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Mondays: Books & Death

I want to talk about books. But that means that first I have to talk about death.

I have to tell you that I got really anxious about it (death) this summer. What a thing to say. “Pardon me, but I’ve grown anxious about death.” This past Spring, Summer (always and long before, really, but it’s become especially keen lately)… friends, acquaintances, strangers online, lost parents and spouses and even children. These non-negotiable life figures just… died.

It happens all the time, doesn’t it? People of all ages and with all imaginable intimacies and connections die every single second of every single day in all possible ways. Aren’t we always, no matter our sense and preparation, caught unaware, sliding ass first into some deep well of grief? How do any of us carry on with constant insecurity, tiptoeing across trap doors? Nothing is stable. Nothing is predictable.

This brings me to books: I feel calm when I read them. (Not doomed.)

All I want to do is read books. I don’t want to go anywhere (unless it’s my favorite neighborhood restaurant). I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to talk to anyone (unless it’s about books)(or Severance on Apple+). I just want to sit in various locations around my house (living room, deck, my bed) or near my house (Louie’s Wine Dive patio) and quietly read books. Fiction ones. That’s it. Nothing else. Zip.

[You understand I am exaggerating all of this a little bit.]

I’d forgotten about the library. This summer I re-learned that I could go to the library and -- for $0 -- pull a book off a shelf and take it home with me. There were no heavy stakes on the decision for which book. If I didn’t like it, I could close the book and go back for a different one. I didn’t have to know anything about the book, the author, or what anyone else thought of either. I could take home novels because I liked the font on the spine and the composition of the first sentence.

I used to think I needed to read heavy non-fiction and highbrow classics. I don’t feel that way anymore. In fact, I think a work of accessible fiction can bait us into learning more about history and geography and the human psyche than most scholarly tomes. I still don’t read contemporary “chick lit” romance novels; but it’s not because of snobbery. I just don’t like them. I was born without the romance gene, so it never lands.

I used to have some internal conflict about writing vs. reading -- like the more time I spent reading = the less time I spent writing. I have multiple drafted novels. Every single one of them is in the “shitty first draft” stage. I haven’t gotten past that. Ever. The rewrites are too overwhelming. I don’t really feel bad about it anymore. If I finish one, great. If I don’t, that’s fine, too. There is no shortage of literature. Just like there is no shortage of music. The ocean is no less vast without my cup of water.

And that brings me to the river. Right now I’m reading a novel called The River of No Return (Bee Ridgeway). It’s a novel about time travelers. They describe time like a river that flows only one way and to one end: the ocean. You cannot change its direction or its end; you only learn to navigate it.

It made me think of creativity and Julia Cameron. Do you know about The Artist’s Way? It’s wonderful. Cameron wrote it decades ago – a guided program to reconnect with your creativity. Something The Artist’s Way reinforced for me was that the natural flow of the universe is creativity and creativity is always forward. If you think of God as The Creator, then it makes even more sense why the flow of creativity feels peaceful and aligned. It’s divine. It’s godly. It is the world in order.

And so this brings me back to books. And death.

Death is part of the world in order -- maybe even when it feels untimely. I suppose if we really want to carry the metaphor we could say that the river is life and death is the ocean.

To get lost in a book is to get lost in someone else’s creative flow, which is inevitably forward and inevitably divine. It is inevitably godly (whatever that may mean to you). And so it is a peaceful place to rest without worry. I'll take it.

That is what I have to say about books.

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