stay awhile and listen

“After a cruel childhood, one must reinvent oneself. Then reimagine the world.” – Mary Oliver

In “On Writing”, Stephen King tells us that if we don’t make time to read, we don’t have time to write.

I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. In a way, he’s saying that if you don’t love to read, you probably won’t love to write. At least, that’s one of the ways I interpret it.

When I was a teen and in my early 20s, I did my best to make myself go out to the movies every week. I saw everything that I could see, sometimes twice, so I could study and learn from it.

I did not enjoy any of it. I hated being in theatres full of people who had no respect and basic courtesy for their fellow audience members, and most of what I saw bored me.

It took me years — maybe decades — to realize that while I like some movies, I don’t love film, the way my friends who are successful directors and actors do.

Actually, more than realizing it, I admitted it to myself, because I knew it all along. It’s just that I believed my mother’s gaslighting when she would tell me that it was MY dream to be an actor and to work in film and television, not something she forced me to do against my clearly and repeatedly-stated wishes.

So I’ll watch some movies when they are on DVD or streaming, and I’ll probably take myself to actually see something with an audience once or twice a year, but I don’t need to do that to breathe, which is the level of love and devotion I think we need to have for art, if we’re going to make our living and find our emotional fulfillment as an artist. I don’t have that love for acting or filmmaking. I just don’t. It isn’t there, even though I’ve worked in that industry for my whole life.

Which brings me back to On Writing.

For the last year, I have been in a cocoon. I have been withdrawn from public life as much as I have been since I started my blog twenty years ago, and I’ve been equally withdrawn in my personal life. I’ve spent a little over a year processing and trying to heal from my abusive childhood, and that has been a full-time gig for me.

Let me just take a minute to loudly and gratefully acknowledge and own how privileged I am, that I have been able to afford to work less than most people, while I get to spend almost all of my time doing therapy and healing as best as I can. I will also be proud of myself for having the courage to do this work, and to stick with it when it’s been incredibly difficult and painful.

Okay. Back to On Writing: since I finished writing and rewriting my first novel, I just haven’t made the time to read for pleasure. I’ve only read when it’s narrating an audiobook,or part of my homework for school. I’ve tried to make time to read for pleasure, but my brain just refuses to focus and build the author’s world in my imagination. It’s been frustrating, but part of my healing process is to practice mindfulness, to accept what I can’t change and focus on the things that I can change. I’ve known that I’ll eventually become a capital-R Reader again, that it’s just a matter of time before I can begin to emerge from this cocoon, so while it’s felt like something that should be a priority — I’m a writer, right? — it clearly wasn’t something I had room in my life to make a priority.

This morning, one of my internet friends showed me this collection of short speculative fiction stories at Amazon Prime called Forward. They are included in my Prime membership, to read on Kindle without charge, but they are ALSO available from Audible at no charge to Prime members. Each of these stories can be read or listened to in about an hour.

I was intrigued. I am a fan of many of the authors and narrators, but could I set aside a whole hour? Doesn’t that seem like a silly thing to ask myself? That’s my reality, though, at this moment in my life. I wanted to carve out an hour, but could I?

As I very slowly and cautiously emerge from this cocoon, I am making an effort to invest some time in my physical health (again, very grateful that I have been able to focus so singularly on my mental health, without my physical health suffering). I’ve done little things like walk my dogs, but for close to a year, I haven’t done any other meaningful exercise. I haven’t jogged, I haven’t even practiced yoga. And my body is starting to tell me that I need to take better care of it. I listened, and I don’t make new year resolutions, but back in December, Anne and I committed to walking at least every other day, with the goal of doing a 5K in the future.

To slowly work my body back into a place where it can do a 5K and not collapse, I walk every day, even if it’s just around the block, because I’m middle-aged, and it just takes longer for my body to work itself back into good shape than it did when I was younger. But I haven’t taken a long walk, by myself, until today. Today, I put on my headphones, picked a book to listen to, and took Jason Isaacs and NK Jemisin out with me. I literally did not want to come home until I finished listening to him narrate her short story, “Emergency Skin”. My legs were all, “bro, we’re getting tired” and I was like “shut up and keep walking. I need to know how this ends.”

My artistic spirit feels nourished and inspired, and my body feels good. I could easily have spent that hour doing nothing but goofing off, but I made a deliberate choice to do the personal work I need to do on my body and my mind, so I can live my best life.

I still have a TREMENDOUS amount of pain to heal, and while today is a pretty good day, I know there are rough days ahead (and also other good days), so I’m choosing to be present and grateful for that.

Over the last year, I’ve worked really hard to heal myself and unpack a lot of pain and trauma. I’ve made a lot of good progress, but it’s come at a cost. I’ve forgotten how to read. I’ve forgotten how to have fun. I’ve forgotten how to be joyful. But it’s slowly and surely coming back to me.

And I now have at least five hours of what looks like great reading/listening ahead of me, that I hope will inspire me to write my own stories.

PS: speaking of audiobooks, I had the privilege of narrating Andy Weir’s The Martian for Audible, and it debuted at number one when it was released last week!