Book Glutton

bookshelf 7-23-2019

I am a glutton. Not with food—well, not usually—but with books. I look at the books on my shelves, many of which I still have not read, and I want to dive into all of them at once. When I pick up a hefty book like Kristen Lavransdatter, War and Peace, or Bleak House, I want to devour it in huge chunks. I want to fill myself to the brim with all the delicious words I just know are waiting for me between the covers. I recently made the plunge into George R. R. Martin’s massive Song of Ice and Fire (five volumes and counting). Proust’s complete In Search of Lost Time (4,211 pages according to Amazon), has been sitting by my bedside, waiting patiently for at least two years now. There are literally hundreds of classic books I have not read in the world, not to mention those old favorites that I want to re-read. Every year a new batch of great books is published, both fiction and non-fiction. I don’t want to read some of them; I want to read all of them! Right now I have four books going at once, which even by my standards is a bit much. Happily, they are all dissimilar enough that I am unlikely to confuse them.

In an effort to consume as many books as possible, I am tempted to read too quickly. Though I have never been and never intend to be a speed reader, I often gobble down more than I can comfortably digest. Just as I can be overwhelmed at a large buffet (remember, I said I’m not usually a glutton with food), the sheer quantity of great books tempts me to overfill my plate. I have to remind myself that I am not in a contest of quantity. I must remind myself to slow down. As author John Green says, “Being a slow reader can in some ways make you a better reader.” His brother Hank follows this advice up with, “An important part of reading is not reading.” Put the book down and contemplate what has just been read. Spend some time thinking, musing, and engaging the text through questions, thought experiments, and creative writing.

“Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don’t even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words.” – Lindsay Waters

So tonight after supper, when I pick up a book (I’m not sure which one it will be yet), I will endeavor to savor the experience. Instead of counting pages, I will swim in them. If I drown, I can’t think of a better way to go.

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Morning Pages and Evening Pages and In-Between Pages

journals

Many people are familiar with the practice of writing Morning Pages thanks to Julia Cameron’s wildly popular and influential book The Artist’s Way. I first heard of them via a YouTube video from Lavendaire. The truth is, I had already been doing something similar for many years before I heard the term “Morning Pages.” I always just thought I was writing in my journal. Now there are subtle differences between journaling and Morning Pages which I won’t get into here, but suffice to say I am seldom without a notebook of some sort and a pen or pencil. (I actually prefer the latter; I’m a bit of a Charlie Brown with a pen. Peanuts readers will understand what I mean.)

The first journal entry I remember making was sometime when I was in junior high. (Middle school hadn’t been invented yet, at least not in Des Moines.) I had a dream about Agnetha Fältskog, the beautiful blonde singer in Abba, upon whom I had a boyhood crush. But this dream wasn’t about me having a torrid pre-pubescent affair with Agnetha. In this dream I actually BECAME Agnetha. (Details not forthcoming.) Upon awakening, it seemed odd enough to warrant writing down. That was the start of my “dream journal,” and for a long while recounting the previous night’s dreams made up the bulk of my journal entries.

After I started writing songs in earnest, lyrics began to take up more and more pages. The real flowering of my journal writing happened after I moved to Boston when I was 19. Favorite writing spots included the Reflection Pool at Christian Science Plaza late at night, the Charles River Esplanade while tanning in the afternoon, and Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, watching planes take-off and land at Logan Airport just across the Channel. Ideas from journals of that time found their way into letters to friends, elaborate plans for musicals and other large-scale projects that never happened, and above all: songs. Lots and lots of songs. Those journals are long gone now, and I very much wish I had them back.

So. Morning Pages. It was 3 or 4 years ago when I first watched Lavendaire’s video about them. Formalizing the journal writing routine has its plusses and minuses, but on balance I’d say the plusses win out. Making a deliberate habit of Morning Pages forces me to write even when I don’t feel like it. That’s important these days, when my creative spark doesn’t light as easily as it once did. Even though I write these blog posts (mostly) on computer, my Morning Pages (and I now call them that no matter what time of day it is when I write them) are always written by hand in notebooks with weird titles. And for the record, my favorite pencils are Blackwing Pearls by Palomino.

Calling: Writing

Flower

I try to avoid “realty” TV like the plague. Whenever I mistakenly see a bit of it, I am reminded what a good decision it was to ditch my television set over ten years ago. Occasionally, however, in a waiting room (Why does every waiting room in America these days have a fleet of televisions, all turned up VERY LOUD?), or at my parents’ house, I have had realty TV foisted upon me. One show that has made an impression (not a good one, just an impression) is “Hoarders.” I have also seen segments about hoarders on other programs or online. My parents are collectors and savers, but I would not call them hoarders.

Real hoarders have a real problem. They save and collect compulsively, obscenely. One category of items that seems to be a particular favorite (this is that part that made an impression of me, since this is something I also allow to take over a great deal of space in my apartment) is BOOKS. The stranger part is that the type of book very often hoarded is “self-help books.” Clearly they aren’t helping.

All of which is to say I have a healthy skepticism of self-help books, in spite of having read a lot of them myself. A LOT of them. They always feel inspiring while reading them, but the effect quickly wears off. These books create a false impression of accomplishment, but leave me right back where I started. By far the best self-help book I’ve ever read was a handmade pamphlet by artist Paul Fata. It didn’t belong to me, so eventually I had to return it to its rightful owner, another artist, David Zermeno. The pamphlet was called 101 Rules For The Starving Artist . Good luck finding a copy.

This brings me to another self-help book that I recommend: Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. In this short but actually helpful book, Pressfied comes back again and again to the same theme: Whatever calling you are most resisting is probably the calling you should be following. For me personally, I can immediately think of two such callings. The one I’m going to discuss today is: writing. Once I get into the groove of writing regularly, it feels nice and natural, but I very easily fall out of that groove and once out, it’s very hard to get back in.

So it comes as a surprise that I have lately been having more ideas that I know what to do with. This is a nice problem, but it does lead to too many irons in the fire and not enough finished products coming out. I get started on one thing, then another thought occurs to me (usually  when walking or trying to sleep) and I plunge into that one. The result is a whole slew of works in progress. I’m writing the present blog post as a sort of placeholder—something to dash off by way of explanation as to why my recent posts have been more erratic and eclectic than ever.

I’m no longer resisting; I’m giving in fully. I’m letting my muse run amok for a while. Stick with me; it could be fun!