Stephen King said in his book ‘On Writing’, you can’t be a writer if you are not a reader. I must confess it’s been a long time since I picked up a good book and read. Oh, I’ve read a lot of articles, a lot of non-fiction, and a lot of the Word. But when it comes to diving into a good fiction novel, it’s been too long. And my imagination has gone stale as a result.
Let’s be honest. A writer often discovers a story as it progresses, rather than crafting it. You start with a question or premise, some basic characters, then let the characters come to life and tell you their story. As a writer, my desire is not to tell a gripping story, but to reach out to others and help them share in this experience of discovery.
I recently read an article by Nicholas Carr entitled ‘The Dreams of Readers’. As I perused the article, several points struck such a chord of truth that I not only could not ignore them but was compelled to share them with you.
“When we open a book, it seems that we really do enter, so far as our brains are concerned, a new world — one conjured not just out of the author’s words but out of our own memories and desires — and it is our cognitive immersion in that world that gives reading its emotional force…through the sympathetic actions of our nervous system, we become part of a story, when the distance between the attendee and the attended evaporates.”
“Readers often speak of how books have changed them.”
“A 2009 experiment conducted by Oatley and three colleagues suggests that the emotions stirred by literature can even alter, in subtle but real ways, people’s personalities. The researchers recruited 166 university students and gave them a standard personality test measuring such traits as extraversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. One group of the subjects read the Chekhov short story “The Lady with the Toy Dog,” while a control group read a synopsis of the story’s events, stripped of its literary qualities. Both groups then took the personality test again. The results revealed that the people “who read the short story experienced significantly greater change in personality than the control group,” and the effect appeared to be tied to the strong emotional response that the story provoked. What was really interesting, Oatley says, is that the readers “all changed in somewhat different ways.’ A book is rewritten in the mind of every reader, and the book rewrites each reader’s mind in a unique way, too.’”
When I was a young woman, Barbara Taylor Bradford’s book, ‘A Woman of Substance’ had more influence on my life and my personality than I realized. When they turned the book into a miniseries, casting Liam Neeson as Blackie O’Neill, I felt I knew him.
As an adult, I realize that Liam Neeson is not Blackie O’Neill. However, I am still drawn to all his movies and on some level, still feel I know the man. Crazy, right?
“In our day-to-day routines, we are always trying to manipulate or otherwise act on our surroundings, whether it’s by turning a car’s steering wheel or frying an egg or tapping a button on a smartphone. But when we open a book, our expectations and attitudes change. Because we understand that “we cannot or will not change the work of art by our actions,” we are relieved of our desire to exert an influence over objects and people and hence can “disengage our [cognitive] systems for initiating actions.” That frees us to become absorbed in the imaginary world of the literary work.”
My mom is the type of woman who strives to do her best. She is a hard worker and successfully raised three children while married to my father, the dreamer. I never understood why she would cry out, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” However, as an adult with a to-do list far longer than can be accomplished in one lifetime, I completely understand. So, when Carr wrote the above, I realized how much I miss crawling into a good novel and escaping the world for a little while.
When I get home from work, I feed the animals, make my dinner then turn on the TV and binge watch a TV series (though how watching 1 to 2 episodes a night, usually falling asleep for the 3rd can be considered ‘binge-watching’ is beyond me).
Lately, I enjoyed ‘The White Princess’ and ‘The White Queen’. But, since this is confessions, I must ask if I really ‘enjoyed’ them. You see, in my world, multi-tasking is not an option. So, while ‘enjoying’ these series, I’ve got two laptops going – one for work, the other for personal tasks. When am I taking the time to decompress? to ‘let go of exerting influence’ over my surroundings?
Because I so enjoyed the White Princess and Queen series, I’m on a wait list for Philippa Gregory’s audiobook “Lady of the Rivers”. I want to learn more of the story but don’t feel as though I can spare the time to divulge – to my own detriment.
God, who created us, knows that we need that time to decompress, to let go of the responsibility of influencing objects around us. He provided us with the Sabbath – one day a week where we get to just be with Him. We get to not only reconnect with Him and our family but ourselves. We get to rejuvenate and face all the tasks at hand with a renewed strength. We get to let go of exerting influence over our surroundings.
Lately, my jobs (yes, plural) have been overwhelming, causing me to work well into the Sabbath night and again most of the Sabbath day. Every week I cry out, pleading with God to help me find my way back to our time together. I am tired, and tired of being tired with very little energy left for finding creative solutions to challenges at work (something I am usually good at) let alone creative energy to do what I love.
Perhaps coming across this article on my company’s website was answered prayer. Rather than waiting for the audiobook to be available so I can continue multitasking, I should just head out to the library and pick up the printed book. Rather than listening to a story, I should share in Gregory’s experience of discovery, allowing her story to become my own, changing me in the slightest way and enabling me to decompress and regain life’s equilibrium.
And having done that, perhaps I can return to the Catskills and pick up where I left off. Oh, not physically return. You see, last summer I finally started to put my thoughts down on digital paper for a scenario that’s been traipsing through my brain. In doing so, I met three very interesting characters – Nonni, Drew, and Angie. My poor characters have been sitting idle, kicking at the debris in the dining room of the dilapidated Catskill resort, waiting for me to tune my ear to them again.
I can see them sitting on the edge of the dusty serving counter: Drew, with his ‘I told you so’ dejected look on his face, knowing he would be pushed aside again, but hoping he was wrong this time. Angie, always hopeful but frightened that this would be the final rejection in her life – looking to Nonni, who is biting her lip and trying not to let the kids see the bleakness in her heart. All three urging me to listen, urging me to share in their experience, to bring their story to others.
I see them, all three of them, turning to look at me as I enter the room. Then I stop, for the call of payroll and completion and compliance gets louder. Their eyes flick to the doorway from which the call comes, then back at me. Slowly I turn away, yielding to the pressing call, pausing at the doorway to glance over at them with eyes promising, ‘soon’, meeting their eyes with the doubtful retort of ‘when?’.
What does this have to do with my journey to Messiah? Everything.
Being busy about doing life prevents me from fulfilling the purpose God has deemed is mine. With half the year gone, my writing completion goal of August a joke, and my use for the Kingdom reduced to liking/sharing a Facebook post, it’s time to decompress.
I picked up Gregory’s book and plan to spend a day divulging, two if necessary. If you are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, or just plain tired of being tired, perhaps you should, too.