Yesterday I read an entire book in just a couple of hours, and felt an enormous sense of pride about it, though there is a great deal more to unpack about this statement. Up until these last several years, over a decade, I’d say, I’d been a voracious reader. I read greedily and hungrily everything my gaze fell on: books, magazines over shoulders, cereal boxes, road signs, tampon boxes, I’d even pull a soap wrapper from the garbage if on the john without something to read. Then I bought a TV, or moved in with someone who had one or something, and lo, I gradually relegated reading to the moments before sleep. Later, off and on, I had a TV in my room, and soon I wasn’t even reading before bed. Before I knew it, I was a former voracious reader who still identified as a current voracious reader because the alternative was too terrible. A lot of us bear this history, I imagine, with the tendrils of TV reaching out to us over the internet, through gaming consoles or expansive video libraries. I decided that having grown up without a television taught me no restraint when presented with the witless wonder of it, the passive acceptance of all that might be thrown at you in a given half hour, or full hour, or days on endless days. What I didn’t understand was how it altered the flow of time.
Oh yes, don’t get me wrong, I knew that it made time pass. There were times when I was living alone when that’s all I wanted anyway; why examine this? But there was this concomitant quality: that I didn’t have enough time. In fact, I felt that I was always short on time: short on time to make phone calls, write letters, or think about friends or politics or even a new hairstyle. Even unemployed, I felt this lack of time. I remember hearing, in a series of courses on gratitude, that you must give first that which you desire; ergo, if you are short on time, you must give time. “Volunteer,” said the instructor. For instance. Volunteer? When I’m this short on time?
But yesterday, lovely yesterday, I curled up with a book. It wasn’t that the book was so incredibly great that I couldn’t tear myself away. It was well-written enough. The voice of the book did speak to me, however; though I disagreed with some of it, couldn’t identify with other of it. But it was as though some switch had been turned, perhaps tentatively before, as I had been doing more reading lately, but that wonderful experience I remember from childhood of losing myself into the book returned, and I was unaware of the passage of time, except as the shadows lengthened, turning day into night. But here’s the thing that really blew my hair back: this transformative, enriching, recharging, satisfying experience didn’t take very long at all, in fact, as I mentioned, it was only a series of a few hours. While it felt like at least double that, it was actually quite a short period, during which time seemed to stretch forth like a darkened highway. I even took a break and watched an episode of Spongebob Squarepants and yet still, I had so much time. And not just time to kill, but lovely long time to stretch my legs and re-curl them into a new position, face the window or turn away from the window. It’s so stupidly obvious, probably, but it felt like the act of reading was restructuring the DNA of my day, transforming it into something I didn’t recognize at first, but could never have lived without as a child and young adult. And I felt that everything would be different now, because I finally saw that I had linked my life with something that robbed me physically and mentally. Of course any abusive relationship is not easily severed; again, the desire to not do this quiet, meditative thing that I am doing now, and instead of flick on that (and the other devices that make that possible) is palpable, like a bad smell. But now the scales have shifted in favor of books – that sweet feeling of dreamy escape, of satisfaction, of learning something, of feeling something, of doing something that matters, of doing something that mends me; I can taste it again. I no longer have to remember that feeling distantly because it was just there – not gone in two minutes/two seconds, not elusive, not something to grit my teeth and glue my eyes to in order to receive – there, waiting for me in the page’s wings. What a delight, old friend.
Welcome the heck back.