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February 20th, 2002

on reading

You know how when you're sledding, there's an instant in time between the apprehension of looking down the long slippery hill and the exhilaration of the actual trip down... that moment of relief where you just have kicked yourself down. You're committed just then, in the second between wondering what's going to happen, and then happening it. The relief, I think, comes from the temporary respite between the myriad things you're anticipating and the myriad things that might occur, where all the uncertainty squeezes through an hourglass and there's just one thing: you've acted, and now something will play out.

Whoo, that was a rather intense visualization.

That imagery came to me just now after finishing the first chapter of a book I've been looking forward to reading. Looking forward to, but not actually starting, because for someone like me who's a poor reader (true!), starting a book doesn't mean I'll get to the end. It might be too difficult for me to follow the plot; it might be so slow that I get discouraged and give up; it might just be so long and daunting that I just put it down one day and am too afraid to pick it back up. And with that comes a particular kind of shame: such an intelligent man, unable to read a pop fiction novel!

I was given several books as Christmas presents this winter. And they've all sat on my bookshelf, patiently awaiting me. And I'd look at them, and all those apprehensions would assail me, and it was always easy to find something else to do. But I couldn't sleep tonight, so climbed out of bed, thought about what might entertain me a little for a while, and with some trepidation picked up the top book on the stack: Homer Hickam's Sky of Stone. And I nervously skipped the acknowledgements and the foreward, starting on Page One.

And I had that moment. Well, here I go. Page one, then page two, three, and then I was committed, sliding down the hill because the story was already beginning to grab my interest. And I found myself becoming peaceful, relaxing into the words, calm because I'd chosen to start, and for the moment it didn't matter how this book might end for me.

I finished the first chapter and by then I really was sleepy as well as relaxed. So now I am going to climb back into bed, but I was happy as I closed the hardbound volume and set it down. How substantial it feels, and how aware of all the words and thoughts and storytelling are stored within.



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