Books as therapy

I’ve had moments recently when I feel like I’ve lost myself.  I look around my life and think, “is this it?”

And then I am awash with guilt.

Because I have a good life.  I have a loving family, a good home, a secure job.  And everything I’ve done in my life has been a building block – I’ve used the tools available to me to create exactly the “right” kind of life, the life I thought I wanted.  We bought a home in just the right school district, in just the right neighborhood.  My kids went to just the right preschool and I have just the right income at just the right job.

So why the hell am I complaining?

I don’t know.  This is my dilemma.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself: why did I want this life? Why did I work so hard to get me to this place, and why am I so unhappy now that I’m here?

To be fair, I’m not unhappy all the time. When my son crawled into bed to cuddle with me this morning, I felt truly happy in that moment.  The whole family went swimming last weekend and the kids listened and no one complained (or drowned), and that was a good moment.  And just now, I looked away from my computer and over at my bookshelf, and the memories I’ve assembled there make for a twinkling flash of good juju too.

My life

My life

This is why book lovers are so entirely dedicated – because of our overflowing bank of memories.  Just a glance at the spine of a book reminds us of the times we held our breath, of the times we laughed and cried, of the times we read something that changed the way we felt or thought or envisioned. We recall the time we read that one thing that broke our hearts, or soothed us because we thought no one else in the world felt that way. It made us feel a part of something; it made us feel bigger than ourselves.

And I think – I’m unhappy because I haven’t had that moment in a while.

So why haven’t I?

In asking that question, I’m reminded of the transcript of a speech I read recently, given by author Veronica Roth at Book Expo America 2013.

When I originally read the transcript, this is the part I related to most:

Young readers can tell when an author is trying to force them to have a meaningful experience through preaching or manipulation. They can tell when a character doesn’t feel real or when a plot is contrived. Or when writing is clumsy. It’s important for everyone to learn how to spot those things, actually, and how to critique books.

I love this because I have always thought young readers were smarter than they are thought to be by some.  I hate when YA books lay something out that was already clearly understood, as if everything has to explained thoroughly so a YA reader can understand it.  Here’s a tip: they probably got it before YOU did.  Kids are smart.  Smarter than you know.  Or want to believe.

But.  When I started writing today’s post, I realized another part of this speech may be what I was meant to take away:

A few months ago, I realized the answer was clear: I lost my love of reading at the same moment I started to say, ‘I already know’ instead of ‘I’m here to learn.’ In other words, at the moment that I lost my reading humility.

So maybe that’s my answer. Typically I read in my writer shoes, with my writer eyes and my writer brain.  I find a typo and I roll my eyes. I see an underdeveloped character and I yearn for more.  But that is ridiculous.  Who the hell am I, anyway?  What right do I have to judge?

Next time I pick up a book, I’m just going to sink into the chair and make some memories.  I’m going to enjoy it, and not try to mold it into what I want it to be.  I’m going to be surprised; I’m going to be excited; I’m going to learn something new.  Because that is why I love books.

And perhaps I can also apply that to my life.  I still have a lot to learn.  And even though I have just the “right” kind of life, clearly I have more growing to do.  I’m going to believe there are more moments out there to be excited about.  There is more to do.

And just knowing that makes me happier than I’ve been in a long time.

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6 Comments

  1. Definitely something to remember as a reader/writer or writer/reader. I find that my mind goes less to the critical side (although my inner “editor” does come out) and more to the “woe is me, this is such a great book and I can’t write like this/this idea is already taken” side too often. It takes away the enjoyment from what is, obviously, a well-crafted book.

    Reply
    • Kim

       /  June 7, 2013

      Such an excellent point. I do that all too often as well.

      Reply
  2. nbw8

     /  June 7, 2013

    Beautifully said. As always. ;)

    Reply
  3. As a photographer and creative person, i can relate so much to this post. years ago i found myself not only comparing my art to fellow artists that surrounded me, but also critiquing their art to the point defending mine. I would just focus so much on what was wrong with their photography to sort of feed my ego b/c i really deep down did not think i was such a great photographer. Without knowing it, I started to build this wall of dislike towards a passion of mine. It took me a while to figure that out, why something that brought me so much joy, stressed me out so much. But I stopped doing it. I try not to compare there’s against mine, i just focus on the subject at hand and try to find things i like rather than dislike.

    On another note. Recently a photographer i greatly admire posted something on FB. Was going through some heartbreak issues and said something at the end about drowning his sorrows in his art. And someone noted on there that they seem to have more muse upon them when they are sad rather than happy, almost as if producing different art. Maybe when times like these arise (not that i want you to be unhappy) but if you put it all down on paper, write a story, describe how you feel and add it to your books, at the end you’ll be amazed at the words you put on paper and how passionetly they read back to you. ;) Just a thought.

    Reply
    • Kim

       /  June 10, 2013

      That’s why we have art, right? Thanks, Claudia, for the wise words.

      Reply

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