For the past few days I’ve had to sit still and kinda center myself, close my eyes and just listen to traffic for a little while or the rain at my window, and I think it’s because, now that I’m done with the eBook and there’s no urgent project breathing down my neck, I don’t know what to do with myself.
The morning after I published The Moon and Her Sister Turn Thirty and Leave I got to the coffee shop at 7 a.m. and I opened my notebook and wrote a few sentences about the fact that it was done, and that I didn’t quite know what to work on next, and then I just…closed my notebook. And I looked around. And I opened my Kindle and started reading.
So now I’m just going to the coffee shop every morning and reading for two or three hours, and it’s pleasant, but despite the little flashes of contentment with my books, I can’t shake this vague dread, this feeling like I’m neglecting something, like these mornings account for Precious Time that I’ll never get back and I need to be using this time, generating material, showing something for my efforts.
Whatever. It is what it is.
I’m reading Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia, which I’ve been meaning to read for a couple years now, I’m a good ways into Pride & Prejudice, which I somehow never finished, and in the past couple weeks I’ve read Debriefing the President, about the CIA’s interrogation of Saddam Hussein after his capture in 2003, as well as Author in Chief, which is a kind of survey of books written by U.S. Presidents, and I’ve been hopping around through two different Noam Chomsky collections.
The Chomsky essays are the most enlightening of anything I’ve read over the past week, but they’re uniformly miserable, so I’m reading them in very measured doses, without hurry.
I’m also about halfway into Ezra Klein’s book, Why We’re Polarized, whose chapters basically work as stand-alone essays in case, like me, you aren’t the sorta data wonk who can zip straight through such a book, which is packed to the gills with stats and then interpretations of those stats.
I read Evan Osnos’s biography of Biden–a book that I liked very much, though I suspect I mostly liked it because I like Biden a lot too; it was a tricky reading experience in that respect cuz I kept tryna police my reflex to underline the many passages exploring his virtue, and to smile and dote over the gaffes (like when he once claimed in a speech, “I’ve known eight presidents, three of them intimately”).
For lighter fare I’ve been hopping about through the selected essays of John Berger (which are absolutely brilliant, even when I have no idea who he’s talking about), as well as Ann Patchett’s essay collection This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Her second essay in the book is a long personal narrative about how her career took off, and she says some wonderfully candid things about the writing enterprise that you seldom see in major print–particularly the fact that aspiring writers are preyed upon relentlessly by “retreats” and “conferences”. (Patchett stopped participating cuz she felt uncomfortable with what they were promising the attendees.)
While I don’t feel totally comfortable about not having a writing project at the moment, I know that writing projects are exactly what keep me from getting any reading done, so I guess this little purgatory between assignments should be treated as an integral extension of those assignments, as these are the pages from which my own are inevitably sprung.
Planting seeds, is what I guess I’ve been up to.