This year has been a tough one for me, in a few different ways. There was the death of my mother, from lung cancer, something we seriously thought she was beating, but in the end the fight was just too much for her body. Learning there’s something out there stronger than my mom was hard enough — she was tiny in size and stature, but huge in personality and strength.
So losing her, the touchstone of my life, reminded me of death’s great power, of how the mightiest of people are brought down by its power, and of how we need to make our moments matter, to live with purpose and intent and meaning, whatever that might mean to each of us individually.
Six months after my mother’s death, my husband had surgery followed by complications that made me wonder if I was also going to lose him. And life’s fragility hit home again.
Knowing that my other touchstone, my partner in this adult portion of my life, could be taken through no fault of his own, made life’s fragility even more present in my every day. It made me see that we all need to find ways to include those things that make us happy in our day-to-day lives.
My mother taught me the most valuable lessons of motherhood: do what makes you happy and you’ll (usually) make those around you happy. Don’t let your happiness be dependent on others, or not wholly on others.
For her, this meant golfing. That’s what made her happy, and, as a result, it made those around her happy. She laughed and had fun even when frustrated, bringing humor to moments of complete disappointment.
She liked to do about seventeen other things (and she did them all well — seriously, she was good at so many things), but golf was her true love. It brought her so much, including my step dad.
Taking that lesson of living and doing with intention, I’m trying to do the things I love every day. As golf was for my mother, reading (and all things reading related) are for me.
Books. Literature. Fiction. (some) Non-fiction. Memoirs. Physical books. E-Books. Audiobooks. Authors. Critics. Critical reading. Reading for fun. Reading for information. Text. Subtext. Genres. Allegories. Unreliable narrators. Protagonists. Intertextuality.
I could go on and on.
So this is the new goal: taking what makes me happy, letting it make me happy everyday and making it mean something. Let’s call it an intentional hobby. A hobby that makes me happy, but also makes me a better person.
And my hobby has another advantage: it can open me up to other worlds, and to show me other lives. It can make me a better person, force me to be a life-long student of humans and interactions and stories.
With my intentional hobby in mind, I began to consider my Goodreads reading challenge and my approach to it. I set my goal in January, when we were pretty sure my mom was going to be okay, at least for awhile. When I set my goal, I didn’t know I would have such a reading slump ahead of me, when my mom began the last of her life, and then after she died. It was nearly impossible for my to concentrate on what was written, what those words were supposed to mean when put together.
I’ve said it before, but audiobooks saved me. The ability to NOT have to fall into the words, but have them fall OVER me, with someone else reading. THAT brought me back.
After listening to my go-to author’s works (Stephen King) in great detail, I slowly found my way back to the written word. For quite a few months there, from about April to July, I read lighter thrillers. Easy to fall into, the kind that doesn’t require too much from the reader. Kind of brain candy.
(I’ve always had a soft spot for these thrillers. Some are more substantive than others, but they’ve always had a place on my reading list. I love them.)
And suddenly, in August, I found myself reaching for the slightly heavier reads. Works that challenged me a bit more. And, as my reading started to balance itself out, I took a good look at my Goodreads Reading Challenge, and I realized I was up in my book count. I was amazed.
I thought back to my book count at this time in years past. On my laptop (as opposed to the app on my phone), the challenge widget includes not only the book count, but also how that book count compares to where you should be, considering the overall goal and the number of weeks left in the year. In the past, I find myself behind in the fall. I start to freak out a little, and I let myself read Kindle singles or short books in an attempt to make my goal.
In the past, I’ve felt guilty about reading shorter books, or re-reading books, or even listening to books. Especially when I was doing these things in the last laps of a race only I cared about.
But this year I’m ahead of schedule. Without trying, and with quite a bit of surprise. I’d been reading to find myself, to get back to what I love, to get away from my grief. Listening, reading light thrillers, finding my way back to my ‘thing.’
Without trying, I had been reading fiction with intention. Losing myself in books and words, either falling into them or letting them fall over me. That may be the opposite of what others mean by reading with intention, and it may be the opposite of what I usually mean when I read with intention, but my intention was clear. At least in my heart.
I’ve been reading fiction to grieve and to get through to grief. To remember and to let go. Without knowing it, my reading had meaning.
So, rather than feeling guilty as to what I read or how I ‘read’ it, I know that the books I’ve gotten through this year have also gotten me through the most difficult year of my life.
I’ve discovered things about myself this year. I’m stronger than I know. I eat when I’m emotional. I’m a decent mom and a okay wife.
And reading can get me through just about anything. Even when I don’t realize it.