Reading

There really isn’t enough time to read all the books, is there? There are so many books I would like to read, and then there are the books I think I should read … but there isn’t time. The books I should read get left on the shelf, because I have too little time to do anything but read for pleasure.

Books are always a guilty pleasure. Guilt because somehow we are always that child reading in the dark, after being put to bed, crawling out of bed to read by a night light or the light from the hall, or a flashlight under the covers. It’s that time you are supposed to be socializing, but would rather be in a corner with a book.

As a child, I brought a book with me everywhere. Just in case. Just in case there was a chance to read. Just in case I needed to have something to do while the adults talked. Just in case there was waiting time. Just in case I was bored and could retreat into a much more interesting world. I read in class (I finished my work early, so there was always time to read while others continued to work).  I read as much as possible. I found libraries, I frequented used book shops, I finally found a part-time job in a local bookstore as a teenager.

As an adult, you are expected to socialize at parties rather than retreat into a corner with a book. It’s one of the disappointments of adult life (indeed, there are many). And I can’t finish my work early and sit there and read the rest of the day: I have to figure out something else to do for my employer so my salary is justified …

As I did not find a job that pays me to read (oh, to be a researcher … to spend time in libraries during the day during the week … ), I have only my “free” time to read. Free of work, free of social life, free of political work, free of household maintenance, free to retreat into another world.

And so I read for pleasure. And I parse books by how much comfort they will bring my life, whether my mind will be stretched in good ways or beyond what I can bear at this juncture. I begrudge the time: I look at my bookshelves, at the unread books, at the old friends I would like to re-read, and at the ones that would teach me something new – and I would like the time to read and re-read them all.

Where can I get a job that pays me to read the lovely books I don’t have time to read?

The things you do to survive

I think somewhere out there there’s a triad of needs (and my kid, who is taking “adulting 101” at his high school, probably knows the answer to who dreamt it up and what the real theory is) – first comes the most basic: food and shelter and companionship. Then comes the other needs: the things that feed our souls, like art (for some), religion (for some), and service to others (the fine art of being needed). After that, on the pyramid of needs, comes all the STUFF we want and for which our real need is dubious at best.

I find myself thinking about this lately, because in this first year of Trump as our President, there is a need to do it all, to be constantly outraged, to be on the alert, to not let them get away with ANYTHING without protest – their ideas are so mean, so cruel, and so useless – it feels like it all has to be resisted at every moment.

But we can’t resist constantly: we’ll burn out.  And so there are the things you do to live another day and fight – the things that revive one and bring back the energy.

For me, there are a few things that are sustaining me: reading (preferably fiction), cooking and thinking about transforming my eating to a more plant-based diet, and art.

I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” which is about her family retreating to a family farm and making a vow to eat local for a year – preferably from their own farm, but also supporting local farms for the things they didn’t grow themselves.  It’s a fact-filled book that will fill you with both joy and fear – but this isn’t a book review.

Living in the city, as I do, I don’t have garden space — I do have a porch, but my porch is more suitable to flowers than vegetables, between the west-facing aspect and the marauding squirrels (the squirrels are fierce in my ‘hood). Herbs are really the edible of choice, and I grow them and horde them  until they flower …

Her descriptions of the joy of cooking food, cooking as a communal activity fill me with some kind of nostalgia – for me, cooking is a solitary activity, mostly because my own kitchen is so small. And I get crabby when there is an other who gets in the way. But I do like to talk to folks when I cook – as long as that other is out of the way.

And her book is clarifying some problems with the way most of us consume food, and why Americans are so fat and unhealthy – and why family farms are dying off. So, I’m resolving to spend more time at the farmer’s market, and trying to eat more locally, and cook more.

Tonight a ward committeeman who I like and admire is hosting an event discussing immigration, and has a great panel.  Instead, I am going to a panel at the library featuring black playwrights – opting for the politics of art over the politics of deportation. Why? Because the art will feed the soul a bit as it brings up issues we need to wrestle with.

Since January, I have found my involvement with art and artists to be the most sustaining work I do: whether it is performing myself (rare these days) or going to see others perform or talk about art. Even though it is frequently political – it is NOT escapism – the performative nature allows for a communal engagement and response that is somehow more affirming.

The point is: there are many forms of being engaged. Supporting local artists, like supporting local food, is an act of resistance in and of itself – as this administration moves to cut all funding to the arts (like it would like to do to science as well), local artists will need our support more than ever.