04 August, 2013

Shut up world! I'm trying to read...

Sometime late last year... I don't remember when, exactly... I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read... Then I decided that if I joined a Book Club... I'd be under pressure to READ! Obviously this is how I operate now... My new normal is ... efficiency under pressure. 
But joining a club might not be enough pressure... Knowing me, I'd make an excuse for why I can't go... 

Much to my husbands chagrin... I decided to start a Book Club! 
So what happened to me ? It isn't a failure of desire to read so much as one of will. Or not will, exactly, but focus... the ability to quiet my mind long enough to inhabit someone else's world, and to let that someone else inhabit mine. Reading is an act of contemplation and escape,  in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts, observations and experiences,  asking us to make them part of ourselves.  Books enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. 
In order for this to work, we need a certain type of silence, in order to filter out the constant chatter, the noise spinning in my head... even after the day is technically over. For me this has become a major challenge. Here we have my reading problem in a nutshell, for books insist we take the opposite position, that we immerse, slow down. Of course, the source of my distraction is identifiable: ongoing trivialities. I am too susceptible, it turns out, to the tumult of the life, the sound and fury often signifying nothing. These days, after spending hours on Facebook, e-mails and fielding calls, sourcing goods, frock-ing the fashionable ladies of Prescott, and as most of you know, obsessively re-merchandising my store...  I find it difficult to quiet down my mind. I pick up a book, read a paragraph, then my mind wanders and I re-check my Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, drift onto the Internet, and pace the house before returning to the abandoned page.  I  have to force myself to remain still, to follow whatever I'm reading until the moment I give myself over to the flow. Eventually I get there, but some nights I'm struggling with the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there is something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it's mostly just a series of disconnected riffs and fragments that add up to the anxiety of... am I missing out on something???
Yet there is time, if we want it. Contemplation is not only possible but necessary, especially in light of all the mental overload. But isn't that the point precisely? For without time we lose a sense of narrative, that most essential connection to who we are. We live in tick-tock-time, we understand ourselves in relation to it, but in our culture, time collapses into an ever-present now. How do we pause when we must know everything instantly? How do we ruminate when we are constantly expected to respond? How do we immerse in something (an idea, an emotion, a decision) when we are no longer willing to give ourselves the time and space to reflect? This is where real reading comes in --- because it demands that space, because by drawing us back from the present, it restores time to us. There is the present-tense experience of reading, the chronology of the narrative, the characters and author, all of whom bear their own relationships to time. There is the fixity of the text, which doesn't change whether written yesterday or a thousand years ago. That is what reading has to offer, a way to eclipse the boundaries, which is a form of giving up control, since in giving up control we somehow gain it, by focusing in a world of endless options, distractions, possibilities?

I sit down. I try to make a place for silence. It's harder than it used to be, but still, I read.

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