On my way to the dentist I found myself thinking about reading: wait:
no, last night too, I commented to Greg that lately been thinking how I’d read more if I did not have this compulsion to finish every book I started. It feels wrong not to, somehow. And yet not every book I start will read itself—isn’t that what you’re always looking for as a reader, aren’t those the books you’d describe as your favorites? But what would my life be like, I’ve found myself wondering, if I was the kind of person who started a book and, finding it dull or not to my liking, felt free to simply set it aside and start another? What would change if in reading and by extension in life, my time and energy were organized not around a central compulsion (I must, I have to, I should) but instead around desire and pleasure?
That was last night. And then today, on my way here, driving, I found myself thinking that so much of my experience of reading is, sadly, the feeling of resistance to reading. Making myself finish a book because I’ve started it. Not wanting to read because I’d really actually be reading something else–something that seduces or excites or enthralls my attention instead of twisting away from it–but I won’t let myself, because the book I’ve already started I have to read cover to cover first, before I can move on. Not reading, because I don’t want to finish that book. Reading news articles only, on my phone, or playing Candy Crush, or cleaning the house instead of reading.
I think part of the reason I feel compelled to finish a book even when it resists me (or I resist it) is because I’ll often choose books to read based on an idea I have about their being good for me. I read things that seem to contain something I need to understand or think about to develop my own ideas or writing. What does it mean, then, that the books that seem most important or useful trigger the most resistance in me, while the books that read themselves, the books I read out of pleasure or desire, seem the most disposable? I read them, I enjoy them, I move on–reading here is not necessarily about learning something new or developing my own ideas or writing. Like I started reading a lot of YA fic because I wanted to read something enjoyable, something that doesn’t feel like work. Do I get much more out of it, though? If not, what does that mean for the labor of reading and writing stories?
There’s a resistance to writing I’ve been feeling too, which is why I’m thinking so much about reading I guess. I have projects I need to finish and enough time to do it if I’m disciplined, but for that very reason I don’t want to do it. For awhile I was getting up at 6am every morning and working on revisions to the novel from 6:15 until 6:45. Just 30 minutes a day, but first thing every day. Then I got derailed by some deadlines for academic sorts of writing. Then one of those projects, the last one before I could go back to the novel, turned out to require more work than I thought it would when I took it on. I can finish it, I have the time if I work smart, but I seem to have lost my ability to get myself up early and work for even 30 minutes. My alarm goes off and I lay there and look at my phone–check email, scroll thru news app–for those 30 minutes before I have to get up and start morning routine (get my daughter up and moving and out the door for school, get myself ready for work). I wanted to get this paper published and I knew I could do it. But now that it’s time to get it done and I’ve blocked out the time, I don’t wanna do it.
I’ve noticed more generally, however, that much of the writing I’ve done throughout my life seems to happen when it’s not supposed to: under duress, or when I should be doing other things, or in the cracks of time between responsibilities, like grass improbably pushing through concrete. I seem to be most creative when constrained, most resistant to writing when I have the time and space and freedom to cultivate a discipline. Do we write out of desire under any other condition than duress, I wonder? And yet, with such a tendency, how is a writing practice…possible?