Reading overwhelms me.
That was a small, but monstrous, moment of clarity with my therapist.
After discussing reactionary panic to other areas of my life, she simply asked what causes you the most anxiety on a regular basis?
This thing I love, when it’s given my time & focus, happens to be what I scold myself for the most: not writing more, finding reading so challenging whenever I made time, letting myself down with what came after: a lack of impressive literary comparison, reflection, inspiration to write. It’s this thing I do; this thing I don’t do; it isn’t, or hasn’t been, this part of myself I respected, enjoyed, loved — not intrinsic to my identity, but a failed set of tasks.
Beltane was the season for reaping rewards from seeds planted in spring. It’s not something I actively thought about this past handful of weeks — I hope that kind of practicality comes with time as I learn more (this journal entry was, itself, written last minute and not fully — but I’ll leave it to see the progress one day) — but my NHS-administered CBT sessions, & my subsequent search for audiobooks focusing on self-compassion, reactive anxiety, and the relentless hum of depression, lead to this moment.
Reading, for me, is something I want to do well but also enjoy. I don’t mean reading X/100 books each year, or reading the bestsellers each month — things like Instagram are rife with the thought that reading a lot and reading what everyone else has already read will mean they’re winning at books. But I want to be affected. Of course, I still want to talk about the things I read, but I’d far rather live having re-read the same five books with different takes each time than get through 1,000 books each year with few new marbles added to my mind. I want to learn about myself, challenge what I think, change. Getting to 100 books doesn’t change me. There don’t need to be practical applications off the back of reading, but certainly something that justifies their continued existence on my shelves — even if that’s purely for the fact they brought me joy.
The control I’ve been trying to apply to other areas of my life — eating well & regularly, same with exercise, writing, etc — needs to be less ambitious, agreeint a base level with myself that is the minimum expected in any area of my life, whcih can perhaps be upped in certain areas and times but not some linear golden moment i reach in each. This, once the chores are done, the cat’s content, and I’ve food prepped for dinner, should carve enough time for the reading with which I need to think differently. It is there to affect me as a person and me as a writer. It should make me ponder; it should inspire play. It should also make me feel. I ro, still, want to write and share what I think, which I’ll come to in a moment, but I want that to be a flash, easy thing to do after, so that greater thought can come at a later date where I’m just reading with pace & pleasure again.
It may seem odd — perhaps it doesn’t, I’m told I need to work on self-compassion — but obsessive love of something seems, for me, from experience, to have the effect of trying to hold it too tight and not let go. I need to trust it’ll be more rewarding to control the rest, and let this breathe.
I know summer as the time where I’d usually visit my grandparents on the Isle of Wight and my throat dries from hayfever. My seasonal knowledge is still building from nout, but Litha, or summer solstice, is when the power of the sun is celebrated. As the coin spins, though, the case with most seasons, it also symbolises a period of decline: in Wicca and other Pagan traditions, it marks a time when the Holly King (God of Winter or the Waning Year) defeats the Oak King (God of the Forest and the Waxing Year), indicating that nighttime will gradually grow.
For me, reading & writing bleed so much misery & joy — distress when I’m not putting time aside for them, elation when they inspire me. In my life right now, there’s shame, guilt, a feeling my time is being spent poorly, that I’m prioritising things that don’t matter in order to avoid the mental capacity demanded by paying attention for a little while. They are the peak of my living experience, and the measuring stick for how much I’m living. With so much to do around the house, a new job on a short contract, and other bits, I can see the priority slipping, and it worries me.
So, a few things I’ve planned:
less fractured reading The hook loosens, the whisp of magic dissipates, interest breaks, & the book slides back onto the shelf for another day (or, in many cases, year). This past handful of weeks / thirty-one years have seen my curiosity for lines or pages or chapters shattered by distraction with such shameful fickleness. It’s not more reading you need, my partner recently said to me, bored of my lamentations, it’s finishing that same thing over a shorter period of time. Essays & short stories & poems are fine for single-sittings. Entire books, though, while not necessarily meant for an intense caffeinated session, are also not written with a few pages at a time in mind. How can you expect to care about a narrative if it’s eeked out in strained, rushed utterances? So, to blend it in better, my life needs to meet my reading. Busy day at work? Essay, short story, poem. Quiet weekend, or space to work later with a longer lunch? Read for an hour or two, and do the same within the next day or two to finish it off.
less fluff, more data I’d love to have the funded time & mental capacity patience to write a fully-considered review of everything I read & watch & listen to. I can’t. I’ve tried, many times, and it falls down fast. Even the people who do this for a living don’t do that — but I still want to remember how it felt in some way, while focusing on longer pieces I want to write. I’m going to track the books I read on a spreadsheet. I’ll rate them as before/during/after ratings, their themes, how long they took me to read, whether I kept the book, etc. While the natural inclination of an ADHD brain is to make automatic connections between obscure items, I thought this would be a great chance to pull out a few themes per thing, then connect them up in peculiar ways for a little practice I never had in courses. For Instagram & Twitter, I’ll just share a few short bits I liked and reprioritise my time.
habitual writing practice These bursts of writing are, while always welcome, not the kind of writer I want to be anymore. They aren’t consistent. I’ve spent time reviewing apps on my phone to save time, clearing out the crap to make sure time is spent getting stuff out the way so that, in the words of Flaubert, I might have time to be wild & original in my work. I’ll journal every evening, briefly review books, write this seasonally, but now I’m focusing on planning out pieces.
I’m hoping all of these new practices help slow any decline in my reading & writing.
Inspired by the themes of summer solstice, before the next season of Lammas arrives, I’m going to start with The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.