Teaching in a sense can ruin reading. Skills meticulously and painstakingly practiced in grad school, talents not just required but supposedly branded into the soul, are unwittingly let loose, unraveled, and undone when we’re forced to crunch through two foot piles of essays, race through meeting minutes, cram for class preparation, and skim during development workshops. Muscles atrophy, focus gets skewed, and the zeal that led us on our journey seems to evaporate when we turn to our own reading and writing. We become as careless as the students who we’re trying to instill good reading habits, and reading turns to just that, a habit, rather than an art, when in truth it is as much a sport as it is as a craft. It takes time, discipline, and perpetual practice. Honing the talent is a life-long endeavor.
Yet, has there ever been a time when so many multiverses amassed for our reading pleasure? We are immersed in reading it seems now more than ever. We carry global libraries in our pocket.
With spring semester slowly retracting its claws, summer leaves us space and some energy to linger with this past love, the passion that we thought we couldn’t live without but somehow like any marriage began to think of more as a chore, a duty and obligation rather than a devotion we willingly sacrificed ourselves to. Its the extreme seasons when we have time to consider and test our skill. We turn inward. Winter and summer are our reading marathons; autumn and spring we sprint, jump hurdles, and circle round the track.
We read essentially to get us closer, to immerse ourselves wholly and irretrievably in the present, and the present is always evading us, especially as we read. We lose ourselves in another time, jumping bodies and borders to experience something that was previously unimaginable to our senses. Though we read to be present, we are divorced from the moment in the act, holding faith that the minute we put down the book, tablet, phone, magazine, or newspaper, our senses will be sharpened, vision trained, fingers nimbled. After the transitory split comes a union more sacred.
We have as many ways of reading as we have of writing. Consider all the different means of
unpacking words, loosening the chain of sentences and circling around paragraphs to see how their architecture holds meaning, creates place, captures light, or corners darkness. We read to learn, to educate ourselves and others. We read to fill in the gaps and discover how endlessly new gaps keep cropping up. We read for direction, instruction, and guidance, trying to decipher not just what to do, and how to do it, but also what not to do. Some of us are trying to hone a keenness to read for gender, class, sexuality, culture, economics, and untangle the historicity of multiple narratives that collide, corroborate, conflict and contest. We read to look backwards and forwards, sideways, and inside out.
As story-writers we read for plot, deconstructing a tale as if it were a crime, picking apart the anatomy of a novel, giving the main characters each an autopsy to track their motivations and reactions. We also learn how to read critiques and learn to read for critiques.
We can only read so far as we know. As with any individual body and mind, there is a limit to how far the muscles can stretch. In this case, its good to know what exercises the reading mind is training for. It is entirely dependent on time. How we experience reading is how we experience time. The more divvied up, the greater the exploit. Granted vast swathes of hours, days, and even weeks, words no longer are just signifiers to us. We see beyond them. They are brush strokes and the page before us a canvas, a symphony, a series of frames that comprise a composition in which we are collaborators and c0-conspirators.
Writing is as much about reading as it is writing. They are joined at the hip. One cannot be a writer without being a reader. Writer-reader. Reader-writer. As May slips by and warms into June, we consider how we read not just our own work but others to inform, inspire, and influence. How do we read life experience? Other people? A walk down the street? How do we read ourselves? The person sitting across the dinner table from us?
This bright hot season annually arouses the senses and begs for the body to challenge itself. Which reading muscles do you plan to flex and with which books, stories, poems, essays, and authors? What are the different ways and means you read, and how do you experience time with words?
More on this forthcoming…