How do you read?

I love being at home. I enjoy the morning time, sipping coffee, checking e-mails, stretching out the wrinkles a good night’s sleep has left me. But I’d be lying most grievously if I didn’t admit that being alone without anyone to say so much as a hello to — save the fur-children — doesn’t leave me lonely once in a while. When I’m writing, steadily, I hardly notice the lack of spoken words. For inside things are very noisy indeed; a tug of war between characters, voices raised or lowered, hims and hers demanding I pay them attention. But times like these, quiet times, when I’m caught in the undertow, I notice. I notice everything. Today I noticed, though not for the first time, how I read.

I read slowly. I don’t have to, but I choose to because I don’t read for numerical achievement, but for immersion. I come before a book the same way I once came before the sea and my God, to be baptized in a glory not my own. Books contain oxygen. You can breathe them or spit them out. I am quick to euthanize a book I am not enjoying. There’s been too much good stuff written for me to spend my time reading what wasn’t. For a good book I’ll go the extra hundred miles. I will look up its every foreign word. I will teach myself to pronounce names that don’t read phonetically. I will make certain that I understand what I’m reading before moving on to the next page. If this means I have to put the book down and move to the computer, so be it.

Today I learned about gables. I typed the word G A B L E into Dictionary.com and yielded this: “the portion of the front or side of a building enclosed by or masking the end of a pitched roof.” And when that read like Greek I jogged over to Google images and searched until I found a picture. All in all it took me about 6 minutes before I fully understood a gable’s function and where I might find one were I looking for it. Is this strange? Am I the only who does this? Feel free to say “Cara, my friend, there there, we’ll make sure to find you a warm room with a lovely view of the lawn.”

I also noticed I am a savorer. If a line or passage strikes me as true and sharp, a flawless diamond mounted in rubble, I will read and reread until words morph into music, thereby easier to trap, easier to match the rhythm with that of my own heart’s beat. I must, or be driven to madness, consume the words, be absorbed, for only then can I secrete its beauty. I cannot go on to the next page, line, letter. Not until I know. I must know.

For me, reading is a lot like coloring. A book enters my hands bearing the detail of shape and structure, but it’s flat, like a wall or the ground. If I ran my hand over it, there would be no bumps, no hollows or secret passage ways, grooveless. It is my responsibility to give every word a color, every move a sound. I decide if the starry sky is black or purple, if the leaves on the tree are mint-green or kermit-green, or maybe not even green at all, but almost blue because of the time of day and the way the sun is hitting them. It’s not my design, no, but it is mine. And only when I make it mine does it become three dimensional, a living, breathing, effectual thing. The writer is the dream, but I the reader am the sleep.

So, anyway, these are strange musings, but I was curious today. How do you read? What does it look like for you?

The Wild Idle

I don’t do idleness. Not well, anyway. Here’s a picture for you: In Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, you remember how Professor Moody (who isn’t really Moody) would start to twitch and jerk all over the place if he didn’t drink his “pumpkin juice” ? Put me in idle, and it’s like we could be twins.

The times I am reading, or watching a show – these are strategic periods of idleness; I have implanted them in my daily apparatus. I enjoy a little bit every day, but only after I have put in a long, hard day of mind-labor, and only if I feel I’ve earned it. Otherwise, I just feel lazy and insolent, left with a sinking hole of unmet gratification. Fun times! said Sarcastic Sal.

The other reason I don’t do idleness is because of the Chatter. The Chatter is what happens when I am left alone with my thoughts for too long. The Chatter is not kind, nor forgiving. It is not intelligent, nor decipherable. Nor is it constructive. It is just what it means: Purposeless or foolish talk. Through much prayer, I have discerned that Its sole purpose is to: 1. berate, 2. distract, 3. petrify, 4. discourage. When I am thriving in the rush of writing, the Chatter is silenced. This is not by any thwart or fortitude on my part; there simply isn’t enough room for It and my characters.

Allow me a moment to elaborate on number 3, petrify. There are three definitions given for this word, of which, in referencing the Chatter, I feel all would work.

1 – to convert into stone or a stony substance. Of the three, this definition is likely to be the most metaphorical. Obviously I cannot literally be turned into stone; but surely I’ve found there to be a certain pallid indifference taking place.

2 – to benumb or paralyze with astonishment, horror, or other strong emotion. Absolutely, 100%. You remember when you were a child, and would play that super-fun game, Freeze-Tag? Seriously, so much fun! BUT – if you were touched by the person who was “it,” then by decree you were supposed to stop and pause, just as you were, freezing your pose until someone came along and un-freezed you. Well, that is exactly what it’s like when the Chatter gets a hold of me.

3 – to make rigid or inert; harden; deaden. It’s as though I have lost all desire to do and be. I turn listless and apathetic – just the thought of making a simple meal exhausts me, proves to be too much effort for the proposed result. I am a rock – no, less than a rock. Rocks provide purpose: offering a place to sit, holding things down, or beautifying landscape. I am nothing more than a mass of inert energy, draining the supply of oxygen in my cloudy, loathsome atmosphere. All I want is to sit and be miserable. It is the highest form of self-loathing I can think of. When this happens, all is lost until someone comes along and unfreezes me. Usually, bless him, this person is my husband, and with kindness and love and words of wisdom, usually I can be roused from paralysis, compelled to remember that Life is bigger than my momentary sorrows or troubles.

I like big things: Big results, Big events, Big praise, Big hair. But the most dangerous way this predilection takes shape in my life is in the form of BIG EXPECTATIONS. Each day I expect of myself a certain amount of work to be accomplished. It isn’t necessarily a number or a concrete goal, but more or less something I feel in the pit of my stomach. Did I write something meaningful today? Did I help a friend through their struggle. Did I seize the opportunity to take part in a simple act of kindness? Did I set out to accomplish a tedious domestic task and finish it. If the answer to these questions is “No,” there is a strong probability that, as soon as I pause long enough to be alone with my thoughts, the Chatter will get me. (I’m completely dating myself, but right now I am hearing Gloria Estefan’s “The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” in my head. I loved that album . . .)

Anyway,

The Chatter is something I deal with on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes I have barely cracked open an eye when It starts hissing: You’re so tired. What are you doing with your life? Why don’t you have more friends? You’ll never be a successful author. You should have accomplished more by now. Look at how much everyone else has compared to you. You’re so tired. Soon you won’t even have your looks, and then who will you be? You’re failing at the only thing you might have been good at. You’re stuck in a rut and there’s no getting out. You should probably give up. You’re so tired.

. . .  Friend, if this sounds anything at all like the inside of your head, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. You’re not alone and you’re not defenseless. If it doesn’t, truly I am very glad for you, and please, you can pray for those of us with louder, nastier voices trying to usurp our minds and break our spirits.

I’ve told you I’m most vulnerable to the Chatter during idle times. But what I haven’t told you yet, is, to avoid the Chatter I am willing to commit myself to a number of things. Actually anything, rather than hear what It might have to say. This means – and please forgive me; I am an imperfect creation trying to follow a Perfect God – while driving, sometimes I will take out my phone and check my Facebook, my Instagram, or my Messages; even though I know if I had received a message, I would have seen the little notification pop-up on my screen. Habit has turned into compulsion. And this is not the only time, either: Brushing my teeth, waiting in line, pumping gas, sometimes just walking from the parking lot to my destination. I take out my little companion, seeking to stimulate myself because the Chatter is after me; it’s chasing me, and if I give my eyes something to look at, my mind something to think about, even a dull-something, it is – or so at the time I would think – a better alternative than facing my enemy’s voice. Ultimately, this is not the answer: It’s simply another form of idleness, and in fact more dangerous, due to its presumed and purported productivity. It’s not even a temporary solution, because what ends up happening is, by peeking through your windows, I am left feeling sad, empty, and more alone than if I had let the Chatter come and deflected its assaults with Truth.

The Truth is – I am not alone.

The Truth is – I am enough.

The Truth is – I will seldom meet the world’s expectations.

The Truth is – I am being pursued by the Chatter because it knows exactly how important I am.

And even more than short periods of idleness, I am all the more susceptible to its villainy during longgggg periods. If you know me and follow my author page, you will perhaps know I have recently finished my second book. For days I basked in the sunny warmth of a job completed and well-done. Yes, of course: There is still editing to do, Beta-readers to whom I must hand the manuscript, followed by another round of edits, the query, the waiting, yabbidy-yabba-yabba. But, whatever, Dude – I finished writing a book. And not just one, but my TWO books. Boo-yah, Punk, take that! Hi-yah! Kung-fu-like-bruce-lee-in-yo-face!

Fast forward a week, and I am face-planted in a soggy bowl of Golden-Grahams, plus I’m starting to smell a little.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do with myself. I dread getting up in the morning, because I know I have no idea what I’m going to do all day. I have ample time, a glorious blessing I never for one moment stop being grateful for; but presently I lack the tools necessary to make something awesome and shiny. My job – or so I would tell myself – is to be brilliant, every day. Sadly, this just isn’t possible. I’ve begun researching for my third book (a process by which many pleasantries arise, as it involves copious amounts of reading). I have a slew of notes written down, character bios are coming along, the plot is very slowly developing, but . . . it’s not enough to begin writing a book. It isn’t.

Amateur writers – galvanized after a sip on the ambrosial idea-chalice – often make the fatal mistake of prematurity, only to be found later, utterly dejected, utterly exhausted, and utterly wishing they could turn back the clock and do things differently. I’ve been there, and the place is just sad. Picture a world without Ian Sommerhalder or Ryan Reynolds, and maybe, just maybe you’ll understand what I’m describing. <— Joke. (Obviously there is no imagining something so insidiously chilling.)

Oddly enough, I write best when I know what it is I want to say. That may sound like a no-brainer, but we writers can get desperate; and in our desperation, sometimes we’ll hit the keyboard impulsively, hoping some magical entity will appear on our shoulder and whisper hella-fantastic ideas in our ears. (J.K. Rowling is rumored to occupy one such creature.) Me? So far, I have yet to receive a visit. If you have, though, or if you know of a place or person from whom I might acquire this treasure, I would thereby be obliged to you for life. I will happily pay you in accolades and Skittles. 🙂

Seriously, though . . .

idle wild

The Truth is, I am having a hard time sitting alone with myself right now; in the quiet, in the idle, in the unproductive. The Chatter is making a feast of me. Every fiber of my being being is crying out for greater purpose, for something to validate my existence. I’ve only just finished my book, an amazing feat, and already I am half-crazed and ravenous for something else to do, so I can fill up that hole inside of me with things. Give me something – anything! – to take my mind off how alone and empty I feel inside when I’m not doing something. And then, when nothing comes, well, there’s always my phone.  . . . Last night, on the way home from the gym, I conducted a little experiment: I turned off the music and counted how many times the urge to pick up my phone and check something occurred.  And in the eight minute journey, guess how many times I forgot, then remembered? SIXTEEN. Sixteen times my hand went to my gym-bag. Sixteen times I had to remind myself that, if something dire were happening, my phone would be ringing. Sixteen times I had tell my mind it was okay to feel scared, or sad, or lonely for a moment.

It’s okay. It will pass. Just be there.

I don’t know how this happened, but I know it isn’t good. I am searching for fulfillment in things and companionship in technology, and neither is good for my soul. So yes, I am having a hard time sitting alone with myself; but I think this is exactly where I need to be right now. Sometimes it will mean I have to feel unpleasant things. And sometimes it will mean breathing and marveling at the God-given ability to pull air into my lungs and push it back out.

Love to you & Lighting it up,

~ Cara