Reading Relief

It’s no coincidence that the last blog entry I posted here was just before the inauguration. I came into 2017 with the best of intentions for creative output, and then the political shit hit the fan and ever since then I’ve had trouble producing anything. My journal entries have gone from three pages a day to perhaps a page every other day, give or take. I spend way too much time scrolling through Twitter, trying to keep up with the daily outrages coming from the new US administration. Intellectually, I know this isn’t healthy, nor is it ultimately helpful to simply consume outrage on a daily basis, but it has quickly become a habit I’m hard-pressed to kick. I am naturally a nervous, worst-case scenario person, so to be in the middle of such a tumultuous time, with such easy access to up-to-the-minute information and misinformation, is a perfect recipe for obsessive anxiety for me.

Needless to say, “obsessive anxiety” is not a mindset that is terribly conducive to creativity, or to productive focus of any kind. I find myself constantly wanting to do something, while having absolutely no idea what to do. With a pen in hand, it seems all I can do these days is fidget and sweat.

I’ve been able to compromise somewhat by focusing on reading. If I can’t produce, at the very least I can turn my attention to the creative work other people have produced, quite separate from the world of soundbites and Twitter feeds. In January I read seven books, which was a personal record for me, and I’ve already finished one more for February. I am turning to books as a kind of salve, a way for me to escape from present day events and to engage my mind even though I am having trouble producing words or ideas of my own. I am hoping that if I steep myself in other people’s prose, rather than the internet’s sputtering daily outrage, I will eventually reach some level of stillness and clarity once again. I’ll be able to order my thoughts. I’ll be able to write something more substantial than, “THE WORLD IS DOOOOOOOOOMED!!!!!!” over and over again.

For those who are curious, the books I’ve read so far this year are:

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  • The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  • The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
  • Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

I have enjoyed them all, despite their stylistic and thematic differences, and I want to continue my reading momentum, reaching out into different genres and subject matter as much as I can. I want to cope with the difficulties of the present day by learning as much as I can about as much as I can, and by engaging with as many diverse stories as I can. In a time when I have such a strong urge to do something but don’t know what, reading feels like a good start. It opens up worlds and possibilities that might not otherwise occur to me, and perhaps in doing so it will also suggest solutions to the problems that have been so rattling my nerves.

It’s certainly worth a shot. Now I just need a few more bookshelves…

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