The Seven Hundreds

Using my disadvantage as an advantage.

"Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world. She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones."

-A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

The Seven Hundreds Portrait

I was on a bike ride listening to the audio book of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

I bought this book in fifth grade through one of those school book order flyers. This particular flyer listed the page numbers of each book, and I bought this one specifically because it had the most pages.

Turns out it was also a great book.

So every now and then I revisit it.

On this particular bike ride, as I was weaving through my favorite part of a picturesque trail near my home. Sandwiched between a pond and a forest, I listened to the part about young Francie Nolan committing to read the books in her library alphabetically, and not skipping the dry ones.

Out of all the sections in the library I care most about, the art section is at the top of my list, and I have read so few of them. So very few.


I have been realizing lately how underexposed I am to the world of art. As a culture, it is one I have come to identify myself with and yet at times feel entirely and massively estranged from. Art culture, as it has come on my radar as being "a thing," has helped me as an individual figure out my identity. Has helped me say, "Ah, so I'm not crazy." But it has also felt like this impossible thing to break into. Like there is some collective I have not been nor ever will be welcomed into.

I do believe that much of what I need to know about art comes internally. Lessons such as trusting myself, being willing to experiment with my art, having the motivation to do my work, garnering the confidence to implement my visions: these are all obviously wildly important and internally fueled. But I also have a hunger to know about people that have devoted their lives to this specific career path. I want to be aware of what works they put out there and the history of where art has come from.

My hunger for art can be equated to my hunger after a long bike ride. I HAVE to eat. I want to devour, and I can't turn it off until I'm satisfied. I am keenly attune to art being central to everything enjoyable in my life. I am also aware that I am the only one this obsessively passionate about "the arts" in my everyday life. Let's just say I don't exactly have to fight through the crowds to get my next book off the library shelves.

And so it was with Francie Nolan as my inspiration that I first traveled to the library and got the first three books on the seven hundred shelves. There were thick. All three of them. I knew I couldn't read a book a day like Francie. I am not 11 years old, I am 40 and my margins of time just aren't as spacious.

I thought maybe a book a week, but here I am coming up on eight weeks, and I have only finished one of the books. I am okay with that. What matters more to me is the exposure I am getting with each page read. The proximity I feel to others who actively chose to use their creativity regardless of what others thought. I love that reading helps me figure out how to harness that general pull that art has had on culture throughout time and space. With each page I feel my world expanding. It is like I am forcibly peeling open a set of elevator doors that were predestined to close on my life. I AM making a new path for myself Each chapter is another floor in a skyscraper of knowledge. It like eating good food, on purpose and feeling my body respond to the nutrients. It impacts everything I am doing exponentially and it helps me prioritize my time to allow for more of this. I see this work as just as crucial as anything "out in the field" I am doing. It keeps me from getting stagnant. Keeps me an interesting artist to be around rather than one of those stiff sorts who keeps the world of art as confusing and untouchable, an arm's distance away to everyone else.

I used to really feel like I missed out by not going to art school or being established in an art community. In many ways I'm at a huge disadvantage, but what I love is that I get to learn on my terms and directly apply my knowledge to the work I am already presently doing.

I also get to move on my own at my own pace - sometimes slow and sometimes fast. No waiting on a group of people or a classroom to decide what is next. No need to move on to the next book when I want to get lost in the weeds of this one.

I own my education and my implementation. This isn't only head knowledge and theories, this is practical application, and I get to make up my own mind on what I think about all of it. Having not been formally trained or tied to any certain program or university I get to operate outside of the rules and the orthodoxies and politics of what is "right" and just make my own way.


So I find myself in the seven hundreds, one book at a time, even the dry ones (I can learn a lot by asking myself, "What makes this book dry to me?"). I am seeing what has been tried, how other individuals have gone about it, how societies have responded and what I, in particular, am really passionate about in this massive world of art.

The photo below is a visual for how my seven hundreds project makes me feel.


4 thoughts on “The Seven Hundreds”

  1. The good thing about these books is you can always pick them up again later and revisit them. Sometimes we find things later we didn’t see the first time.

    I feel the same way about art but also about science. I mean, I have this degree and there is just so much I don’t know. I’m constantly absorbing more.

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