The cost of this

The cost of this

I’ve been turning a thought over and over in my hands for the past several weeks, holding it up against the light when my arms can bear the weight. Just thinking—navel-gazing, really, and a little mopily. About the writing I do about books, for books—here, in this space, and elsewhere online, and (to a lesser extent) what appears of me in traditional print. It’s an exhaustion-borne thought, I know this—but I don’t know how it got to this point, that it can actually calcify into a whole thought, or when it started brewing. It’s a declaration, one that’s (upsettingly) more assured than most of the sentences that’s sprung whole in my mind: I want to stop writing about books, because I want to stop trying to justify myself.

I am all too aware that a certain gravity has been pushed upon many things of late—why, I can only imagine; by whom and by what, I have my suspicions—and my response to reading is among those things. I understand that this is a statement burdened with (possibly, suspiciously quarter-life) angst—not to mention my usual demon-companions: I want to stop writing about books, whose earnestness should naturally be under fire; I want to stop trying to justifying myself, whose hints of histrionics invite being kept in check. It’s this awareness that’s had me holding off on voicing out this—a sentence—with finality. (I sent it out as a tweet when it first came to me, but [as with a good half of my tweets of late] that got deleted in less than an hour.) And even this, here, is more of the need to articulate the thought—meandering and self-indulgent the entire venture may be—rather than just setting it down somewhere at last. That is: I’m figuring out myself here—which is in itself, as I have observed, problematic, that it should be done so publicly—but it needs to be done this way because, for one, I think I need the selfishness of the process. I need all this I going on right now.

The books remain the constant, understand. Of course they are. There was a long, too-long stretch that nothing I reached for suited me, but that’s gone, chased away. Lately, spurred by something I don’t want to name, I’ve been reading and reading and reading. Drowning myself in books, letting what they contain take me over. My inner life has become hysterical, and the books provide a focus necessary to my quiet. Channeled thus, my reading insists on following one direction for days on end—someone else’s exploration of a desire, someone’s attempt to give reason to a hunger—and then something recalibrates within me and I look for other books for the new preoccupation: This boy about this longing, that girl about her anger, this architect about a long-vanished structure, this psychiatrist about her starvation. There’s a feverishness to the reading, it’s apparent—it’s frantic, almost panicked. I let it come; it’s better than not reading.

My bookshelves are a mess. I’ve stood before them too many times with what I’m sure is a militant look on my face—an almost welcome change from my having stared at them morosely too often before then. I’ve pushed and poked and prodded at spines, almost daring one of them to provoke me into pulling them away from their companions. There are books I’ve picked up, only to set them aside before even starting on them; there are books I’ve abandoned halfway through, without even bothering to promise that I’d return to them. I’ve been acquiring books at an alarming pace lately; I’ve been stalking the aisles of bookstores with their crisp air conditioning and new book smells, and I’ve been digging through piles of overstock and coming away with a dirt-smudged nose and arms laden with (too many) books people stopped wanting. There are more books than should be on the floor, because they don’t fit in my bending bookshelves anymore. I’ve given away books, I’ve asked for books back, I’ve exhausted my supply of colored flags, I’ve written up more titles to hunt down, I’ve resolved to stop wanting books I’ve wanted for some years now, I’ve been (mostly willingly) reading books for and because of other people. I’ve been reading a lot of good books, I’ve read books I’m grateful to have found, books that I’ve giddily, shell-shockedly slipped into my hazy personal canon. There have been a handful of books that at best only draw from me indifference—which, separately, worries me, because I have to wonder if it’s just the book, or if the experience simply had to be sacrificed to this franticness.

My notebook is made on messy scrawls of the words I’ve copied out and my own words never-shyly alongside them. (Another separate worry: I’ve always had neat handwriting, I don’t indulge the rightward slant that comes naturally to it—I need my notebooks as a reference.) I have never stopped writing in my notebook (poor, battered bearer of Sasha’s passions), in the margins of books (when they can bear it)—but this refuses to be enough. It all needs to bleed out, needs to escape the containment/confinement. And then comes the usual struggle—the necessary calculation—when I do embrace that need: How to say it in a way that cannot be taken against me, my desires, my appetites, my limitations, my falterings? How do you say you loved a book because it means for you what you perceive yourself to be during the reading? Openness and restraint—isn’t that the crux of this? The former is accomplished with ease, and this threatens me, I am made vulnerable by it—the latter is a struggle to reach, and despite the safety it affords me, it always rings false somehow. And even though I understand that it is required of me to be torn between the two, I’ve never felt more keenly the conflict until now. Everything comes out too obviously fraught with the struggle of what to reveal and what not to. (Shouldn’t it come easier? Shouldn’t it, at least, appear effortless? Haven’t I been doing this for years already, jesus fuck?)

I want to keep insisting who I am, though—ain’t that the fucking doozy—there’s so much of me to go around anyway, I sometimes suspect I need subtracting from. (This is partly why I miss writing fiction with the fervor and ease I once wrote—no matter how public it got, no matter how many fucking friends and family and strangers picked up one of my stories, all of us could pretend that was not me spread all over the page.)

I understand, at least, that it is the elaboration that scares me—just the thought of the undertaking exhausts me. Because what is the point, beyond this admittedly matter-of-fact need for it? To what end? All that risk and vulnerability for diddly-squat, yes? Say I like a book. Say I found myself in it. Say I believe in this book’s definitions so much, I copy it out by hand and send bits and pieces of it out into the world—who can’t quite comprehend it the “right” way, who aren’t (understandably) as struck by it as I am. Here, then, the need to explain one’s self. To say why I cried at an endless paragraph, to say how I was thrown back to being seventeen and breathless. To be reminded of a hunger, or a closely held sadness, or a loneliness. To write a sentence that turns longing into something more tangible—to insist that no one is this paragraph the way I have been—am!—this paragraph. To explain the why and how of loving a book, of being struck alive by it, of despairing for one’s self because of it. To defend all of this. To estrange one’s self enough from that new love—yet still have enough mired in it—and be able to explain to someone who’s halfway willing to give you the time of day. And, there. After all that reaching beyond one’s self—who will listen? Who will fucking care? (Is that it—is it this petty? Does the audience’s fickleness petrify you? Is that all, Sasha? Do you forget who you are?)

I’ve been relying on oblique definitions too much lately—the defining needs to be done, apparently—to the point that I imagine myself fragments and puzzles too much of a bother to make more whole, to piece together. (And who will bother but me, anyway; I believe that only I hold the code.) Any possible response to these is a distant hope, which is probably why I keep being taken aback by casual attention. (Stop disarming me, Internet.) What does a series of posts on the grayness of the sea and sky mean? Why have I been typing out passages about a girl who wants to turn into paper so she could set herself on fire? What are all these other selves? And does anyone understand that is what they’re supposed to be?

But. Who the fuck cares, Sasha. (I loathe this navel-gazing version of me, when it’s done right here, out in the open.) (Do you forget who you are, love.) But who the fuck cares, yes? We just keep talking to the aether, because we must. You read, and you get torn, and you get pieced back together, and you write about it, and you keep churning that out—towards a definition, or an approximation of an understanding. Who the fuck cares if no one fucking cares. I’m running out of steam, too, so it’s best to end on a derpy millennial note.

I’m tired. I’ve indulged myself enough. I’m too young, the world insists, and I’m full of myself—brimming with it—and I’m just really fucking tired. And tomorrow, I still have to save the cheerleader, save the world.

So, Aether. Right now, I’m reading The Silkworm, the second Robert Galbraith book. It was a relief, frankly, surrendering to plot, and it’s a nice calm joy reuniting with Cormoran Strike. And I’ve been to the bookstore—terrible phrase, that, lately—and have picked up the new Rainbow Rowell; I’d been waiting for Landline ever since I heard it was coming out. Once I throw this out there, I’m going back to the bookstore to pick up the Leslie Jamison that has my name on it. There’s a night of sleeplessness to look forward to. So. So.

Be good, Aether. Be brave, be kind.

16 thoughts on “The cost of this

  1. I found this totally absorbing, Sasha, and very moving. All the stuff we can feel about books and why they move us and mean things to us, and how they help us see what we are, and what we want to be. This is all a complex, mixed-up blend, and in think it’s perfectly reasonable to feel the weight and confusion of that. The fact that it’s so real and important feels like the reason it’s so hard to express. But I think you have done that beautifully.

  2. “I write to become someone other than who I am.” – Foucault

    “Don’t ask me to remain the same.” – Foucault

    I don’t think you will understand why you are doing what you are doing for decades.

    In Cloud Atlas Sonmi -451 says, “You do what you cannot not do.”

    And when you don’t want to do it anymore you will stop. No anguish.

  3. I experienced something similar. I refer to what I felt in my early twenties as a “late onset of teenage angst”. I don’t know what got me out of it. I think I just got tired of indulging myself in guilt. It’s a bottomless pit. I stopped caring, and this make me realize I didn’t matter. Realizing that I didn’t matter made me feel relief.

    It’s like when you look out of the window of an airplane during landing. You see houses and little cars dotting highways. People aren’t even visible. When you live your life, you are one of those people not visible from a plane. Isn’t that wonderful? It’s just an experience. The meaning doesn’t matter, because you can make it up yourself.

  4. We can be surrounded by people, yet still feel alone in the crowd. Life can be difficult, and connecting with people even harder. Books are a release from this. They give us a way to connect with someone, even if they are fictional. They can help teach us about ourselves, and experience the emotions we try to hard to avoid in real life. The best bit – they don’t judge us. We are invited to view their lives,and learn from their mistakes. As a teenager, I couldn’t stop reading. My life suddenly became too much to cope with (I started suffering from Bipolar depression), and people didn’t interest me. For years I escaped into a world other than mine. Several years later, I have a family of nine, so don’t get to escape as much as I would like. My ways of coping have developed, and now I write instead. Everything I feel will somehow make it into the story, and I make my characters suffer in the way I don’t want to.

    We might well be insignificant in the big scheme of things, but the situations we experience, and the way in which it impacts upon us are real and significant to us, even if the person next to us appears not to care.

  5. I think everyone goes through something similar. I know that I’ve gone through the same thing a *few* times. I think what helped me was to stop putting pressure on myself and to just do whatever I was called to do.

    -Also, you’re writing style totally reminds me of Virginia Woolfe

  6. Wow I loved this blogpost. Your descriptions were so specific but extremely relatable. I appreciate your love for books and the significance of writing!

  7. Just stumbled upon your blog and this is the first article (of many more to come in the future) that I’ve read from you. How refreshing and am touched by your intense thoughts around books and writing about them. I don’t think we need to justify why we like a book, are touched by it, relate to a character’s struggle or a particular passage, etc.

    Unlike you, I struggle with ‘openness’ and ‘restraint’ comes much more readily to me. Sometimes I end up trying too hard to be factual or correct that I forget how the book made me feel or the thoughts it evoked in the first place!


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