Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lost in a Sea of Words

This is my first blog post in well over a month, and I feel more than a little unsteady in my hands. Every Saturday for the last five weeks, I've set down at my computer to type something--desperately, anything--to no avail. I have been at a loss for words, part of a much larger malady: I've fallen out of love with reading and with writing, and I have no idea what to do with myself. For a woman who's spent her whole conscious life buried in books, and whose character has been shaped by that engagement with the written word, losing my love has had a jarring effect. It's as if I've become a broken glass, unable to hold what was so dear before.

There's a lot of reasons for this loss, both personal and professional. A divorce and three successive moves have overwhelmed me in certain ways, but equally true are the consequences of a decade spent in publishing. Something that once was a joy has become a burden--watching books come in, be published, fade away or find new life, but in either case constantly shadowed by the limitlessness number of titles marching up behind them. I look up at the shelves above my desk and instead of being thrilled by the variety of unread books, I can only think of how many months it would take to digest even one row--and that's without turning around and facing the three double-stacked bookcases behind me, or thinking of the extensive shelves at home.

This is not all bad, realizing my own reading mortality. There's a Wordsworth poem that I think of often, which begins: "The world is too much with us; late and soon / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." Like a lot of people, as evidenced by the slow food and minimalist movements, I'm taking stock of my own situation in the world and trying to learn to live with "enough." For my last move, I gave away 1/3 of my books, and am trying to prune even more now. I may, as Whitman says, contain multitudes, and perhaps part of my despair is a simple mental cry for clarity and slowness, a different way of dealing with this enormous world.

But it's the lack of desire, of passion at all, that saddens me. Reading now is like taking medicine, something done believing that it will make me better, not through any joy in the act itself. It's like making my bed, which always seemed incredibly pointless to me, until I realized that there was something--a great deal--to be said for making a place tidy each day, instead of climbing into and out disorder. There are acts we do to keep ourselves whole, even when that feeling of calm completeness seems so elusive.

It will come as no surprise to you, I imagine, as it surprised me not a twit to land recently on a book that described this all to me, my feeling of being at a loss in the world and so far from the beloved home that books had always created for me. Kathleen Norris's Acedia and Me delves into her own and others' experiences with acedia, a deep apathy and indifference to the world, a kind of soul-weariness. I'm halfway done, and while it hasn't brought me out of this particular place in myself, it's a comfort to have a companion along the way, and a voice that encourages faith in the midst of confusion.

I'm relying on friends as well, trying to draw their passions to replenish my own. I posted on Facebook on Friday, looking for suggestions and was heartened by the responses from friends, relatives, coworkers, and publishing acquaintances. People who understood both _why_ it mattered to lose my way with words, and also had advice for places to look for a balm for my broken heart. And what a cornucopia! Neil Gaiman, Kay Ryan, Anna Karenina, Jennifer Egan, What is the What, P.D. Wodehouse and Waugh and Alice Munro and a host of other authors and titles.

Typing that list now, I feel the flickerings of interest and the tendrils of desire unfurling a little. I'm not entirely ungrateful for this time of dispassion in my life, as it's required me to reflect on what I want and to make my way through these questions and confusions. I am finding that path slowly, but with determination: scrubbling through the underbrush, leaning on the love of others and their own abiding love of books, and depending finally on the words themselves to save me, as they have so many times before and for so many people besides myself.

1 comment:

  1. Katie--I'm so there with you. What Norris describes as acedia might as well be called acclimation--when you haven't read something that thrills you in quite some time, it's easy to fall out of love with the act, and it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. Go through that list, look at what people recommended--it only takes one book you fall in love with to reenchant you all over again. Sit tight, lady.