…the surgeon and the patient

Photo by Murtaza Saifee on Pexels.com

27.
You read Richard Selzer’s essay, The Knife, where he describes his experiences in the operating theatre, proposing that ‘if the surgeon is like a poet, then the scars [he has] made on countless bodies are like verses into the fashioning of which [he has] poured [his] soul.’

You have variously equated your writing with the building of a puzzle and the archeology of a buried structure. The puzzle begins by spilling pieces onto the floor, pushing them around to find some shape. There are misplaced pieces, awkward bumps and lumps, distortions and gaps, but over time you rotate the pieces, or find a new one hiding just out of view, or you clean the dust to reveal a vividness of colour. Slowly the picture emerges.

The archeology often begins with a little light digging, turning over the soil to see if there is anything there. You may only get the hint of shape, the suggestion of story or truth, and so you continue until you are crouched low, scraping and then brushing away the earth to see what this thing is. The art of sculpture works in the same way. Something is hidden within this block of limestone. It lives and breathes, your job to reveal its true self.

You are intrigued by the visceral nature of the surgeon poet in Selzer’s essay, the idea of blood and organs, tissue and scars. Your analogies in comparison are clean and safe, except for the risk of grubby knees and grit beneath your nails. In his essay he describes… ‘the world’s light illuminating the organs, their secret colors revealed—maroon and salmon and yellow. […] An arc of the liver shines high and on the right, like a dark sun. It laps over the pink sweep of the stomach, from whose lower border the gauzy omentum is draped, and through which veil one sees, sinuous, slow as just-fed snakes, the indolent coils of the intestine.’

He feels like ‘a traveler in a dangerous country, advancing into the moist and jungly cleft [his] hands have made.’

You realise on reading this that the true nature of your writing is biological and vigorous, the fluidity of perception sticky with old and new wounds. Fiction, perhaps, is a cleaner craft, depending on your source material. But nonfiction? Writing about yourself and others? You have made scars. You have dug deep to reveal the shiny liver, to feel the sliver of just-fed snakes. There are also things you have begun to write, not knowing where it will take you, only to draw back when you felt the sharp cut of the scalpel, the quivering retraction of your own heart.

You do not want to be afraid of these stories. You are drawn to the truth, to operating in the theatre of facts until you discover a beating heart. But you have learned that while the mind can be firm and so gloatingly sure of its detached logic, the body will reflect what is happening beyond, deep within the soul. There the truth of the pain lies.

And so, how to be surgeon and patient? Selzer suggests the surgeon is ‘rendered impotent by his own empathy and compassion. […] Like an asthmatic hungering for air, longing to take just one deep breath, the surgeon struggles not to feel.’

And the patient, ‘In the very act of lying down, you have made a declaration of surrender.’

And so you are prone and surrendered, but also standing above with scalpel in hand.

As surgeon you will cut gently. You will find ways to anaesthetise. You will retreat in a timely way, and sew the wound with neat stitches.

And as patient you will follow Selzer’s gentle advice. Let yourself go, he says as his patients drift into their temporary oblivion.

It’s a pleasant sensation, he says. Give in.

(The Knife, by Richard Selzer published in The Art of the Personal Essay, Ed. Phillip Lopate)

…clouding the issue

26.
Interstellar clouds are made up of hydrogen and cosmic dust, the mystical place where new stars are hatched. Creation requires the coming together of things; an experiment, an observable reaction, a bold joining or merging of molecules. The aloneness of the artist is deceptive. The coming together, the connections, are all happening within.

Cumulus clouds, if loosely formed, will mirror the shape of the coastlines and islands they linger above. You have been in many relationships that behaved the same way. Always you were the cloud, he was the island.

Nimbostratus. Stratocumulus. Cirrus. Volutus. Lenticularis. Fractus. Undulatus. Castellanus. Noctilucent. Horseshoe vortex. Pileus. Asperitas. Tuba. Nacreous. Mamma. Diamond dust.

We believe in a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the arch is really a full circle that continues beneath the surface of the earth. The only gold to be found is in the refracted rays themselves, in the moment of existence, and for us, in the moment of seeing.

Crepuscular rays are also known as Jacob’s Ladder, or Buddha’s Rays, or The Ropes of Maui. An ex-partner called them God Speaks, although he wasn’t a believer. He didn’t believe in anything, in fact, except for the solid, measurable world and the earning of money. You see this now as one of the reasons you are no longer together.

On cloud nine. Every cloud has a silver lining. Head in the clouds. Cloud-cuckoo land. Cloud of suspicion. A cloud on the horizon. Clouding the issue.

During a storm in 1638, a ‘great fiery ball’ crashed through the window of an English church where a service was being held. Four people were killed and sixty-two were injured. Still now ball lightening is a mysterious and transient force, one study suggesting it is actually an hallucination caused by magnetic fields. The death of parishioners seems to contradict this idea, but then, it could be argued that collective faith is a similar kind of illusion.

You once watched a thunderstorm with someone you loved, although both you and he didn’t acknowledge this at the time or for many months after. The rain fell in warm fat drops, the sky abundant with crackling forks and tumbling light and bright flashes of yellow and white. It was slow moving, patient. Much like your love.

Research Source: A Cloud a Day by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society

…teaching in the age of Covid

25.
You return to teaching after many months away. But this is not teaching as you know it, sitting around a table with your students to debate, discuss and enquire. Instead you are in your living room, meeting your students on a laptop screen. This is teaching in the age of Covid, and this is what you learned.

— Your teaching brushes up closely to your personal life. Sometimes you teach in t-shirt and sweatpants, sometimes in a smart black blouse with a pair of denim shorts, and sometimes you hang out your washing mere moments before you welcome students into your living room.

— You find a picnic table makes a serviceable desk. You collected it from your mother’s garage and clean away its cobwebs and spider husks. You cover it with a red tablecloth. Paper, pens and books accumulate quickly.

— Your students live across multiple time zones, which means classes are scheduled for when they return home from work, but for you, deep into British Summer Time, your brain is getting ready for bed. It’s not long before you experience extreme fatigue, your eyes sore and tightly bound, but you find ways to sooth the frayed knots of your mind, meditation, throw-away TV, gin & tonic.

— In those early weeks you ask your students about their experience of lockdown, with some also encountering civil unrest. You gradually come to realise they do not want to talk about this, but wish instead to be absorbed into the escape of learning.

— You acclimatise to the tiled faces of your students, framed within your laptop screen. The perennial problem of matching faces to names is alleviated by an identifying label on each tile, and you also see a multitude of living room backdrops, or bedrooms, kitchens, dens, studies, gardens, and sometimes, a forest.

— You have to remind yourself to turn off your camera and microphone, particularly when your laptop is on 11% and you clatter and mutter across the room to fetch the charger. Students have a better instinct on this than you do.

— You record your classes for students who are unable to attend, and when you watch them back you are horrified. You hear your voice as it really is, see your gestures and bad jokes, you remember the thoughts that rippled beneath the surface of your words. You see yourself as other people see you. You find it astonishing that you have never seen this before.

— You experience a seismic shift in your established paradigm while searching for texts online. Authors, it seems, are protective of their copyright, but also, it is a fact universally understood that reading texts on screen is hateful. So instead you discover videos and audio, podcasts and interviews. You learn new things.

— Sometimes you walk away from your laptop, walk out of your apartment, walk out of your building, walk to the park and enjoy the birds and the trees and the sun on your face.

— When you meet individual students for tutorials, you find this is the closest to real that the virtual can get. A single face framed in the screen, the eye contact between you feels truthful.

— You have a gradual realisation that all the goal posts of your profession have changed. You may never teach in the same way again, with a full classroom of students sitting side-by-side or huddled in groups, and this fills you with sadness and fear. But, now you have experienced a new way, a continuation of a different kind. You discover yourself to be adaptable and ever evolving, and you come to realise that, much like your students, you are a seed finding enough nourishment in the narrowest of crevices. And so you grow.

…the shifting plates

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

24.
The earth is a volatile, shifting being, its wonders both hidden and exposed. Magma bubbles and flows thirty kilometers below its exterior, forever searching for cracks and weaknesses, places to squeeze through to the surface, to make itself known. To be seen.

You’ve held secrets that have behaved in much the same way, squirming in their tightly locked chambers, seeking release, wanting to feel the light on the curve of their shame. Some secrets you have kept well, but for many you make a crack, lever it wide enough for a new beginning.

Volcanoes are classified as active, dormant, or extinct. You wonder if a secret can ever be extinct. The truth of it surely lives on even after death. Like the trees in the forests, the dolphins in the seas, the orchid in the meadow, all are still there even if there’s no person to see it.

The lava flows of shield volcanoes have low viscosity, travelling slowly for many miles. These volcanoes are wide with smooth slopes. Stratovolcanoes are tall, have many kinds of lava erupting from their mouths alongside rocks and ash. Cinder cone volcanoes erupt briefly and then settle, as though they feel the turmoil beneath but are mistaken by its intensity. You wonder if these volcanoes are disappointed or relieved.

You have known many secrets like the cinder cone volcano. You felt the shifting heat deep beneath your crust, knowing that release was inevitable, the consequences for yourself and others unknowable in its severity. But once the ash and lava flows you find the eruption of your imagination is a phantom, merely a fire born of fear. Mostly you are relieved by this movement towards growth, but sometimes you are disappointed by another’s casualness, an air of easy acceptance. You are not sure why this is so.

The Volcano Explosivity Index is the scale used to measure the amount a volcano releases during eruption. Mount St. Helens reached 5 out of 8 when it released a cubic kilometer of the earth’s belly. When the volcano in Toba erupted 73,000 years ago, it spewed out 1,000 cubic kilometers of itself, creating a devastating effect on the climate and plunging the world into an ice age. Toba is estimated to be 8 on the Volcano Explosivity Index.

You would like a way to measure the destructive power of a secret. Your logical mind wants a way to evaluate the potential pain for yourself and for others, and if the pressure of keeping it safe beneath the surface causes less equivalent damage to your own mind and spirit. You would like this to be a colourful chart, or some kind of mechanism with a golden arrow to indicate a sliding scale from gentle discomfort to eruptive destruction.

Olympus Mons, on Mars, is the tallest volcano in the Solar System. It is a shield volcano that is 27 km high and 550 km across. One possible explanation for this mass exodus of material is that there are no tectonic plates on Mars, so this single weakness on its surface is burning and blistering, layer upon layer, in a place where time doesn’t exist.

You have kept many secrets for other people and will continue to do so. Some people have few fissures but still they have secrets that burn, that need an Olympus Mons to release the slow lava of their thought and soul. And when this lava begins to rest and cool it remains as a solid testament to your friendship, its surface rippled with trust, its gentle slope indicating a steady direction of travel, unifying and eternal. Forever there.

…soon you will write

23.
Books on your coffee table:

The Philosophy of the Bed, by Mary Eden & Richard Carrington
You found this book in a strange kind of thrift shop, a greenhouse beside a garden cafe, its glassy walls housing furniture and crockery, paintings and books. The book has a tattered dust jacket bearing a reproduction of Grande Odalisque, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the woman’s long body draped over crumpled bed sheets, looking coyly over her shoulder at you. You were attracted by the idea of philosophy about beds, the place where we dream, consciously and subconsciously, where we read, where we make love, a place where we are hidden but we can truly be ourselves. You do not know what you will write in response to this book, but you are particularly drawn to the chapters titled The Commerce of Love and Some Notable Beds.

A Cloud a Day, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
A gift from a notable man. Again it is hardbacked, its cover illustration a dusky landscape of multicoloured clouds, inky blue near the earth’s horizon and moving through purples, oranges and yellows until it becomes a billowing cloud of luminous light. This book, dedicated to the members of The Cloud Appreciation Society, is filled with paintings and photographs and poetry, clouds that look like animals or people, cracks of lightening, foggy shores, sublime sunsets. You do not know what you will write in response to this book but there is much to learn about the skies above and the universe beyond, so there will be much to write.

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
Paperback, almost flimsy, its cover adorned with a marble bust of Marcus Aurelius, young and handsome with a noodle-like mass of curly hair. You heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk about this book, someone who understands about the universe and the inter-connectedness of all things, so it seems fitting that you open it up to read, Consider how quickly all things are dissolved and resolved: the bodies and substances themselves, into the matter and substance of the world: and their memories into the general age and time of the world. You do not know what you will write in response to this book, but it is likely to be both personal and universal.

Memory: A Very Short Introduction, by Jonathan K. Foster.
Pocket-sized, its cover black except for several bands of orangey red that float like oil on water. This book is for study and curiosity. Your memory is your tool, your farm of abundant crops, but you know it cannot be trusted so you think that if you learn more about its nature you’ll be able to excavate more thoroughly, more accurately. You do not know what you will write in response to this book, but there is a chapter titled Pulling the Rabbit Out of the Hat, so you hope for some Alice-in-Wonderland-style happenings.

You will write soon, but for now you anticipate what lies within the covers on your coffee table. You hope for learning, for surprise, for enlightenment, for something you didn’t even know to hope for.

Soon, you will write.

…talking about the weather

Photo by Ravi Kant on Pexels.com

22.

He said, Things must be bad if we’re talking about the weather. As if it doesn’t matter.

— But that day you both stopped under the arches where someone had left flowers and he wanted to kiss you, that day was spring warm and the sky was blue like a promise.

— The day of drizzle when you both said goodbye at the car, you didn’t want to go but he left so easily you thought he didn’t care.

— When you saw him cross the road on Pulteney Bridge it was sticky humid, shorts and t-shirt hot, and you wondered if he’d seen you but you let him walk away, let the moment go.

— And now, as you walk through the rain, these thoughts of weather come to you so clearly you have to write them on your phone, your umbrella wedged beneath your chin and the rain pelting white, your feet wet and jeans soaked to the knee.

— When you get home you’ll hang up your clothes, leave the umbrella to dry. Try not to feel the cold.

So maybe he’s right that the weather doesn’t matter anymore.

…the golden ratio

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

‘The golden ratio is one of the most famous irrational numbers; it goes on forever and can’t be expressed accurately without infinite space.’
Live Science

21.

You are reading the scene in Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things when Ambrose Pike discovers the garden at Alma Whittaker’s grand house, and asks ‘what mad genius took such pains to fabricate this garden according to strict Euclidian geometric ideals?’ He goes on to declare ‘It’s the golden ratio!’, describing its ‘recurring nets of squares’ and the boxwoods ‘[serving] as equation marks to all the conjugates.’

You don’t understand these words but you become absorbed in the beauty of the idea and the passion of Ambrose Pike, his wonder at the mathematical perfection of the natural and human-made world. And you know that you’ve heard about the golden ratio before. Only days before. You remember rectangles within rectangles, one character drawing ever diminishing shapes for another character on screen. A film? What have you watched that could contain such a strange scene? And then you remember. You watched Pi at the beginning of the week, Darren Aronofsky’s film about a mathematician who is slowly driving himself insane with unprovable theories. He meets a man in a cafe who draws these rectangles to demonstrate the golden ratio, and shows how these rectangles create the Golden Spiral which is evident across the natural world; snail shells, flowers, pine cones, storms, human DNA, the ever expanding universe.

And then you remember a radio program only a day or two before, a scientist describing the discovery of a snail shell with an anticlockwise whorl, the reverse of all other snails. The scientist explains that they search for more but only two others are found in the world, and when the anticlockwise snail finally has offspring, they are clockwise snails. So, the scientist explains, this is not genetics, this is just something that is. This makes you wonder if the universe is merely exploring its own creativity with this snail, activating the unknown, feeling its way into a new expression of itself. The whorl of the universe ever expanding.

You sit for a moment with the knowledge that the golden ratio has been brought to your attention via three different routes, three different stories, three different media. You have heard about the Rule of Three, the smallest number needed to create a pattern.

Does a pattern have meaning, or is it just another demonstration of the universe exploring its creativity? If it does have meaning, then the universe is trying to tell you something, but you don’t know what it could be.

Or, perhaps, this is what the universe wants you to know. That she has unlimited creativity, that the patterns are there for a reason, and that reason is her.

Yes, that is an answer that feels so true you sense the pieces slot effortlessly together in your heart.

You return to The Signature of All Things, and continue to read.

…things people say

Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

20.
—Your Grandad lived by the phrase Moderation in all things. His garden contradicted this with its abundance of fruit and vegetables, but any excess found its way to the kitchens of friends and family. Mostly you remember the black grapes hanging like jewels from the ceiling of his greenhouse. They were full of pips and left a dryness in the mouth, but still they were highly prized.

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I’m going to teach you how to play but I tell you now, you will never ever beat me. This is what your father said when he taught you chess at the age of ten. You remember how this cooled your interest in learning, the thought of only ever being on the losing side too much for your child’s mind to bear. You remember little about the game now, except for the way the Knight moves, two then one. You prefer to play backgammon instead.

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive believe that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

—Before you became a writer your then husband (now ex-husband) said, You saying you’re going to be a writer is like me saying I’m going to be a rock star. You are a writer, but he doesn’t appear to be a rock star.

Marriage […] closes the door. Your existence is confined to a narrow space in which you are constantly forced to reveal yourself.
Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude.

—Someone you know well says, It’s obviously a good thing the Nazi’s didn’t win the war, but I tell you something, they wouldn’t have stood for all the advertisements we have now. You are shocked but still find yourself laughing at this line, and afterwards you wonder at the strange juxtaposition of these thoughts, pondering on the hazy alignment between advertising and propaganda. You love that this person is able to shock you, make you laugh and make you think, all with one sentence.

— It’s bad taste to be wise all the time, like being at a perpetual funeral.

D.H. Lawrence

—When your daughter was 17, her teacher said If you drop out of school now you’ll only ever work in a shop. She continued to drop out and spent a fair amount of time working as a waitress, a job she hated and was bad at. But she also had a bigger vision and worked hard on this when she wasn’t waiting tables. She is now an artist and a tattooist.

It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
Leonardo da Vinci

*

When I read great literature, great drama, speeches, or sermons, I feel that the human mind has not achieved anything greater than the ability to share feelings and thoughts through language.
James Earl Jones


…after bed

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

19.
When Joan Didion writes about her migraines in her essay, In Bed, she reveals that doctors believe there is a ‘migraine personality’, which includes being inwardly-focused, ambitious, rigidly organised and a perfectionist.

You pause to reread this list, noting that you probably tick all of these boxes. You have suffered with migraines for as long as you can remember, your mother claiming that your incessant crying as a baby suggests they started when you were in nappies. When you were older you were prescribed tablets that she crushed with the back of a spoon, mixing the grainy powder with a spoonful of jam to make them more palatable. But nothing could stop the inevitable. The migraine was a runaway train with you as the only passenger.

In the first thirty years of your life you were given fair notice of an attack, with the ‘aura’ beginning as a spot of absence in your vision, expanding to become a thread of fairy lights strung through your left eye, blinking and flashing as though they were floating on the rippling surface of a lake. The headache would come a swift half hour after the lights faded away, as punctual as you are perfectionist.

You haven’t experienced the aura for many years now, and you feel almost nostalgic for its flag-waving here-I-am bravado. Now an attack begins with a quietly persistent tiredness, an ache that may begin in your right eye, or ear, or temple, expanding slowly slowly slowly to fill the right side of your face, your jaw, your cheekbone, your neck, by which time you know what it is but it’s almost too late to take the medication. Almost, but not quite. Now you have medication that works, quickly if you have an empty stomach, much slower if you’ve eaten, the stomach gradually ceasing to function. This is why migraine often comes with nausea, sometimes vomiting. There are also other symptoms, such as intolerance of sensory stimulus, confusion, hallucinations, sweating, stomach pain.

Occasionally you don’t take the medication in time. Or you take the medication and continue to drink red wine, so what comes next is entirely your responsibility. You go to bed, curtains closed, press the right side of your head to the pillow. The pain escalates until you find yourself rocking to comfort yourself, and when you stop you feel a moment of deep tranquility in the stillness, until the pain pushes you to begin rocking again.

At the highest, most relentless period of pain, you always ask yourself if you’ve got it wrong this time, if you really should be going to A&E because this time, this is surely a brain haemorrhage and you are dying.

If you are lucky, the fog of fatigue and temporal distortion will lead you to sleep, drooling onto your pillow with abandon.

Didion makes note of the hereditary nature of the illness, hers acquired from both grandmothers and both parents. She also has ‘bad attitudes, unpleasant tempers and wrongthink’, all of which she considers to be potential triggers.

Your own familial link is tenuous in comparison, your grandmother the guilty party, whose triggers were cheese and chocolate. Your own are stress, fatigue, an array of alcohols and once, the smell of White Musk Cleanser. And of course there’s always your rigidly organised and perfectionist personality traits. Did they begin when you were in nappies, you wonder? If you’d allowed the tower of bricks to tumble across the carpet in any haphazard fashion, would you have grown a more relaxed brain? And would that have changed the course of your body chemistry, your mechanics, your spirit, your thoughts, your intelligence, your life?

Once upon a time you thought you were in control of all these things, but now you know this is a classic case of wrongthink. The only thing you truly have control over is your perception of the truth.

And the truth is that there’s something startlingly beautiful about the migraine.

Didion elegantly describes its aftermath as ‘a pleasant convalescent euphoria’.

I open the windows and feel the air, eat gratefully, sleep well. I notice the particular nature of a flower in a glass on the stair landing. I count my blessings.

In the aftermath, you too feel a powerful sense that your body has pressed the reset button and you can see the world for what it truly is; a vivid, gentle and generous place. You eat with a sense of grace. You are filled with wonder when you go outside. You feel generosity and love for everyone you see, strangers and friends alike.

You feel blessed.

You imagine now how it would be for every person to feel this way. If time could be paused for communities to rock together in a vascular hiatus. The universal button would be reset, sensory feeling would be washed clean, and the perceived goodness of this world and everything in it would shift on its axis.

And after, when the pain has subsided and we return to our bodies and our lives, we’d emerge into this vivid, gentle and generous world as new beings.

We will be reborn.

You think of this and you know that even in the midst of pain the good will always be there, waiting for us.

…a life in libraries

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

18.
— From the age of 8 to 12 a mobile library stops outside your house. You remember the smell of dust and rubber and paper, and the ridges of wood that edge the shelves to stop the books from sliding out. You borrow a book about boys marooned in the jungle who survive by building their own shelter, killing their own food. You have never forgotten this book, but you have no memory of its author or title. You seem to remember the cover was pale blue.

— The largest library in the world is the Library of Congress in Washington DC, which contains over 170 million items in 470 languages. As well as historical texts from around the world, it houses film and recorded sound, posters and photographs, sheet music, maps, telephone directories, and the world’s largest collection of comic books, including an edition of Popular Comics, from 1936.

— When you’re an adult, your friend has a new boyfriend who is wealthy and has a library upstairs in his house. From floor to ceiling there are thrillers with boldly coloured spines and block-lettered titles. You are reading John Irving, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, so you can’t help but see this library as a missed opportunity. But then you remind yourself that your own reading began with The Beano, then magazines like Jackie, novels by Catherine Cookson and Jackie Collins, so who are you to judge? And who is the person who decided what is good reading and what is bad? Whoever they were, they didn’t understand reading.

— In the UK, nearly 800 libraries have closed in the last 10 years. In 2018 there were fewer than 15,500 paid librarians, with 51,000 working as volunteers.

—When you begin to write you follow your obsessions, catching a bus to the nearest town to research the Black Death. The library is modern, open plan, and you sit at the octagonal tables to pore over books, scribbling notes, absorbed. You use this research to write a novel, which sated this obsession for a while, but thirty years on and you’re still writing about the Black Death, although now your research is carried out in the Rabbit-Hole Library that is the internet.

— The Osmotheque, in Versailles, France, is a library of smells that houses over 3,200 scents, all donated by parfumiers. New York is home to a Magician’s Library within The Conjuring Arts Research Center, which holds rare texts going back to the 15th century, and 20,000 items of correspondence between magicians. Also in New York, you can visit the Public Library to see the original Winnie-the-Pooh, a stuffed bear bought by AA Milne for Christopher Robin in 1921. It is comforting to know that this bear, who is surprisingly long limbed and flat of tummy, is still in the company of Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger and Kanga. You like to imagine they often sit together to muse on the world and the philosophy of Good Things, with regular breaks for a smattering of honey.