It's In The Words
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
I had a very good talk with my sister, Claire, the other day. A tangled mess of thoughts can be smoothed out through a single conversation with her – she is strong and good, confident and brave, and her eyes are generous as she listens to me ramble.
She helped me realise that I've been going about things the wrong way. I'm often rushed, scattered and unfocused; getting out the door on time is often a struggle and I find it hard to calm my heart rate when I'm doing simple tasks. I juggle multiple objects in my hands and scramble over each passing minute because each one feels like wasted time.
I'm missing out on so much, so many hidden opportunities, by living this way.
A tricky hobby
2021 was one of my worst reading years. Despite a long Victorian lockdown and more time at home than I knew what to do with, I felt incredibly unsettled. I'd only ever make it halfway through a movie. I'd pick up a book, read a sentence, and put it back down again. Then I'd pick up a new book, thinking I could shock my system into caring for a new story.
But the problem wasn't the books I was piling up. It was the way in which I was reading them. I was reading to finish a book, to turn over the last page and feel the small rush of dopamine as I added it to my 2021 'read' tab. But my enjoyment of the process was totally gone – I realised that I didn't like reading anymore.
Yeah, I looked forward to getting home from work and holding a book. I loved curling my legs underneath a blanket and holding a warm cuppa. But I was becoming less and less interested in the stories I was consuming. My eyes moved over the words until my brain made sense of them, creating images, characters and exciting plot lines – but I wasn't enjoying a single second of it.
I decided to work out what was going on.
A pair of black spectacles rests on an open book. Photo: Sincerely Media on Unsplash.
One page at a time
My problem lay in my desire to reach the final page and close the book.
I think this was connected somehow to the vision I had of myself as a person. I liked to imagine that I was 'literary', 'well-read', 'scholarly'. These terms are almost meaningless, I think – you don't have to be well-read to be a decent, hard-working, intelligent person who makes a difference in the world and is able to love. Trying to construct this image of myself was exhausting, and I was painfully aware that no one even cared if I felt I had attained it. I was totally disenfranchised with the whole experience and the passion for my hobby was slowly starting to disappear.
So started practising reading – but this time, I'd try not to look at the pages, or the hours it would take me to finish a book. I would accept that I couldn't read or achieve everything I wanted to, but that life is in the single moments, words, sentences and pages. I gave myself permission to take a deep breath every time I took a look at how many pages I'd read, or had still to get through. I took stock, reminding myself of my interest in the story, the characters, and the brilliant way that it was all woven together.
I kept reading, one word, sentence, paragraph, page at a time.
As Claire so brilliantly showed me (and continues to show me every day), life lies in the small moments, the single seconds, the shared hug with your sister that you usually wouldn't have given because you 'don't have time'. Life is in the books that make you cry because you gave them space in your schedule to touch your heart. The stories you would have missed if you hadn't taken the time to get to know them – to give your time to them as they give their lessons to you.
Reading is about more than just being proud of a bookish persona, or comparing the number of books you've read.
It's about the worlds hidden within the words.
Thanks for reading with me,