COVID and Reading

On March 13, life shifted for me. Officially. The college where I teach decided to shift to remote learning. The following week was turned into another week of break for our students (in addition to our actual spring break set the week after – when I was supposed to finally get to go out to WA to see my BFF…) and into a work week for us. I was devastated that the decision came when classes for the week were over and that I would not get a chance to see my poets in person again. I made a trip the following week to grab much needed supplies from my office (like my coffee pot), and I haven’t been back since.

I feel really lucky that I have a job that allows me to teach from a distance. I can’t even fathom the fear other folks felt, and are still feeling, the ones that had to continue going into their work place. I also feel really lucky that I have been teaching online for years. For one, a couple of my classes were already online in the Spring, along with release time for my Teaching Chair duties. I only had one class to move online…and it was a beast to do so. I, once again, can’t even fathom how my colleagues who don’t teach online and aren’t familiar with the tech even managed to survive the last half of our spring semester. But they did. I saw my colleagues pull rabbit after rabbit out of their hats. We all managed to get across the end-of-semester finish line one way or another, even if it meant dragging each other across it.

When it came to reading for fun, well, that didn’t happen. Who had the time? But when summer rolled around, a semester I usually teach online only as an effort not to have to commute such a distance, I found I still didn’t have the energy to pick up a book and get lost in it. I couldn’t find the right mood. I would try – but would just end up reading the same page over and over without retaining any of it. Eventually, I just stopped trying.

When I did have free time (which I suddenly had a lot of since I wasn’t able to spend my Wednesday downtown at the farmer’s market or to plant myself at my favorite coffee shop and write for hours on end or even to wander through the bookstore…), I would re-watch things – TV shows and movies. By this time, my social media feeds were all inundated with articles and studies about how creative folks were having trouble creating and everyone was having trouble with new things. Why? Anxiety. I mean, duh? The world is figuratively and literally burning down around us. Of course, we’re anxious. But books and movies and shows – stories – have always been my escape. Let me escape!

Turns out, those studies show that we tend to gravitate to things we know – in other words, endings we can be sure of – when there are other things we aren’t sure of. Makes sense.

But the world is still burning – that hasn’t changed. But for some reason, at the end of July, I felt the need for something new. So I watched a few movies on Netflix. I ran through the available episodes of Sweet Magnolias (y’all – Aida has upped and moved to South Carolina!!!). And I DEVOURED all four seasons available of Lucifer (three times…in a row…that show is something else). I’m still not sure what sparked this ability to consume new things once again – but I was grateful for it. It was refreshing to not know what was coming next.

On Aug 14, I started reading again. Still no idea what switch got flipped (or where such a switch is even located), but I haven’t been able to stop. I’ve managed to devour five books so far. Devour is the best way I can come up with to describe the feeling – because I seriously just gobbled them up.

I started with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – a book I stumbled upon when I was trying to find comps for my query letter. The premise promised an unusual character (which Honeyman delivered on), and reading the first couple pages was enough for me to want to know more about Eleanor.

I came across Judson Brewer through his interview on the podcast Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard (a podcast I really love – my one regret about not having a long commute at the moment is falling so far behind). The interview was fascinating, and his book, The Craving Mind, was mentioned. I added it to my list, and this was the second book I tackled. It definitely got me thinking about some of my own habits, especially their roots, and opened some stuff up.

The third book is a memoir by a friend of mine from college, Failing Better by Christina Brandon. Written about her two years of teaching English in China, Christina is open, honest, and reflective about her time there – what she learned not just about the country and its people, but about herself and her reactions to what she was experiencing. She’s not afraid to lay her own imperfect moments on the page – and I think we can all learn a lot from her about that.

There’s a drive in movie theatre where my sister lives (where I lived from the age of ten until I left for college) – the Skyway Drive-In, owned by two of the kindest brothers you’d ever want to meet. During the summer of 2015, my sis and I, with my then three-year-old nephew, went for the double feature. We figured he’d be asleep before the first movie even finished. We were wrong [strained smile]. We ended up leaving about fifteen minutes into the second movie, The Martian – a movie I still have not seen – but that fifteen minutes was enough get me hooked. I did buy the book, though it sat my shelf for a bit – so this was the next one I picked up. And Oh. My. Goodness. It felt like a race to finish it. I’ve been talking about it nonstop – and I’m pretty sure people are sick of me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But I’ve also convinced a few friends to read it. (Weir did an amazing job with the science of it – I didn’t ever feel like I got lost. I also appreciated what a smartass the character is without becoming insufferable.) Now to get my hands on that movie. And Andy Weir’s other books.

The book I just finished tonight is How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong. I stumbled across this book when Christina (who wrote the memoir) posted a photo of it on her Instagram account. It’s a fascinating look at how we are “supposed” to construct families here in the States – and alternatives to that idea that are far more successful. What she had to say made a lot of sense (especially about chosen families and creating villages to raise kids) – and I do believe she is right: this American Dreamism and individualistic society we live within is making us all miserable.

Up next – The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. I’m sure there’s some escapism happening in my insatiable urge to read – but I’m just gonna let that ride for now. Bring on the stories.

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