One life, zero extra chances. If there’s any platitude that has a been caught in my head, ringing in my ears like the heavy church bell I’d tug as an altar server on Sundays, it’s this: you’ve only got one life, and you better live it.
And I do; I want to live it. I want to be extravagant and lavish and extraordinary, but also meek and quiet and kind. I want to confront everything and question everyone and also be a silent and supportive listener and ally and gift-giving friend. I want to travel the world and spend money and be savvy with our budget and save like the best of them. I want to retire early, I want to bookend my months with events, I want to nightcap weekend evenings before dark.
I guess what I really want, is everything. To live fully and complexly and without resolve to stay the same. One-dimensional identities, stay away. Conformity, you aren’t welcome here. I’m not a square, nor do I have any plans to fit into one.
Though there are many ways to Be The Best That I Can Be, I’ve decided to throw myself into books. Again. Once more. Forever.
One life to live, right? Wrong. Words, books, zines—they are a chance to be reborn, again and again and again and again and again. I’m not religious anymore, but it sounds like one heck of a trip to heaven and back.
I used to read. It was my thing. As soon as I discovered Harry Potter, I had a word-driven awakening: I knew then, I found myself. I was smart, I was talented, I could spend every minute of every day consumed by plot devices and characterization and the nuances of style and form—digging myself deeper into a trench that I had no intention of escaping.
Late nights were spent page turning, as my eyes deteriorated (literally, I have terrible, no good, awful eyesight) and my imagination grew. I walked on air—when I got up from my reading couch, bed, or ottoman—with only books on my mind. (Only books – ha! As if a book could ever be only, as every page is decorated with code, instilled with mystery, marked by tragedy, ending with somber grief—an ode, a tale, a trip, a lifetime.)
Reading—being a reader—dare I say it, was one of my strongest identities. Sure, I was a daughter, sister, dancer, softball player, friend, acne-haver. But reading came easy. There was no pressure, no obligation, no lasting disappointment. And I was good at it. I could open a book and devour it easily and without hesitation and wouldn’t stop until I satisfied my thirst for completed chapters and fully arced characters.
So, you can imagine, that my falling out with reading has been an agonizing defeat.
You really shouldn’t get too attached to identities. But I did. And it nearly destroyed me, the unraveling. It felt like my shadow had sawed off her connection to me, and skipped away in broad daylight, for everyone to see. It was a mix between a slow burn and a quick break. I was in high school, then quickly college, and needed to read all the time: text, computer screens, athletic codes, schedules, rules, science procedures, math equations, love letters, proposals, essay prompts, classics, emails, annotations, short stories, lab reports, Wikipedia, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. There were plenty of books; books on how to write, how to write a bibliography, how to write a research paper, how to write with grammar on your side, how to write without bias, how to write with style, how to be a journalist, how to be socially aware, how to be an ally, how to get yourself a spouse (thank you, Jane Austen), how to market, how to communicate, how to analyze, how to exist. I was constantly consuming, consuming, consuming. But never my books. I pushed them aside to dazzle and gleam on my bookshelf, until my display was covered in layers of dust. Before I knew it, I had a collection, not a library.
Until, really, two days ago.
Here’s the thing: life might be short, but there honestly are so, so many chances. Every day is a new opportunity to do something else. We group things together, even time, and before you know it, a year has passed, and you categorize every single waking hour under the same annotation.
I’m kind of sick of it, you know? Thinking about the entire past year as a single entity, as though there weren’t 365 different parts to it.
Full circle: that’s when I thought about me, too. How I, like everyone else, seem to pack all the parts and pieces of me into small compartments and call it an identity. And we keep them small, neat, and tidy. I’m a wife. I’m kind. I’m quiet. I’m a redhead. That seems to sum it up, right? Well, it shouldn’t.
That’s when I decided to forego the identities I’ve established for myself, and tear down their high-walled fences and shoot down the guards. I haven’t been an avid reader in years. I’ve turned my cheek to what I was and could have been, because it hurt less. I’d shut my eyes tightly so that passing my bookshelf wouldn’t feel quite so shameful. I’ll be honest, I felt like an absentee guardian, feeling guilty but never being moved quite enough to pick up a damn book and throw myself into it, like old times.
But then, I did.
“Where’d You Go Bernadette?” and now “Gone Girl” and I have three books on deck. I have jumped in without caring about the splash. I was nervous at first and worried I didn’t have it in me anymore, that my appetite had changed, that my tastes had dissolved, that my curiosity faded away, that my skill and endurance and lust for adventure had left and had no plans to return. When I suddenly looked at my page and saw 200—in a single sitting, with no phone checks or clock glances or thoughts of anything besides Bernadette and Bee and Elgin—I knew I was wrong. All this time, I was wrong. And it felt so good to finally feel so right.
I know some things, but not nearly enough. How can I, when I’ve wasted so much time not reading? Here’s something I do know, enough to share and spew and spread and yell and post: I am a better person when I have a book open.
Cheers to a new year of chasing, gliding, and consuming. Maybe creating, too.