Thursday, August 8, 2013

Reading & Writing

We begin today's blog with an anecdote:

In 5th grade, just like every year of elementary school, we had a chunk of time reserved each day for SSR - Sustained Silent Reading. (Also called DEAR - Drop Everything And Read.) This particular year, we would take five or ten minutes at the end of SSR time and write a paragraph or two about what we read, what we liked, what we thought would happen, etc.

This was, hands down, my favorite part of the day. We had so many interesting books in our classroom library! About kids who lived in Trinidad or had been kidnapped or went back in time to stop Lincoln's assassination! I loved reading these books so much that I started to take them home with me, and sometimes I loved them so much that I would go home and read them until I finished the book. Soon this became a regular thing, and my teacher noticed that in my reading journal I only had one entry about each book, since I was averaging a book a day. Because of this, I wasn't getting to reflect a lot on plot devices, character development, etc., and it kind of defeated the point of the whole activity. So my 5th grade teacher and I decided that the books I read during SSR should be classroom-only books, and I could take other books home that I could read whenever I wanted. (I wonder how often a teacher has to tell a kid to read less.) At the end of the year, I got the "Class Bookworm" award because I read the most books out of the whole class.

Reading Harry Potter, age 10.
 I tell that story not to brag about what an awesome reader I am, but to illustrate that since I was little, it has felt natural to spend most of my free time reading. My love of books goes back even farther than that - there are some pretty cute pictures of me, 3 or 4 years old and in footie pajamas, asleep next to a pile of books in my bed - but 5th grade was the first time I realized that I might like reading a little more than the average person.

In college, when I was meeting lots of new people, I never knew what to say when people would ask what my hobbies were. I would think, "Who has time for hobbies between school, work, reading, and talking to my friends about our emotions?!" And it always sounded a little weird to say, "Oh, I just read... a lot." For whatever reason, I didn't think others would think it was valid that I spent most of my time with modern literature.

In the past couple of years, that question has gotten easier to answer. In part because I've collected a few more hobbies - running, climbing, making kale chips, and even enjoying the occasional NBA game.* But I've also realized that reading is an awesome hobby and I am 100% okay with spending most of my time with my nose in a book.

Reading next to the Middle Fork in Idaho (photo by Dea Brayden!)
Since moving to Santa Fe, I have been reading a lot more than I usually do in the summer. I think it's a combination of working fewer hours, having fewer social obligations, and staying indoors a little more. (It is hot in the desert in the summer, and our adobe casita stays nice and cool. Plus, there is a cat who will purr next to me on the couch.) I have read some amazing books this summer (Tiny Beautiful Things; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society; and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, to name a few), and I consider it the highest of all compliments when someone asks me for a book recommendation. Books are something that I know I will always love. It is a simple, happy love that I never have to doubt.

And then there's writing. Something I have a more complicated relationship with. Like reading, I have been writing nearly all my life in some way or another. I have journals dating back to 1998, when I decided that I would either be a therapist, a photojournalist, or a novelist when I grew up. (I actually didn't know that the word "photojournalist" existed, so I made up my own - "writographer.") I still love writing letters, poetry, and (most) essays. I happily attended a college that was very writing-intensive.

Eric found this books with his name on it in Powell's.
I've always known that I will write a book. Not about anything specifically; I just know that I express myself best through writing, I love books, and I will write one someday. It is something that is always at the back of my mind. The reason that it hasn't ever been at the front of my mind until recently is that a lot of anxieties come up when I think about writing a book. For example:
"What if I'm not a good enough writer?"
"Why would anything I have to say be interesting enough for other people to want to read?"
"What the heck would I even write about?"
"Can I write that much?"
"How would I find the time to write a book?"

Some of these questions can be answered or dismissed logically; however, when faced tackling with one's life ambitions and passions, the brain does not always listen to logic.

One of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, wrote her first novels and short stories while living in Tuscon. Naturally, a lot of her writing alludes to the desert. So it seemed fitting that when Eric and I decided to move to Santa Fe, I should follow in Ms. Kingsolver's footsteps and start seriously pursuing writing, in hopes that I would draw inspiration from the desert as well.

Assisi likes to "help" me write.
It is very slow-going. I am definitely writing more. I make a point to write something every day, whether it's in my journal, in a letter to a friend, in my writing notebook, or in this blog. I go to writing group most weeks. But I don't have much to show for it yet. Which is okay - what's it been, 3 months since I started working on this? I like to remind myself that another favorite author, Isabel Allende, didn't write her first novel until she was 40. I have plenty of time.

Since the idea of writing a novel is still daunting to me, I'm starting with short stories, and I've been reading a lot of short stories. While I have read dozens over the past month, I have only written 3/4 of a story. And it's not very good. But I think to get rid of all the anxiety I have about writing, I have to just write a lot, and accept that while not everything I write is going to be the best, some of it could turn into something good.
A quote from Cicero - definitely something Eric & I live by.
 So thanks for reading, as always, and let me know if there are any short stories I should get my hands on.

* Clearly Eric's influence.

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