I don’t mind my neck.
It’s a fine neck. In fact, I never think about my neck except on the occasion I see a side-angle photo of myself, in which case I’m aghast at the connecting shape between my chin and collarbone. It’s not quite doubled, but it’s soft and rounded like a lazy curving road in no rush to get you to your destination. I’d prefer if it were an angled, hairpin turn.
But really, I don’t think about it much. This post has nothing to do with my neck.
This week has been beautiful in Philadelphia. Spring rains have subsided and it’s turned into light jacket weather. It’s sunny and inviting.
I’ve been leaving work early on account of (a) nobody noticing, (b) having no work to do, and (c) the general attitude that comes with the crippling burnout of being at a job long past giving your last fuck.
It’s wonderful working on an Ivy League campus.
I retract that. It’s awful, in terms of the general sense of entitlement that permeates every perfectly-laid brick on the storied quad. The campus drips money and power, which I’m sure is lovely if you’re part of the club. But if you’re not (i.e. already rich, white, and privately educated), or have no desire to be, it’s less inviting.
Otherwise, it’s really a wonderful place to be.
The buildings are gorgeous and the landscaping immaculate. Thanks to generous endowments and powerful reputation, the university has a plethora of incredible academics and researchers, many of whom are inaccessible to the undergraduates but collaborate with other brilliant minds across the world. Sometimes these brilliant minds hold talks or presentations open to members of campus.
I love going to talks. No matter how dull the topic may seem to me, the speakers vibrate with excitement at their topic, eager to share their results with others. The occasional chance to engage with these people; that is wonderful.
But back to the point: I left work, and filled with the lightly depressed state imbued by a soul-sucking job, I was at a loss for what to do with my afternoon.
After an in-depth analysis on the cost-benefit ratio of taking the subway to buy a $19 eyeliner at Sephora, I instead decided to stop by the university library.
My agenda was to get a book. Something fun to read, to keep my mind of the wisps of soul left trailing from my office. So I entered the stacks.
In my experience, all stacks look the same. No matter the architecture of the building’s exterior, the sinewy sculpture hanging from the lobby ceiling, or the exquisitely frosted glass of the breakout rooms… there’s not much you can do to spruce up the stacks. They’re always the same spartan metal structures, evenly spaced and seemingly endless.
Looking through the call numbers, I mentally patted myself on the back for remembering the Dewey decimal system. That one time I paid attention in third grade has paid off!
(The internet, ruining everything as usual, just gave me the crushing information that I wasn’t searching the Dewey decimal system at all, but the Library of Congress Classification System.)
In any case, being a logical adult with the ability to read numbers and letters, it didn’t take long to find the book.
But along the search, I became awed by the stacks themselves. Seeing the rows upon rows of Faulker, Twain, and Longfellow, I was overwhelmed by the scope of human ingenuity. This building was filled with hundreds of rows of creative works, painstaking research, and the occasional piece of crap the university owns because one person requested it one time.
We take for granted that in owning a smartphone, we carry the entirety of human knowledge, history, and productivity in our pockets. You can’t picture the vast amounts of information on the internet.
Reader, stare down those stacks. With every step there’s a new row, shelves upon shelves of books in every direction. This is a visual reminder of just a tiny fraction of the ideas, opinions, and imagery that humans have created.
And all of it is accessible! We can see it, touch it, consume it! It is truly remarkable.
But I had no intention of adding knowledge or famous literature to my fried brain. I was searching for humor.
Nora Ephron: the screenwriter, author, and director of all your favorite romantic comedies. In her late 60s she penned this collection of essays, entitled “I feel bad about my neck: And other thoughts on being a woman.”
After furtively glancing at the checkout clerk (don’t judge me, fellow staff member), I pocketed my find and sprinted out of the library and back into the sunlight.
I was greeted with another awe-inspiring sight:
I considered going back in, checking out Faulker, and maybe a book on theoretical physics.
Then I looked at that pink binding and felt utterly satisfied with my choice. Once home, Ms. Ephron’s writings offered chuckles and delicately woven meditations on female existence.
I read it within a day, and was reminded that vastness of human experience can be communicated in disparate ways. With joviality, with flowery prose, with pictures or sounds. And sometimes with short-form explorations on a theme. I got you, Nora.