By Anthony Aycock, Sept 22, 20225:50 AM
Welcome to State of Mind, a new section from Slate and Arizona State University dedicated to exploring mental health. Follow us on Twitter.
The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges is often credited with saying that “Paradise is a library.” He must not have meant a downtown public library, circa 8 p.m. Such places, like most communal spheres, can be a challenge to oversee.
Some people treat them like a sort of roomless hotel, sleeping in chairs and bathing in restrooms. I used to watch a man who looked like the famous woodcut of Blackbeard the Pirate ride the escalator of my three-story library up, down, up, down. For hours. Carrying a duffel bag. He never bothered anyone, so our security officers left him alone. (Can’t say the same for the lady of the evening who was meeting clients in the stairwell.)
Then there are the questions from believers in Qanon. Election deniers. Sovereign citizens. The woman who ranted about the “news” that the World Health Organization was going to “force a vote to allow them to take over the U.S. and force a lockdown like China.” (If WHO had that kind of power, why bother with a vote?)
The man who asked me how he and a few of his buddies could get into the governor’s office to “remove him” over pandemic closures. (Would that all insurrectionists did such thorough research!) Declinism is the feeling that everything is getting harder, scarier, and weirder, and a lot of people seem to have it.
Work in a library, I want to tell them, and you’ll learn what weird is.