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.
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.