I deeply resist books that I think will improve me.
I know, that is so weird. Particularly because I read more books than anyone I know. I have a constant tower of books on my nightstand that teeters with the weight of fiction, and French parenting manuals, and exotic Mediterranean slow cooker cookbooks (yep, these things are all there right now). I’ve even memorized my library bar code: 21181082… ha! You thought I’d divulge that information!
But books that I know will make me feel emotions deeper than heart-pounding suspense, or intellectual stirrings or pleasant word evaluating–it’s likely I’ll avoid them. And this is where my book club comes in, because it turns out there are a lot of books I wouldn’t have chosen on my own that I have absolutely loved!
For December we chose two inspirational type books. I was particularly inspired by the first:
This book has been around for a long, long time. It is a series of essays about womanhood and the different stages of life. I was particularly struck by its discussion of the downfalls of modernity to our inner selves. I loved the introduction by the author’s daughter (I feel a natural kinship towards writers’ daughters for obvious reasons) and was relating to the writer in her 1950s environment from my 2012 microfiber couch within minutes.
One thing that really struck me was her discussion of distraction. Lindbergh wrote that women’s traditional roles tended to be introspective by nature and allowed plenty of time for an active inner life–think kneading bread or weaving. Women tended to have a certain amount of isolation and quiet as their roles kept them near their homes and kitchens and gardens. She wrote that all that had changed as more women left their homes to work. Even those women who stayed close to the home could now invite a whole slew of characters into their domestic life–soap opera stars, radio announcers, and the cheerful din of advertising. But what do we lose when we lose our quiet?
I have a hard time with quiet.
I like listening to podcasts and radio morning shows and NPR and books on tape. I like watching old episodes of America’s Next Top Model while I do dishes, and flipping between stations when I drive. But for the last little while I’ve been getting this nagging feeling to just turn it all off.
So I would, for a few seconds. And I’d feel bored. My emotions felt jagged. I felt stressed and uncomfortable, and even when I turned the stuff back on I still felt that way. But at least I was entertained.
After reading Lindbergh’s book I decided to conduct a little experiment–I turned everything off last Saturday night. For 9 days there has been no radio, no TV, no podcasts, and no real distractions.
The first few days were the hardest. It honestly felt like overcoming an addiction. My hand would somehow turn on the radio in the car without any conscious input from me. The house seemed really quiet. Car rides felt unbearably long. I thought about the noise and the lack of noise, all day long. I was also really surprised by my emotional state. I was incredibly irritable the first 3 days. I felt like I was see-sawing between a wide range of emotions, that I was in a cloud of unpredictable moods.
And this made me wonder: have I been drowning out my day-to-day irritations and loneliness and deeper thoughts with noise? I think it’s likely. Because let’s be honest: thinking about who will make it through the next round of eliminations on my favorite reality show is an easier thing to think about than say: Am I happy?
I’ve had a lot of rather surprising introspections over the last week that I’m not sure I would have with the radio on. I’ve had a lot of uncomfortable quiet driving that has made me think about some things like: Why am I not writing? Am I living in the way I imagined? How am I going to be a mother?
Distraction is so easy. Noise so available. I feel exhausted by the effort it takes to keep life simple. But to keep my inner self afloat? To hear the thoughts that have been trying to push through all the distractions? Invaluable.