  Here’s a pic­ture of one who came also wrapped as a gift.  I enjoy see­ing Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe posed in front of a shelf of her own books, rather than the famil­iar pho­to­graphic images.

When I dis­cov­ered C.S. Lewis ini­tially it was not the children’s books that cap­tured me.  I read his books of the­ol­ogy as well as A Grief Observed, which he wrote after the trau­matic death of his wife, Joy.  Most of the world learned about his mar­riage from the play Shad­ow­lands and the movie that came after that.  How­ever, it’s in the pub­lished words of mourn­ing where one finds a pro­foundly dif­fer­ent way to think about and imag­ine inti­macy and love.  In that book a reader feels pal­pa­bly the pri­vate strug­gle and spir­i­tual cri­sis he endured after he lost her.  C.S. Lewis was alone until he was 58 years old — in that he was an unmar­ried man.  But he was not alone before he met his wife.  He had a full life. He was accom­pa­nied by his far-reaching cre­ative bril­liance, a deep faith in God, his writ­ing, stu­dents, brother, friends and the books he loved to read.

It’s the com­ment about read­ing that brings me clos­est to C.S. Lewis.  I’ve always sur­rounded myself with books and have read since a young child.  Even when in the com­pany of oth­ers, I’ve been alone.  Chronic ill­ness does that, whether you’re lucky enough to find one per­son or friends to stay with you or not.  In my sit­u­a­tion, there’s the actual lack of com­pan­ion­ship, but I have many dear friends with me 24/7.  There are bound vol­umes on my shelves, and vir­tual books I’ve down­loaded onto the Kin­dle.  Those are portable friends always avail­able to come along to the hospital.

These last sev­eral weeks in Man­hat­tan have been unkind ones for those of us with res­pi­ra­tory trou­bles.  I’ve been iso­lated more than is wise psy­cho­log­i­cally.  But my books and the abil­ity to read them have got­ten me through this rough patch.  These old and new friends have kept me from falling into a ditch of hopelessness.

In the room where the Stone Sage Lion guards the door, there are two pieces of art rep­re­sent­ing books.  There’s a trompe-l-oeil paint­ing by an artist I met in Cal­i­for­nia.  She took a pho­to­graph of a book­shelf in the study. The paint­ing is that shelf’s real­ity, as it existed at that pre­cise moment in time.  How­ever, she added two fan­tasy con­fec­tions – on one sits my cat, Jen­nyany­dots.  This was a thought­ful ges­ture as my fur-person friend had recently died (at over 20 years of age). In front of the cat is another inven­tion — a book enti­tled How To Train Your Dog. That book­shelf and most of the peo­ple in my life at that time have left my world, along with the beloved feline.  But the books are still around.  On another wall of the ter­race room is a minia­ture library cre­ated within a desk drawer. I pur­chased it in Venice at a shop owned and run by a fam­ily. Sadly, I’ve heard they’re no longer in busi­ness.  The shop’s enchant­ing name:  Zacaria’s …i libri non libri di.  It was in the Campo San Pro­volo – San Zac­caria in Castello.   If you’re in that neigh­bor­hood, do check and let me know if they’re still there. Both the Stone Sage Lion and I are eager to find out and hope the news of their clos­ing was only rumor.

What is it about my endur­ing rela­tion­ship to books?  I don’t think my attrac­tion and attach­ment to them is only because I’m a writer, although I think becom­ing a writer orig­i­nated with being an enthu­si­as­tic reader.  When younger peo­ple ask: “How can I become a writer?”  I answer with one short sen­tence:  “First you must develop a healthy read­ing appetite.”  It doesn’t always make me pop­u­lar with peo­ple who want a short­cut or a magic for­mula.  Those don’t exist.  Writ­ing is a skill one must work at con­sci­en­tiously and con­stantly in order to sharpen the brain’s lan­guage tools. You must be will­ing to fail utterly and start over again …  and again.  The true magic is often in find­ing at the end of a day you’ve writ­ten one good sen­tence!  Colette under­stood that and wrote about it elo­quently.  It is hard work.  I’m not a celebrity nor am I a celebrity author.  I don’t find any­thing all that glam­orous about being a writer, but I respect the craft of it. I’m grate­ful to be able to do it — at times suc­cess­fully — at other junc­tures quite dismally.

I do cel­e­brate what read­ing does for my spirit, and how it has shaped me as a woman writer.  I’m sur­prised and some­times stunned to learn my own books have lives of their own after pub­li­ca­tion.  Books.   Read­ing.  Writ­ing – these are things that sus­tain me.

That’s it for this week from the Stone Sage Lion and me. And from our loyal friends – the books on the shelves, and those piled on the tables, scat­tered on the sofa, and the chairs.  And the ones rest­ing all over my raft-bed.

Am I so alone?

Not really.


“All sor­rows can be borne if you put them into a story.”

Isak Dine­sen (Karen Blixen)


©2011 Alida Brill From This Terrace


Filed under Community, Friendship, Hope, Inspiration, Life, Memories, Relationships, This Moment, Time, Writers

5 Responses to Day 144: On The Terrace Alone, With My Good Friends

  1. What a lovely post. Books are strewn about at our house too because we’ve run out of book­shelf space even though we recently gave sev­eral boxes to our local library. When I was a teenager, I was very lonely. Books were my good friends. I’d curl up on the sofa in the liv­ing room with Jane Eyre or The Mill on the Floss or Tom Jones and read them over and over. I thought my behav­ior was strange, not real­iz­ing then that it was the equiv­a­lent of lis­ten­ing over and over to a piece of music we love.

    Thanks for pay­ing trib­ute to life­long friends.

  2. This is beau­ti­ful. I love peek­ing into your ter­race room to see your trea­sures! I took out an old friend of my own this morn­ing, Ellen J. Langer’s “Mind­ful­ness,” to remind me of the process ori­en­ta­tion of life.

  3. Katie Bamberger

    I love the open­ing quote in this post, “We read to know we are not alone.” I’ve never been the most avid reader, but I remem­ber Harry Pot­ter being one of the first books to really ignite a love of read­ing in me as a young girl. Thank you for shar­ing your love of books, it is some­thing so many of us can relate to.

  4. I do so love your writ­ing style, Alida. This is a lovely post. I, too, have felt dif­fer­ent most of my life (not due to ill­ness, how­ever, until 6 years ago) and found unfail­ing friends in books. You say so beau­ti­fully what has sus­tained me most of my life. Thank you.

  5. fromthisterrace

    Dear Carol
    How lovely to find you on the ter­race again, thank you for the sup­port.

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