Tag Archives: reading

Little Free Library at SOMOS in Taos, NM

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The storefront of SOMOS, the Literary Society of Taos. Can you spot the Little Free Library in this photo?

In the fall of 2019, I found myself in Taos, NM. I tried to park in a parking lot, but my vehicle was just too big for the tiny spaces. I made the block and found a parking spot in front of SOMOS. It was a metered parking space, but I wasn’t going to be long, so I fished a few coins from my pocket to drop in the slot.

SOMOS bills itself as “a place for words in Taos, New Mexico.” The letters in the acronym stand for the “Society of the Muse of the Southwest.” The History section of the group’s About page explains,

…literature has played a prominent role in the area’s rich cultural landscape. As the literary arts flourished, the need for formal community support became apparent, which ultimately led to the nonprofit incorporation of SOMOS…in 1983.

Since then, we have expanded into our present role as a respected literary resource center whose outreach extends to the greater community of Northern New Mexico— and beyond. Our live readings, workshops, conferences, and festivals not only showcase accomplished writers but also encourage creativity in novice writers from all walks of life.

The group’s aforementioned About page says,

[o]ur space has a large room that doubles as a book store and a salon for literary gatherings, two separate classrooms, a ten-space parking lot in back, and lots of on-street parking out front.

I’d never been inside SOMOS, and unfortunately that day I didn’t have time to stop in. My plan was to hop out of my vehicle, drop a few coins in the meter, run my errand, and be on my way. Imagine my delight when, upon stepping toward the parking meter, I saw a Little Free Library in front of the SOMOS building. I certainly had to take a few moments to check out the little library and take a few photos for documentation.

If you haven’t read my past posts about Little Free Libraries (LFLs) I’ve visited in Los Gatos, CA; Santa Fe, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; Mesa, AZ; and even others in Taos, NM, you may not know anything about these manifestations of gift economy.

The Little Free Library organization calls itself the “world’s largest book-sharing movement!” The group’s website says the “Little Free Library Sharing Network [is] 90,000 Little Free Libraries strong!”

Side view of the Little Free Library in front of SOMOS.

On the group’s Who We Are webpage, we learn

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.

Through Little Free Library book exchanges, millions of books are exchanged each year, profoundly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Not everyone believes all of the above assertions to be true. In the 2017 article “Against Little Free Libraries,” author Kriston Capps outlines the case Canadian librarians made against the Little Free Library organization in an article for the Journal of Radical Librarianship. The main critiques are that registered Little Free Libraries

predominantly appear in medium-to-high-income neighborhoods,..are distributed almost exclusively in neighborhoods where 25 percent or more residents have university degrees, [and]…sprout where public library branches are plentiful and where neighborhoods are white.

In reality, these librarian researchers only studied two Canadian cities, Toronto and Calgary.

“Despite the fact that we’ve just done a case study of two Canadian cities that are probably not entirely representative of the locations of Little Free Libraries across the world, they did raise and confirm our suspicions toward the organization,” Hale [one of the librarian researchers] says.

View of the other side of the Little Free Library outside of SOMOS

While I know many Little Free Libraries are located in front of residences, several of the ones I have encountered were in totally public areas. In Taos County, I’ve visited registered Little Free Libraries in front of a medical center, the town recreation center, and the community well in a rural area. In Phoenix, I saw a Little Free Library on Grand Avenue in an artsy, commercial district.

Another book-sharing option is what I call “renegade” Little Free Libraries. The sharing box I discovered in the Santa Fe dog park was labeled “free little library,” not “Little Free Library” and did not have a charter number. While the library in the Mesa, AZ pocket park was labeled “Little Free Library,” it did not seem to be registered with the Little Free Library organization. What I at first thought was a registered LFL in Heritage Square in Flagstaff, AZ sported a sign calling it a “Little Library” and did not have a charter number.

In the October 2019 Publisher’s Weekly article “Little Free Library, Founder’s Family Clash Over Organization’s Direction” author Claire Kirch reports the Little Free Library

organization filed three separate applications for new trademarks with the U.S. Patent Office regarding the term, ‘Little Free Library,’ used in connection with the words, ‘wooden boxes with a storage area for books,’ and ‘signs, non-luminous and non-mechanical, of metal,’ and ‘guest books and rubber stamps.’

The article goes on to share the point of view of Greig Metzger, the executive director of the Little Free Library organization.

Metzger explains that LFL works with like-minded nonprofits all over the world to advance literacy, and that it provides support for those who want to ‘go their own way” and not register their box with LFL, even providing instructions for those who want to construct their own book boxes rather than purchase them from the organization.

But, he adds, LFL does not condone for-profit businesses…making money off of the concept by selling products using the LFL trademark.

In any case, the Little Free Library outside of SOMOS has no reason to worry because it is registered with charter number 42532. It’s decorated with ravens, a bird seen often in Northern New Mexico, and the flowers and mountains of the region. I love its bright colors.

I didn’t take any books from this library, and unfortunately, I didn’t have any books with me to contribute. I’m glad to know there is another Little Free Library option, this one in the heart of the town of Taos.

I took the photos in this post.

What Do I Do Now That I Have All This Time on My Hands?

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I stay busy.

Between writing and scheduling blog posts, staying in touch with friends, reading, and creating art, I barely have time to wash the dishes, exercise, or meditate. However, in Facebook groups for vandwellers and other internet resources for people who live nomadically, I regularly encounter people asking for advice on what to do now that they aren’t working full-time, permanent jobs. Some people have never had free time before, so they’ve not learned how to entertain themselves. Others are fine as long as they’re moving from place to place and seeing new things, but if an injury or lack of money means they have to sit on public land or in the same town for a week or two, they’re bored out of their minds.

For all the nomads who are trying for the first time to figure out what to do with themselves and for folks who want to try something(s) new, I offer ten activities to fill your time now that you own your life.

#1 Explore the public library. As may have been evident from my post 10 Ways to Save Money on the Road, I’m a big fan of public libraries. Even if you don’t have a library card, you can probably hang out away from inclement weather; use a computer to surf the web; read books and magazines; view art; and attend free movies, concerts, lectures, and classes.

Some public libraries will issue library cards to nonresidents. If you can score a library card, you may be able to enjoy books, music, and movies in the privacy of your own rig.

I encountered this Little Free Library in my travels.

#2 Read! I’m also a big fan of reading. If you can’t borrow books from a public library, get books from Little Free Libraries. Find inexpensive books at thrift stores and library book sales. If you’re staying in a campground, check for a library in the clubhouse or office.

If you rather look at photos and read short articles, acquire magazines instead of books. Magazines can often be had at thrift stores and library book sales for 10 cents or a quarter each–if they’re not outright free. Maybe you have a friend in another town with a magazine subscription who will put together a care package of back issues and send them to you via general delivery.

If you don’t like to read, but you do like to listen to stories, consider audiobooks. How cozy would it be to lie in your bed and have a talented voice actor read you a bedtime (or nap time) story? If you like the classics, Open Culture offers links to over 900 free audiobooks. For more options, Book Riot offers a list of “11 Websites to Find Free Audiobooks Online.” These are all legal audio book options.

#3 Listen to podcasts. Similar to audiobooks, you can listen to podcasts while driving, cooking, folding laundry, or cleaning the rig. Some podcasts are educational; some are entertaining. You can learn all about finding free podcasts in a 2017 Wired article called “The Beginner’s Guide to Podcasts.”

If you’re wondering what podcasts I like, read my post about my favorites.

(Note: When listening to podcasts or audiobooks, use headphones or make sure your volume is low enough not to bother others. Folks who go into the wilderness to hear birdsong don’t necessarily want to hear what you consider entertainment.)

#4 Learn to do something new. If you’ve always wanted to (fill in the blank with an activity of your choice), but never had the time, your time has come. The Instructables website shares directions for almost any DIY project, craft, or van-home improvement project you can think of. You can learn a lot on YouTube too. I taught myself to macramé hemp jewelry, and The Man learned how to replace drum brakes by watching YouTube videos, so I suspect most folks could use YouTube to learn a new skill.

#5 Play a musical instrument. Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a lapsed musician, use your spare time to play an instrument. The Man carries an acoustic guitar in his mini van so he can play whenever he gets the urge. Coyote Sue often practices her flute while boondocking on public land. If space is at a premium, go for something small like a ukulele, a piccolo, a kazoo, or a harmonica. If you’re lacking space and/or money to buy something, remember, your voice makes music too.

(Note: As with podcasts and audiobooks, please make sure your musical endeavors don’t disturb others. When camping or boondocking on public land, let the sounds of nature prevail.)

I whipped up these postcards from collage fodder Coyote Sue sent me.

#6 Write Letters. Don’t think you have to be a great writer to wrtite letters to your friends and family. Trust me, your people will be so excited to get what I call “real mail,” they’ll barely care about what you write. If you’re too shy to write to the adults, write to the children. Kids always seem super excited to get mail.

If you don’t think you have enough to say to justify writing a letter, send a postcard. In tourist towns, I usually find postcards costing between 20 and 50 cents each. At thrift stores, I’ve found postcards as cheap as a nickel each. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been to the place on the postcard. People like pretty photos, even if you’ve never seen the landmark in question.

If you need a creative project, make your own postcards like I did.

#7 Keep a journal. If you don’t much like writing, make it more like a log book where you record where you stayed, what you did, weather, gas mileage, or any information you might want to remember later. If you rather draw than write, sketch the trees, the people you meet, the critters you see.

#8 Get artsy–or crafty. Find ways to get in touch with your creative side that don’t require lots of materials or tools that take up too much of your precious space. Paint watercolors the size of postcards. Make collages. Decorate the

This is how Coyote Sue has been decorating the inside of her rig. She gave me permission to use this photo.

interior of your rig. Sketch your campsite. Make jewelry. Make your own greeting cards or postcards. Sculpt with air-dry clay. Whittle.

#9 Take some photos. With today’s technology, you don’t need a fancy schmancy camera to take decent photographs. Most smartphone cameras let you use filters on your photos; adjust contrast, sharpness, and exposure; crop your image; and doodle right on the picture. With all these bells and whistles, you can take a decent photo and turn it into an awesome photo. Of course, if you don’t know the basics of composition, you’ll want to learn that too, courtesy of ePHOTOzine.

A good place to start learning to use your camera phone is an article by Photography Concentrate called “Smartphone Photography 101.” Once you have the basics down, take your photography skills to the next level by following the suggestions Rebecca Moses offers in her article “Finding Your Inner Photographer: Making the Most of Your Camera.”

#10 Get close to nature. If you’re on public land, put on your sturdy shoes and go for a hike or a little walk, if that’s what you’re up for. Sit still and listen to the birds sing. If you’re in a city, get closer to nature in a park or arboretum. Learn to identify the trees, flowers, and/or medicinal plants in the area you’re in. At night look up at the sky and find the constallations. Paying attention to the cycles of nature could keep a person occupied for days, weeks, months, or even years.

I got close to this nature while boondocking outside Natural Bridges National Monument.

I hope this post inspires you to try some new things and figure out what fun activities make you happy as they fill your free time. Feel free to share what you do to stay busy in the comments below.

I took all the photos in this post with the exception of the one of Coyote Sue’s rig decorating endeavors, which I used with her permission.

 

Greyhound Story #3 (Whatcha Reading?)

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I thought I wanted to move to Austin, TX. I’d never been there, but it sounded like a cool place. I decided before actually moving there, I should visit so I could make an informed decision.

A friend of a friend had a room in a co-op house in Austin. Since he was more or less living with his girlfriend, he said I could stay in his room while I visited the town.

I took the Greyhound to Austin. I don’t remember anything about the trip. I don’t remember arriving at the bus station to depart the land of my birth or how I got from the station in Austin to the co-op. I must have taken a city bus, because I’m not the type to take a taxi, or maybe the friend of the friend and his girlfriend picked me up in her SUV.

I remember the room I stayed in.  It had cinderblock walls and was very dark. It was tiny and made me think of a jail cell or a room in a mental hospital, although at that time in my life I’d never been in either. The friend of a friend had left it messy, and I didn’t find it very welcoming.

I don’t remember much about what I did in Austin. I know I walked The Strip, the stretch of Guadalupe Street passing next to the University of Texas campus. The co-op where I stayed was close to the University, so I could walk to The Strip easily. One night the friend of a friend and his girlfriend had me over to her apartment for spaghetti. I didn’t go out to listen to live music. I didn’t go out drinking in bars. I didn’t join the residents of the co-op viewing Star Wars after I was invited in the kitchen.

Sapphistry : The Book of Lesbian Sexuality
I did go to Half Price Books near the community health food store. I enjoyed myself there. I enjoyed walking among the thousands of inexpensive books on the closely spaced shelves. I found one to buy for myself as a souvenir of my trip Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality by Pat Califia.

I’d recently discovered Pat Califia when my housemate introduced to the book Public Sex, a collection of essays about sexuality in late 20th century America. From there, I discovered Califia’s collections of BDSM themed short stories, Macho Sluts and No Mercy and her dystopian novel Doc and Fluff.  I enjoyed Califia’s writing style, and the sex scenes were hot, although I realized eventually that I wasn’t into BDSM in real life.

Public Sex by Pat Califia (1-May-2001) Paperback

I’d never seen Sapphistry, so when I ran across it for a few bucks at Half Price Books, I scooped it up.

Compared to Califia’s other works, Sapphistry was more of a how-to book for lesbians. There were no BDSM stories, no hot sex scenes. I was a little disappointed with the content, but as a budding bisexual with precious little experience with women, I thought perhaps I could gain some knowledge from the book.

Other than Half Price Books, I didn’t like much about Austin. I barely gave it a chance, I realize now, but in less than a week, I decided I hated the place and didn’t want to live there.

I got back on the Greyhound and headed home.

I’m not a gregarious, outgoing person. I mostly keep to myself when I can, especially in public, especially on the ‘Hound, so when the loudly talking man boarded, I hunkered down in my seat. I thought if I stayed low, kept my nose in my copy of Sapphistry, and didn’t make eye contact, he’d ignore me.

Wrong!

He chose to sit in the seat behind me. He leaned over into my space and demanded, Whatcha reading?

A book, I replied coldly, thinking I could give him a social cue that I didn’t want to talk.

He didn’t have a clue about my cue.

I know it’s a book! he exclaimed impatiently.  What’s the topic?

There are moments in our lives when we must make split second decisions between telling lies and telling truths. I was living such a moment. If I told the man I was reading a book about lesbianism, would he think I was a full-fledged lesbian and therefore off limits or would I open myself up to homophobic abuse? There was no way to know what telling the truth might bring.

I’ve never been a very good liar. Instead of trying to make up something about the book in my lap, I just blurted out one word: Lesbians!

The man sputtered and stammered and sank into his seat.

I thought he might come at me later with some negativity, so I prepared myself by putting on my headphones and listening to Tool for the next couple of hours. The angry hate music prepared me for battle, but the man must have considered me off limits because he didn’t try to talk to me again.