“Once you learn to read, you’ll be forever free”
The idea that literacy is a type of freedom might seem clichéd or even a bit earnest and naïve. Still, it’s an idea that continues to resonate with me.
Mine is perhaps a typical story. As a kid, I had an almost insatiable appetite for books. Being a poor, chubby, black girl with glasses, I knew I wasn’t what others called beautiful and most didn’t expect me to be smart either. But in books I could escape into a world of beauty, love, fantasy, and adventure where I could imagine myself as a brilliant heroine who saved the day.
I spent a whole lot of time in libraries and I read everything I could get my hands on. I moved from children’s books pretty quickly, devouring everything from Harlequin romances, to V.C. Andrews’s novels, to high fantasy series, to classics of African American literature. I always had a book in my hand—on the school bus, at lunch, even at the dinner table—and my mama really did not play that. But I think she realized that books were a lifeline for me and she let some things slide.
In time, my love of reading became a desire to teach and write. I wrote (bad) poetry, spunky short stories, and even a novel or two. By the time I was in high school I wanted to spend my life talking about literature, language, and grand ideas. I got a couple of degrees in English and became a professor.
And then I stopped reading.
Okay, so I didn’t exactly stop reading. I read signs, recipes, memos, e-mails, and text messages. I read (and write) blog posts, tweets, and Facebook status updates. I read student essays and exams, and articles about Toni Morrison. What I don’t do is read for pleasure.
Yes, I confess: I am an English professor who does not read for fun.
Oh, boo hoo. You are gainfully employed and you don’t get to read for fun? Get the @#$% outta here.
That’s my inner voice. She’s pretty crunk, clearly, and she does not suffer fools lightly or approve of complaining and survivor’s guilt.
But, real talk, between my Saturn Return, then work and life and all that goes along with it, I’ve been feeling like I’m running on empty. Self-care has been a struggle for me, something I think about and write about a lot. But this time felt different. Without achieving some sort of work-life balance I was not going to bend, I was going to break. I needed something different to restore me.
It couldn’t be the things that I’ve been doing. Not cooking, watching ratchet reality TV, or sleeping late. I had to return to the source and the site of so many of my best memories. It had to be reading.
I started reading at night before bed and I even got myself a Kindle. Let me tell you, though, reading was really, really difficult. Try as I might, I could not quiet my mind. I would read a paragraph and then it would go something like this:
Did I respond to such and such’s email? When is the 18th? I should just go on ahead and pay that Sallie Mae bill. They don’t just want money, they want my first born. If I have the time to read before bed I should probably just grade those papers. Damn, I’m tired…
And on and on.
It was hard to read more than a sentence or two without being interrupted by my incessant multitasking brain. At some point it was actually painful to continue to be present in the moment and allow myself to let go and be free.
I am in the process of reprogramming my mind and my body, giving myself permission to indulge my own desires without feeling guilty. It’s a process, but I’m slowly returning to my first love.
Right now I’m reading, yes reading, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and it’s awesome. And I feel just a little closer to being free.
Fam, have you experienced this sort of struggle with being present in your own life? Share your experiences in the comments.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some classic R&B.
A tarnished ring on a tarnished chaaaaaaaain
Avant & Keke Wyatt, for the youngins