Tag Archives: reading

The more things change…

So it’s been almost a year since I last updated this blog. I only realised it the other day when I started to think about maybe getting back into writing, and noticed that my last post was about Melbourne, which I visited in January 2010. It was somewhat horrifying  to realise that somehow a year had passed in which I didn’t manage to find the time to write anything (or at least to post anything. I had a few failed attempts littered here and there.)

It got me thinking about how easily time passes and slips away, and that it’s not even necessarily about what you prioritise, or at least what you want to prioritise. I know I managed to keep updated with whether RPattz and KStew are actually dating, and I carved out time to watch X Factor. When it comes down to it, is that what is more important to me than writing? I also only managed to read a handful of books last year, but I read my fair share of trashy magazines. I suppose sometimes it’s just easier to be lazy. It certainly takes less effort to watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians than to write a blog post.

The one good thing, or at least enlightening thing, about how I have not posted in almost a year, means that the ‘new year’ posts are close to the top. I was reading over one in which I lamented that my ‘just do it’ philosophy was obviously not being heeded to, that I needed to keep a diary, that I needed to be more organized, that I had started the 100 push-ups programme.

I was hit by how crushingly similar my aspirations are this year. I spent the 2nd of January scouring book and stationary shops in an attempt to find the perfect diary that would somehow manage to transform my life into one of efficiency and achievement; I had downloaded the 100 push-ups app onto my iPhone; I had tried to stop putting things off and just do them when I thought of it.

A lot of things have changed for me in the past year.  I’ve planned trips that I didn’t go on, and gone on ones that I didn’t plan, I’ve dabbled with cancer, I’ve been to a psychotherapist, I’ve said goodbye to my first proper job and wondered if I would ever find anything that suited me so well, I’ve managed to get a new job which has opened my eyes to a side of life that I never experienced and I’ve moved to the other side of the world.

And yet when the new year rolled around, I was still battling with the same issues I always was – that I’m not achieving my potential, that my body is not as thin as it should be, my hair not as long, my skin not as clear, that I still don’t have an idea of what it is I want my ‘career’ to be and that I’m still apparently unable to use a diary for more than a week at a time.

My hopes and dreams for a new year all seemed a bit futile in the face of such overwhelming evidence that my weaknesses remain the same, that my ability to overcome them is limited. Part of me wonders if maybe I should just throw away the diary and accept that, like a friend said to me recently, if something is important, you’ll do it. But at the same time, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, and maybe it’s just in my nature to take the easy way out, to be a bit lazy, and maybe it’s also in my nature to want to struggle against that. I know in some ways I’m setting myself up to fail. That I will stop using that diary, that I will somehow end up watching a re-run of Everwood rather than going to the gym.

I went to a shambhala meditation group some time ago, (a component of my ideal self is that I would meditate daily, without my thoughts drifting off to consider whether I need a new pair of shoes). The teacher discussed the problematic nature of the idea of self-improvement and progress. I found this quite a difficult idea to wrestle with, as if we don’t want to improve or progress, then it seemed like giving up. But the teacher explained that what they were meaning was to interrogate the impulses behind that improvement. Is it negative or positive? Who are you trying to improve for and what are the true benefits?

While I don’t think I could just let go of feeling like I need to improve, I do think I probably need to switch my focus to what it is I have done right, what it is I have achieved, rather than focusing on what I haven’t, and how I need to do more. Maybe it’s about enhancing what is already there, rather than thinking about what I’m lacking or not doing right.

I may never change in the way I have strived to. In fact, I wonder if I would be recognizable to myself if I did. If I suddenly woke up tomorrow at 6am and meditated and went to the gym t and then practiced yoga and chatted easily to acquaintances and held the gaze of strangers and dressed my lithe body in fabulously minimalist chic attire, read some literary classic on the tube on the way to my as-yet-undetermined perfect job that is enjoyable, but also makes a difference to people’s lives, had cocktails with friends after work, a delicious meal with an intelligent man, who I was not intimidated by, and we have deep and meaningful conversation, I order the salmon, because healthy food is just so delicious and I don’t have dessert, because I’m not much of a sweet tooth, and I was on time for all my appointments and was not indecisive once.

Anyway, back to reality. Who knows whether life would be more satisfying if we were living out our perfect selves? That fantasy is just that, and in the end my weaknesses are as much a part of who I am as my strengths. And when I think of the good people I have in my life, and accept me for who I am (and maybe because of who I am) it serves as a reminder that maybe I’m OK if I never change.

Chances are, I’m 28, and this is what I’m like, but I think maybe I need to start enjoying the attempt at change, and to take pleasure in simple victories, like how I actually sat down and wrote this, rather than thinking about doing it, but reading my Twitter feed instead.

Rather than the goal of unattainable perfection, I think my goal for this year is just to live consciously, the exact meaning of which I’m still trying to work out, but it’s a phrase that keeps coming back to me when I think about this year and what I want it to be and how I want me to be, but that’s another blog post (hopefully!).

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Misery loves company

I’ve been in a bad mood the last few days since I’ve had a headache and just generally been sick and suffering from a lack of sleep. I’m pretty bad at being sick. I feel sorry for myself and wallow and then just feel in a bad mood and bitchy. I felt so wiped out today and just slept most of the day. I just feel in such a funk when I’m sick. And the last few days have seemed worse than usual. It’s like I’m tired and emotional and just on edge all the time. I was eating a toasted sandwich and a baked bean dropped out of it onto my PJs and I almost started crying, Seriously.  I am not a good sick person

I just want to curl up in bed and be looked after and have someone read me Harry Potter. Being read to is one of the greatest pleasures in life, I think, and I find it kind of sad that it’s something that seems to disappear with your childhood. There’s something so soothing about it. My MacBook can read to me, but its voice is so robotic, so it’s not quite the same. I’ve listened to one audio book before, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, and I really enjoyed it. It’s nice to hear an author read their own work as well.

Sadly there was no one there to read to me today and I didn’t have any audio books, so I just slept. But  I had a terrible nightmare in which my iPhone was stolen by a taxi driver, my MacBook was stepped on, (apparently Apple products are deeply important to subconscious) and I was roped into working for the Dancing with the Stars host, who was terribly mean to me in a Devil Wears Prada kind of way. Following all this, people started attacking me by shoving their fingers down my throat. Seriously terrifying. I’m not sure what a dream interpreter would make of all of this, and I’m not sure I even want to know.

Speaking of symbolic dreams, I’ve also been dreaming a bit about cutting my hair off and then regretting it terribly. Apparently it’s all very Samson and Delilah and could mean that I feel like I’m losing power. One dream interpreter suggests that it could mean that you would like to take a risk in some aspect of life but are frightened about what this change could bring.

In one dream I had cut my hair ultra short, Mia Farrow style, which I think I quite liked. I actually had my hair this short a few years ago, and have been growing it out ever since, which has been an incredibly slow process, so I guess the length of my hair is important to me.

In the other dream, I just chopped my hair off in the spur of the moment and it looked dreadful and  I immediately regretted it. I felt so relieved once I woke up and realised it hadn’t happened.

I don’t often think about interpreting my dreams, unless they seem to be one of those well-known ones like all your teeth falling out, of which I’ve had a few. But I think things like dream interpretation or horoscopes can be quite interesting, not for their ability to tell you the future or necessarily unlock your deepest darkest secrets, but sometimes when I read them I find something that speaks to me or makes me question things going on in my life, and any increase in self-awareness is surely a good thing.

With the hair dreams, I don’t really feel much connection to the idea about losing power, as I don’t really consider myself someone who is particularly powerful or interested in power anyway. I don’t have much power to lose. But the fear of taking a risk, and the changes that could result from it, there’s something in that which is cause for contemplation. I am quite risk averse. I don’t know if this contemplation will result in me having a drastic hair cut or moving to Barcelona or, quite possibly, nothing at all, but at least it’s food for thought – and it may have even helped pull me out of my melancholy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For life is time, and time is all there is.

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I’ve finally finished a book. I bought James Woods’s How Fiction Works when I was in New York in July/August, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only just finished it now. In fact, I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I haven’t finished anything else since that time. I’ve got about six books that I’ve started and not finished on my bookshelf, and thinking about it, the only thing that I have apparently managed to finish this year is the Twilight Series, and that only took me a week to read the four books.

I do love reading. I love the feeling of getting swept away into another world, the feeling when you have a great book on the go and it almost feels like a secret that you have and you take any spare moment to read so that you can escape to that other life.

But it appears that reading is something I’m not very good at any more.

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I’m not a fast reader, which I find a hindrance. I feel like if I could just read faster, then somehow I would read more. But looking at my pathetic efforts at reading this year, I don’t know if that would really make much difference. I mean, I’m a slow reader, but I don’t think I’m so slow that it should take me a few months to read a book that’s only just over 200 pages! I’m not so slow that I should have only read five books this year, four of them being aimed at teenagers.

What I’ve come to realize is that reading is something that does take a certain amount of dedication, for me at least, and it’s something I’m dreadfully out of practice at. I feel like my attention span has possibly gotten shorter as well. Sometimes I start reading and I can feel my attention drift off to thinking about something else. My eyes are still reading the words, but my brain isn’t taking any of it in, and I realize I’ve read a page of words, but that’s all they are – words. I haven’t learnt or retained anything.

But my problem with making time for reading is part of a wider sense of time wasting or running out. I just sometimes feel that living gets in the way of my life. Obviously I have been filling my time with something for the past year, if not reading, but it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly where your time goes.

There are 168 hours in a week, and I work full time, so 40 hours a week are gone there, and I sleep maybe eight hours a night, so that’s 56 hours gone. So that’s 72 hours left. If I whip 22 of those hours off for some boring things like, I don’t know, showering or eating breakfast, that still leaves me with 50 hours of something resembling leisure time. Even if it’s only 40 hours, I still feel like that’s a lot of time to get something achieved, but apparently my achievements don’t involve finishing books, or sometimes even magazines – I bought the November edition of MindFood magazine last month and still haven’t managed to read it all, because apparently I haven’t had time.

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I have all these ideas of things that I want to do – read more books, write more, learn Spanish, I’ve got the third season of Arrested Development to watch that I borrowed off a friend months ago (sorry, Steph!). So if I’m not doing all of these things, what exactly am I doing?

I know one of the big time suckers is the internet. I have to admit I waste a lot of time there, but I wouldn’t have thought it would be in the vicinity of 40 hours. Surely not! Especially considering I’m on a computer all day at my work. 80 hours of computer time a week sounds a little scary. Internet time wouldn’t worry me too much if it were being used productively, like reading the New York Times or Salon or something that’s helping me learn. Instead, chances are I’m reading gossip posts on Oh No They Didn’t. I actually have that website open right now, although, thankfully, the New York Times as well.

I always wished I could be one of those people that just didn’t need much sleep. That if I only needed five hours a night to function, then I would suddenly be that much more productive, because I would have an extra three hours in the day, but I think I’m starting to realize it would actually probably just give me more time to waste at this stage, and I would just end up looking like crap from lack of sleep to boot. I haven managed to convert myself into a morning person. I now enjoy getting up early in the morning, but I’m not necessarily more productive with that time. I just spend a bit more time lingering over my morning coffee, reading the paper and still manage to be running late for work.

I recently read a letter written into Cary Tennis’ Since You Asked advice column on Salon.com that was asking how to get into a routine. In the reply, Tennis explained that in order to get a better idea of where his time was going, for a few days he wrote down he was doing at 15-minute intervals to try and see what patterns were emerging and where his time went.

I am thinking of trying this, but I’m also concerned that I will manage to skew the results. Chances are I’m not going to waste an hour on ONTD when I have to write down what I’m doing every 15 minutes, but I guess it could be worth a shot. And hey, at least I might be more productive for those two days. In fact, maybe that’s the way to increased productivity – keeping very close tabs on myself.

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It would also be interesting to see a time map of those incredibly productive people, say, someone like Michelle Obama, who managed to have a husband and raise children and work and still find time to work on those gloriously toned arms and looked good. I bet she even found time to read a book or two, although probably not Twilight.

I actually remember thinking that surely one of the only benefits of being imprisoned would be that you had all that time to read. I could catch up on all the books that I never got around to reading. But I think by noticing how much time I manage to waste already, I don’t imagine I would be that much more efficient. I’d probably be gossiping with other inmates and complaining how I still hadn’t managed to finish Crime and Punishment.

Oh, and when I said at the top of this post that I had finally finished How Fiction Works, I have to confess that I haven’t actually finished it – but I almost have, I swear! I will post my thoughts on it sometime soon, and I’m hoping to make a book review a bi-monthly occurrence on my blog as a way to encourage me to actually finish books. I had initially thought weekly, but let’s not go crazy here.

PS: The title for this post is a quote from a commencement address by Gloria Steinem in 1987 at Tufts University – ‘This is the last period of time that will seem lengthy to you at only three or four years. From now on, time will pass without artificial academic measure. It will go by like the wind. Whatever you want to do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is.’

I really love this quote, as it really captures, for me, how the nature of time has changed completely after leaving university. Now that it is completely unbounded by that ‘artificial academic measure’ it is at once seemingly endless and also so much more fleeting than it ever was.

 

 

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