Thursday, January 11, 2007

living lives

I told you my posts would get back on track. And this one is courtesy of some mashed bananas. Yes, that’s right, mashed bananas. As I was mashing them and preparing to freeze them (because we couldn’t use them right away, and I hated to waste them), a memory came to mind. From that memory, I began to think about some things from the past. So while in the midst of a rather mindless task, my mind was in fact working overtime. I’ll start at the end, and continue in the next post.

I’ve complained a lot lately about not having time to read. Read for pleasure, that is. I’ve been stuck on academic overdrive since I started college at 30, reading for classes, whether I’m taking them or teaching them. Reading, over the last ten years or so, has become a chore, rather than the intense pleasure of the past. When I read in someone’s blog that they’ve read yet another book I’ve wanted to read, the intense jealousy – and even anger – can’t be contained for a few brief seconds.

I keep saying/writing that once I finish the dissertation, things will get better. They’ll go back to normal, I’ll be reading again as I used to. But when I choose to face reality, I know that it won’t ever be like it was if I continue in the career I’ve chosen. In academia, as a professor, there will be constant pressure to publish. And constant pressure to stay as up-to-date as possible with course content. My reading will continue to be reading that is not of my choice. And that really scares me. If you knew what books were for me, to me, you’d be scared too. But I’m the one who chose this path, and I’m the one who must walk it.

Books have been my life, my sanity, my salvation, from the time I was old enough to read. In those horrible early years with the egg donor and her various boyfriends and husbands, I lived in the world of books as often as I could – I’d retreat from my own sad reality, and read about others’ reality, both real and imagined. I can remember classics along the lines of Caddie Woodlawn in the third grade; by the sixth grade, I was reading The Hobbit. (The egg donor thought that giving the boys Hardy Boys books, and me Nancy Drew books, was the way to go for birthdays and Christmases. They were cool for what they were, but the only whetted my appetite.) In high school, I remember reading Anya Seton’s Green Darkness for the first time (I just recently re-read it, one of the few I’ve been able to read lately).

In my 20’s, as today, I favored historical novels, especially when the author paid serious attention to accurate historical detail. In my early 20’s, for about a year or so, I was addicted to those romance novels. Not the namby-pamby ones in which the girl gets a chaste kiss from her knight, but the dirtier ones with details about ‘his rigid manhood entering her moist womanhood’ kind. The more explicit, of course, the better. I could read one of those in a day, if given the chance.

Life as a single mom in and out of welfare actually, believe it or not, left lots of time to read. Partly because I wasn’t one of those moms who spent every waking minute with my kid (it helped that he was very self-sufficient, and learned to read early himself). Partly because sometimes we didn’t have a telly, and when we did, we didn’t have cable. Four channels – ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS – were it for us, which pretty much meant nothing on during the day or late evening after 11 (except on Saturdays, which was our night for the Not for Prime Time Players). We would go to the library (always the library, I could never afford to purchase) and check out stacks of books – more when I wasn’t working, less when I did have a job. I was a book churning machine, reading one a day, reading until my eyes gave out and I must nap and rest them, then waking up to read more, again.

When I read books for pleasure, I’m doing more than reading – I’m living. I’m living an entire life, the life of someone else, leaving my own behind. I become the character in the book, think like her, and it is my life, for a time. Until the book is over, the story complete. When I come to the end of a book, there is a sadness, an emptiness inside, a tightening of my chest, sorrow. My life, that one that I lived furtively through the book, is over. There is a sense of loss, for what was, for what is no longer. And then I move back into my own life seamlessly, as though I never left. Until the next book, the next life.

And it’s become more than the desire to read, entering into the desire to own. I want them on my own bookshelves, so that I can look at them, and pick them up, shuffle the pages, and read them whenever I want. I want to own them, possess them. I’ve grown to love old editions of books, especially those printed prior to the 20th century. I’ve purchased a few books from the late 1800’s, but anything earlier than that is out of my pocketbook’s reach.

Perhaps this sheds light on the feelings inside when I can’t read for pleasure. I miss the immersion into another’s life, the time to read freely, intently, intensely. It has left an emptiness inside that needs to be filled, as though a piece of me were missing, and I seek it consistently, even when it is pushed to the recesses of my conscious mind. It isn’t a matter of living in a fantasy world to avoid reality – reality is here, it is what it is, it won’t go away, I live with it daily. It is, instead, my way of living my reality. Having denied myself this intrinsic piece of who I am for so many years, I am now finding myself 'sneaking' books for pleasure, at the expense of this.

Next up, the power of peaches.

(photo from here)


barefootliam said...

Thanks for using the old books picture! (and for knowing how to make a copy of it and to link back, even better!)


MacGregor said...

I figured I'd delurk and say hello. So hello from Brooklyn.


Spring said...

liam, you're quite welcome. I always give credit to where my photos came from, if the info is available. :)

Greg, thanks so much for de-lurking for me; it's a pleasure to 'meet' you. :)