At the start of the year I set a few concrete, albeit simple goals for 2018, nothing too whacky, involving essentially: cooking, reading, and being in nature. I visited my progress already in March.
I’m back again to talk about it some more. I have read 15 books. Because I am horribly prone to being exacting and forthcoming, I have to say three of them were short. Two were what you’d call novellas and the other was Roz Chast’s “graphic novel” tribute to New York city, easily read in a sitting. Still…. am I proud of this accomplishment? Oh hell yes I am proud!
As I wrote back in January my ability to read had pretty much gone to shit. It was worse than I realized. I still thought of myself as a “reader” as I’d been throughout my life. But how much was I really reading, that is, books? Not as many as I thought. I couldn’t tell you how many books I read in 2017 or 2016 or 2015 for that matter, but it damn sure was not 15 in a year, let alone four months
I’ve been thinking about how this happened. When I was preschool age I could not WAIT to get to start first grade because I knew it meant I’d learn to read (these were days long ago when, for me at least, kindergarten was mainly for playing and having stories read to you not learning to read). In gradeschool my class once had a contest for who could write the most book reports. Not only did I win, I blew the rest of the kids away. (Sadly the prize was some kind of religious trinket, a holy medal or such, I’ve forgotten what exactly but as you see, several decades later, I haven’t forgot I won.) Reading always excited me. In the years I went to college, it bothered me that my personal reading, as in nontext books, had to be cut back. When I did office work and spent long days staring at computer screens, my eyes were too red and tired after to read much at home. This too disturbed me.
Once upon a time, books were the main thing and movies, another big love, were the occasional treat. This was when it wasn’t so easy to watch movies, when they weren’t so available. I read more books than watched movies. But in recent years that flip-flopped. I love movies but realizing I was doing more passive watching than engaging (more) of my mind by reading didn’t sit right. I also couldn’t tell you how many movies I typically view in a year, no idea. (I also don’t know how I’d quantify whole series like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones; every two hours equals one movie??)
More than movies, the internet screwed up my ability to read. I am certain internet use has changed my wiring and not for the best. Your brain gets some sort of endorphin payoff every so often while being on online. The payoff is inconsistent and unpredictable so gaining it necessitates perpetual activity and vigilance. You go online and basically wait for something good to happen. Trouble is there is a whole lot of crap and wasted time inbetween those “payoff” moments, at least for me and I imagine for many people. There are times when I’m bored or tired and just fool around online hoping magic strikes, or at least something interesting catches my attention. It was easier to get online & read various (quick) stuff than to read a book.
I wanted to change, I wanted to recapture something I’d lost. And I have. It feels REALLY GOOD to have found my way back to books. My rule is I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to, even if it means quitting a book halfway through. This isn’t supposed to be punishment. I didn’t plan it this way but of the 15 books, only four have been fiction. The funniest was You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein, a woman I’d never heard of. The page-turner was Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, which I knocked out in two days. I was back!
I’m also doing crossword puzzles; I got a little book of them from Dollar Tree and a second volume for when the first is done. Doing the puzzles has made me sharper (I now can say with conviction there were nine Muses and “Clio” was one. This has come up a few times, despite t the puzzles being written by various makers.) I find myself saying repeatedly, “I know this” or “I should know this” when trying to figure out clues. I know things I don’t realize I know; it’s often an issue of retrieval. I find real satisfaction in realizing what an answer is, particularly when it doesn’t come to me immediately. However, I doubt myself because a voice inside me often says at the start of a puzzle when there are too many open spaces, “I’ll never finish this.” I’ve done 40 (of 88) puzzles so you’d think I’d be a little more trusting by now.
The puzzles show me where my knowledge is decent and where there’s weakness; I don’t know sports or the Bible, and world geography isn’t too promising either. Greek mythology is iffy but improving! The puzzles force me to consider things from different angles (like when an answer I filled in confidently subsequently messes up other answers and I’m compelled to rethink it). I’ve noticed that this skill is carrying over into other areas of my life; it’s as if my brain is deviating from overworn paths and checking out new trails. It’s subtle but I can tell.
One of my goals was to make 10 new recipes. I’ve made 14. Also, my diet, already good, is a bit better. I’m eating less cheese and more vegetables for one. And I’m enjoying it. Food is pleasure to me. Tweaking my diet and nutrition makes me pay more attention, be more conscious, which is a good thing. I really think my little goals this year are doing exactly that: making me more conscious of how I spend my time, how I relax, how I eat, how I live. Solidly in middle age, I find it is entirely up to me not to become mired in ruts, or lazy and if not full-on lazy, maybe just complacent. I must challenge myself. I don’t want to be coasting along, I want to be alert.