Cracked

I haven’t really read much in the last three years. For someone who wanted desperately to be a writer, a published author, in her youth, this is a terrible state of things. I got lost in the rat race, so to speak. Work is pretty much what I did, with very little leisure time. What time I did have was spent in front of the TV or killing dragons on the computer. Brainless. Boring. As little creative energy required as possible

And then the stress started pouring in to fill any and every possible moment where I might have otherwise been capable of creating anything.

I had wanted to move. I lived in a dry, flat, windy place, devoid of the scenery I felt would be conducive to my writing. I tried off and on, when we lived there, to create. I found myself rewriting other people’s stories once I’d had a chance to go back and reread. I hadn’t meant to do it, but I saw their influences and I didn’t feel like I had my own story to tell (I’m not even sure if I do now, but that’s beside the point) and so I stopped writing. I stopped creating. I stopped reading.

I worked.

So, we managed to move. My job is the one we took the transfer on. It’s not an exciting or glamorous job, but it was something I felt I could do. For five years I kept wanting to leave, looking at the money, then deciding I could work a couple more years. There was always something else I wanted to accomplish financially before I felt like I could leave, relying on my husband’s income alone. I was being smart, responsible.

And then everything crumbled. Nothing was right.

It doesn’t really matter what went wrong with the job. There were a lot of things. None of them will matter in two weeks when I’m done.

The point is I cracked.

I broke.

It was like that long list of possible side effects they go over in a commercial for medication. May cause sleeplessness. May cause increased depression or anxiety. May cause suicidal thoughts. I never really thought about it enough to do anything, but I thought about it. That was enough to scare me into analyzing my life. It was enough to scare me into telling my husband that there was a problem and it needed to be fixed. It was enough for me to realize that I had stopped living, I was barely existing, and I was unhappy.

So I quit.

I’m usually not a quitter. I don’t like feeling like I’ve failed at life. Failed at the traditional work life. I almost just quit, no notice given. After all, it’s not like I ever want to work in Corporate America again. But that’s not the kind of person I am. I gave two weeks notice. They asked for two more. I agreed because of who I am and because it needs to be done the proper true way.

Like Auri.

My husband has been trying to get me to read. Like I said, I’ve barely read anything in the last three years. Usually, if I’ve managed to read something, it’s only been what I could squeeze into a vacation or road trip. Bits and pieces of some of our favorite authors, like Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Haydon, and Patrick Rothfuss. He’d been telling me about The Slow Regard of Silent Things by the latter. Kept telling me I would enjoy it. I never found the time or energy to pull it up on my Nook and read it. Remember, I was hardly existing.

Then, at the end of my third to last week at work, he offered me a bubble bath.

Held captive by the bubbles, he sat beside the tub and started reading it to me.

I could tell, not far in, that it would be a story best read to oneself rather than to have read to you. Patrick plays with words. You can’t catch the nuances when it’s read aloud. So I took it from the bath to my bed to read.

I didn’t read it all at once. I wasn’t ready for that. I had to dip my toes in. I had to nibble at it. I had to take it in the bite-sized chunks that it was given. As short as it is, I don’t think Auri’s tale is one that is meant for straight-through reading. Not for me anyway.

I saw myself a little too much in Auri. She’s cracked. She’s broken. She has a panic attack in the middle of the story that could have been written for me. It was written for me. I felt almost ashamed at the similarity. I’m not supposed to connect too personally with a crazy main character. One that crashed and burned so spectacularly in the “real world” that she has to hide away in her own reality and practice her craft in secret.

I wasn’t going to tell anyone.

Then I read Patrick’s note at the end of the story. The story of the story. The story of how so many other people reacted (in some ways at least) the way I did. The story of how this is a story that isn’t for mainstream. “This story is for all the slightly broken people out there.”

This story is for me.

And it helped me share my cracked and broken bits.

And it helped me to write something.

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The eBook Debate

A friend of mine started a discussion on twitter yesterday with the following statement:

“Never really understood people who resist e-readers because they’ll “miss the smell/feel/texture/etc. of paper books”. To me, that’s like longing for the heft and texture of a VHS tape in a world of Blu-ray/DVDs”

This got me thinking about my own preference and why it exists. In fact, as I thought more on it, I realized that my response  would take a lot more than twitter’s 140 character limit to convey. Make no mistake about it: It is a preference. I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to the transition from VHS to Blu-ray/DVD. Everything about a Blu-ray disc is very obviously better than a VHS tape. While the movie is the same story, same acting, etc, the experience itself is actually enhanced with better picture, sound and features. Not to mention the fact that you don’t have to rewind! This example is a clear upgrade and I believe that there are few people who still use VHS tapes.

The eBook vs physical book debate is a lot less clear-cut. My intention with this post is not to inflame one side or the other. As I said, the medium one uses to read is a much more personal preference than whether one moves on to clearly advanced technology and how quickly they do it. So first, I want to explore my own preference and identify why I feel the way I do.

When I was a small child, my dad used to read to my older brother from the Chronicles of Narnia. I was a bit jealous that I was left out (I was only four years old) but I knew that eventually I would be able to hear those stories too. When I finally sat curled up beside my mother as she read those same books to me I was ecstatic. I got so lost in the story, my imagination filling in what I didn’t see on the cover. That book held magic for me. We moved on from one series to another and every new volume, showed me an image to start my imagination going. I could sit on the floor, staring at the picture on the cover as my mother’s voice told me the story.

I think that’s where having the physical book started to matter to me. Yes, you can view cover art on an eReader, but not while you’re reading the book. A child can’t sit at your feet and be inspired by it as you read to them. You don’t see it on your nightstand and reach for it as if summoned by a siren call. I select books from my library by scanning across the the often well-creased spines. Sometimes I just want a comfortable old favorite. Other times, I’m looking for one I’ve read once and may like to read again. I can’t see that on my eReader (yes, I do have one). For me, selecting a new (or old) book to read is a very physical experience.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that, for me, content is not everything. Not even close. I can read the same book on my eReader or on bound paper in my hand and it is actually the same book. My experience, in not just reading the book but choosing it as well, is different with a physical book. I can’t pretend that it isn’t. It’s not some inexplicable obsession with the feel of the paper (although I do like that) or even the scent of a freshly printed, never been read before volume (which is distinct). It’s the fact that for me, the experience of reading a physical book stays with me longer because I’m not just engaging my imagination. I’m creating other sensory memories to link and coincide with what I read.

Here’s a perfect example of what I mean:

I was in Jr High when I first started to develop my musical tastes. We had an incredible AM radio station that was my favorite. They called themselves “Arizona’s Only Alternative”, which was true during that time. They played early 90’s alternative as well as 80’s. I used to listen to it all of the time that I was in my room, even when I was reading. To this day, when I hear The Cure’s “Friday, I’m in Love” I remember scenes from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Windy Poplars. Why? Certainly not cause they’re at all intellectually related. It’s because I created that memory.

It’s been said that the number of senses you engage in creating a memory has an effect on how long that memory stays with you. I suppose that’s what it boils down to for me. Reading a physical book has more distinctions that my senses register than reading a digital version. There is the feel of the paper, but also the visual differences in images and type. There is the heft of the book; the feel of it as the weight shifts from my right hand to my left, the thickness of what I’ve read increasing as my interest in the story does. The feeling of only a few chapters left that encourages me to stay up and finish it instead of putting it away.

Reading is definitely a physical experience for me. The story may be exactly the same, but my experience with it changes with these subtle nuances. I’m more easily lost in the story if I don’t have to click a button to load the next page. Are the words different? No. Do I enjoy it more? Absolutely.

Oh, I know there are many benefits to using an eReader and I can understand the appeal. A wide selection of books are available, even some that are out of print. You can order a book and within moments it is downloaded to your device. It can even be a more economical (and ecological) choice, especially for those who use an eReader app on their smart phone or tablet rather than a dedicated device. There is also the matter of being a space saver. You don’t exactly have to have a bookcase for your eBooks. For a more analytical, logical mind than mine, it simply doesn’t make sense to read/collect physical books anymore. For them it’s a clear upgrade. I can very easily see why it’s gaining in popularity.

It’s just not for me. It’s not worth giving up those things that matter to me while reading, those nuances that enhance my experience. The trouble is that I know that eventually, I will have to use my eReader to read anything. We already see major bookstores struggling. What happens when it becomes too expensive or bothersome to publish to print? Experts are already noticing and commenting on the trend towards self-publishing with eBooks. The downfall of the physical book is inevitable. I suppose in this one way, it will be like my friend’s example of VHS. The part that makes me sad, is that while there is nothing wrong with the new technology, there is also not necessarily anything better about it. It may be more convenient than my preferred method of reading, but it comes no where close to enhancing my experience the way a physical book can.

But, again… that’s my preference and not necessarily yours.