Reading for Joy

Two weeks ago, I had a revelation. I know, what a cliché. Those life changing revelations… pish-posh. And I know they say change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s true, at least somewhat true, but here’s the thing… sometimes we haven’t got a choice. Change has got to happen and it’s got to happen now. Well, two weeks ago I crashed and once those blurred moments finally passed I knew it was time to shake things up.

I’ll start by noting that over the past year I’ve been studying with Professor VanHerk at the University of Calgary. She is a Calgary based writer and has inspired me in a number of ways, though one in particular has taken hold. One day in class she mentioned that she doesn’t watch T.V., that she prefers to read. When she said this, I felt an instant wave of guilt and, if I’m being completely honest, a tinge of jealousy too. I’ll never be like that, I think. Over the past few years I’ve somehow become somewhat defeatist. I’m still productive. I still have goals. But I also lost faith in myself. I figured a bad case on chronic fatigue and general anxiety would plague me forever.

Well, this isn’t the case. Not at all. Two weeks ago I hit a real low and while the fall certainly hurt I hit the ground running. I became determined to instil change and to explore who I could be. My first action was to visit a bookstore. There, I asked myself…Can I become the woman I truly want to be? One aspect that defines this imaginary woman is that she is incredibly well-read. Meanwhile, I’d come to see myself as someone who would give into anxiety and binge-watch television for hours on end just to numb the mind. I kid you not. This was my aim. I wanted to turn my brain off.

My realization is that my aim should never have been to turn my brain off. Why on earth would I want to slip into a state of mental vegetation and watch The O.C. for hours on end? I think, now, that it is better for me to mould my thinking and change my habits. The difference between one and two, however, is that this second option requires a heck of a lot more work.

But the past two weeks have been interesting and I have come to see glimpses of the woman I strive to become. I mentioned in a past blog post that I also deactivated Facebook which has, quite miraculously, transformed my life in a number of ways. When my Professor claimed that she reads instead of watching television I initially felt heavy and sad. My brain’s not wired that way, I thought. I haven’t got that kind of mental energy. I never will. Apparently, this isn’t true. I’d just never given myself a real chance. I’d decided who I was before trying out my options.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved reading but when authors like Stephen King claim to read some 75 to 100 books a year I’d think Good luck Em. That won’t be you. But now I beg to differ. I’ve read a number of books over the past few weeks in addition to some random articles and a number academic works. (P.S. I am not saying there’s anything wrong with T.V. or that reading is better, only that it is better for me personally and my own mental health!)

Anyways, this desire for change was accompanied by a flashback. The flashback is of me reading Charlotte’s Web. Around that time I’d installed a sleep net over my bed and revelled under the twinkly white fabric, feeling as though my room belonged to a fairytale. I wanted to stay up all night with Wilbur and Charlotte, curled under a duvet. I couldn’t figure out why I kept having this particular flashback. For days I pondered, trying to understand its significance. Then I realized… There’d been a time in my life when books made me feel safe in the world and for this reason, I associate some of my most tender memories with books.

When I came to this realization I also realized that I’d strayed from this feeling. There are times in life when this is more prone to happen, I’m sure, such as having to read one book a week on China’s military history for a graduate level history class you never wanted to take in the first place while drowning in articles about absolutist monarchs. So reading, this year, became a matter of “do or die,” or, rather, “read or fail.” I would read until I felt sick with vertigo or bloated with information. Subconsciously, I do believe, I came to the conclusion that I’d feel this way about all reading. So, even though I knew I’d only have another month of heavy schoolwork, I decided to reincorporate “joy reading.”

The first couple of days felt strange, as I’d mindlessly reach for my television remote or type in “Facebook” on my phone but then I’d catch myself and pick up a book instead. In only two weeks, I’ve begun to crave books again and already feel much closer to the girl who, late at night, would hide under a twinkly veil, enraptured by Charlotte’s Web. 

Change does take time, but sometimes change is activated by a switch and can occur overnight. I believe this whole-heartedly. If something’s not right, there are solutions. Of course these solutions vary depending on a person’s outlook, brain chemistry, history or interests but they do exist. For me, my biggest obstacles as of late have been mental and books, it seems, have become my greatest antidote.


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