Sometime late last year -- I don't remember when, exactly -- I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read. That's a problem if you do what I do, but it's an even bigger problem if you're the kind of person I am. Since I discovered reading, I've always been surrounded by stacks of books. I read my way through camp, school, nights, weekends …Read the whole thing. This analysis hits me like a spear between the shoulder blades, because if readers require stillness and focus of mind, writers need it exponentially more . Much like Ulin, I find that I "check my e-mail, drift onto the Internet, pace the house before returning to the page," immersing myself in fast-moving ephemera to avoid the hard, slow work of dredging my mind's morass with pen and paper. And it isn't so much that technology itself is to blame, although it serves up diversions with greater speed and in broader variety than the old unwired options. No, I can distract myself with the light slanting through a window, a view of my neighbor mowing his lawn, an itch on my neck. How easy it is to not do the good we will to.
So what happened? It isn't a failure of desire so much as one of will. Or not will, exactly, but focus: the ability to still my mind long enough to inhabit someone else's world, and to let that someone else inhabit mine. Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. …
Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
Here we have my reading problem in a nutshell, for books insist we take the opposite position, that we immerse, slow down.
(Picture: CC 2008 by Kat...; Hat Tip: Between Two Worlds)