Burdens of a Bookworm

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This morning I had an excellent conversation with Hannah Rainey, which was enlightening in its introspection. We were discussing the need to occasionally take time out of busy lives to “recharge”; and the difficulty we both can experience in doing so; instead, persistently prioritising want ahead of well-being. These “wants”, to be clear, are not luxurious consumables to be bought and disposed, but personal targets we wish to reach: goals we wish to achieve.

Upon reflection, these two types of “want” are not as distinct from one another as I, for one, would like to believe. It’s hardly controversial to reiterate the belief that less than two decades into this 21st century of ours, “instant gratification” permeates throughout Western society more than ever before, with streamable content and (allegedly) high-speed internet creating an evermore rapacious want for content – data, dreams, dynamics – now. Indeed, the accessibility/availability makes the impatience palpable.

The personal “wants”, however, though not as disposable as their consumable counterparts, are just as immediate: I cannot do everything I want to do fast enough. I want to do everything both for enjoyment and in attempt to better myself – and I want to do it all now. There just aren’t enough hours in a day or a year. But in spite of the logical impossibility, failure to do everything is nevertheless a furious source of frustration. This feeling was not lost on Hannah. In her words:

I get stuck in a rut of being like why can’t I do all of the things I want to do

Tell me about it.

***

In my mind, these “wants” manifest themselves in the form of books. To read a never-ending number of (particular) books is something I want desperately – in fact; it is something I crave and ache to do. Quite by accident I stumbled on an article I wrote (and had forgotten about) only a few weeks ago about this very topic;* specifically, how much I was at that time struggling to focus. That struggle persists, to a degree. Now though, this issue seems to have fragmented, and there are multiple emotional strands that stem from this frustration. Most prominent in my mind at the moment is the sense of failure I feel in not completing what isn’t simply an impossible task, but moreover a never-ending one.

As I discussed in the aforementioned earlier post, there are so many books I want to read. Fiction I want to read both to be able to review books, but also to enjoy the writing. History I want to read either because I want to have a better or significantly deeper understanding of a topic, or so I have another source at my disposal for future academic writing. Poetry I want to read in the hope of being able to recite beautiful lines from memory. Philosophy out of curiosity and for a more refined moral compass. Reading lists and “to read” piles are forever emanating, evolving and expanding. Below, for example, is a new pile in preparation for a trip to Cuba. I also want to learn about language – its history, evolution and how it works – and read biographies of some of my favourite artists (specifically Orwell, Hemingway, Bill Hicks and Joe Strummer).

I don’t know if I’ll ever read all of this. An intense interest flicks from one subject to the next by the day, if not by the hour. But it is not indecision – it is fascination. I’m not foolish enough to believe that I can ever know everything; but I am frustrated by not knowing more.

Does anyone else ever feel this frustration?

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***

For me, then, the “want” – to return to the original theme – is for knowledge. I want an ocean of reservoirs of knowledge on dozens of topics and fields of expertise. And, for the most part, I want it now. In some ways I think I wish life was like The Matrix, wherein I can have data (knowledge) uploaded straight in my brain so that it is at once at my mental fingertips. At the same time, though, I do love the experience both of reading new things and of reading about new things. To have something implanted straight into my mind would be to miss out on the joy derived from personally accumulating and interpreting that into which an author, poet or historian has spent much time, energy and emotion weaving their intellect or soul.

***

Briefly; another issue for me, and with which Hannah found herself agreeing, is that – for both of us – our experiences have left us more fragile than we once were, and – speaking now about myself – I cannot be “on the go” all the time, spending every waking moment outside of work doing intellectually (read: mentally) exhausting things (i.e. reading dry, densely printed academic texts). My focus is not what it once was; I feel like I need more sleep now than I ever have done in my adult life; and I am far less invulnerable to debilitating emotions than I have ever been before. This, naturally, limits my reading time, which leads me to fall further behind than I anticipate, which in turn leads back to frustration, stress and anxiety; and that trio do nothing for those debilitating emotions. It is quite a cycle.

What came out of the conversation between Hannah and I, though, is the realisation that it truly is important to take time out from everything, even if you crave more in that singular moment. I have recently felt suffocated by all the books that I once loved to surround myself with, and on one level I feel like I am verging a slow meltdown. All the books I have still to read, whilst once filling me with excitement, now fill me with anxiety and (at times) dread.

I must take time out from the pressure of my relationship with books. Furthermore, I actually think I need to reassess my relationship with books in light of this new chapter in my life which has seen me less inclined towards the limitless absorption of text.

The bottom line? Don’t let the things you love become burdens or chores. Enjoy yourself. And don’t be too hard on yourself. As another blogger, in one of my favourite posts, wrote:

You are enough

* I do hope I don’t repeat myself too much(!)

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