I haven’t been able to read as much as usual and it fucking blows. I feel like a part of me is missing; reading feels core to my personality. Why?
It’s something I enjoy. (Although not right now, clearly.) It’s a concrete activity for day-dreamers, getting lost in another world. It’s a way to feel and experience and understand human emotions, to confront new perspectives and then use them to examine my own life.
I’m curious and I love learning things. A seductive bad habit – like smoking – is wandering down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, diving deep into a topic. Rarely useful ones, I should note; recent contenders have included environmental humanities classes, Islamic alchemy, and the basics of SEO. It’s not that I’m preparing myself for some upcoming event where I need to be armed with esoteric knowledge; I enjoy learning something new, forming a mind palace synapse where there previously was only languid brain mush.
So I know I like reading, it’s something I’ve known for a long time, and yet I can’t do it. It’s a classic depressive symptom, being unable to take pleasure in things which you previously enjoyed; it’s a type of exhaustion, from living in a worldwide crisis every goddamn day; it’s that it’s so much easier to boot up Civ and work out my brain by strategizing how many paintings I need to accumulate in order to secure a culture victory.
I’ve long identified as a mood reader, someone who determines what book to read based on how they are feeling in that particular moment. I am usually in the middle of five books at a time, picking up and putting each down as it suits my fancy. Now the trouble is that the mood isn’t striking me anymore. I bemoan the days of grabbing a random romance off my shelf and reading it straight through.
But that’s not helping me right now. It’s okay to feel sadness that I don’t have the capacity to accomplish my typical feats of reading, but in order to get back on track I need to actively work toward redeveloping a reading habit. I have had this expectation that this moment will pass; that I will suddenly feel like myself and start guzzling words at alarming speed once more. That mindset is hindering me now.
I attended a webinar hosted by artist Yumi Sakugawa all about developing a creative discipline. I was completely enthralled when Yumi said they thought of their creativity as another being, something separate from themselves, something they are tasked to care for like a plant or a pet. I don’t know why this framework finally got the concept of “self-care” through my thick twenty-six year old skull, but suddenly everything clicked. I am not watering my plants, therefore they are dying. I am neglecting myself. Plants don’t grow on wishes. My cat and dog depend on me. It doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like grinding up and rehydrating the special organ pellets my cat has to eat each day; he needs it to survive, so I do it.
Now I am applying this to my reading habit. Waiting and wishing to return to normal isn’t making any progress. Even succulents need to be watered sometimes.
I’ve previously written out my formula for cultivating a reading habit, but it glossed over the nitty-gritty: how to actually pick up a book and make meaningful progress until you finish the story. Now I have to figure out how to do that, which I suspect will involve shifting some of my reading rules. For example, if I don’t like a book I stop reading it – life is too short to spend it doing something you don’t enjoy – but now my unconscious is fighting reading as a whole freaking concept. I gotta adjust my boxing stance. I don’t know how yet, but this is me committing to getting back in the ring.
And now you – how are you doing? What joys have degraded in the face of a pandemic? What can you do to nurse them back to health?
Keep in touch,