Monday, April 20, 2020
In her book The Art of Extreme Self Care, Cheryl Richardson tells the story of how she uncovered a long-buried passion in a department store. She admired a smartly tailored hat but decided it was far too expensive to buy. Yet for weeks after that, she kept thinking about it. One day she went to have another look and discovered the price had been reduced.
So she stared at her new hat, which was nice but not amazing, and wondered why it had been so compelling. Then it hit her with force that it was stirring a buried passion from her teens, when she was crazy about creating lovely outfits with smart matching apparel. She challenged us readers to resurrect some passion we'd discarded over time, in the interest of growing up and moving on.
Well, I'd recently given mine a new lease of life, and didn't have to ponder at all. It's reading and discussing classics and famous books. Once long ago I'd dreamed of devoting my life to them, and maybe even becoming an English professor or some such smart person. Alas, four years of studying an English major at Uni cut me down to size. I realised the folk at the top were in a way different league to me when it came to reading. The depth of analysis we were expected to engage in, discussing the ins and outs of feminism, racism and many other isms were poles apart from my desire to simply dream up new scenarios for my favourite characters. All the long words with which we were expected to deconstruct themes and deduce possible unconscious author intentions seemed to wring every bit of magic and happiness out of it for me.
I finished the course, but went in hyped up and confident after doing very well at High School, and came out feeling like the runtiest ant in the mound. I remember deciding I'd been deluded, and only imagined I ever wanted to study books, because I obviously couldn't give them the polished focus they evidently deserved. I simply wasn't cut from the right cloth. I wasn't smart enough.
Well, fast forward a few decades. I'd been homeschooling my kids, writing some novels of my own and reading plenty of others. Then one day I pulled a couple of classics off my shelves and found I had a lot of feeling for the characters within the pages. It renewed a love of visiting second-hand bookshops for that cool adrenaline rush when I get my hands on famous and celebrated books from long-ago. But I'd turned a corner. At this stage they were no longer part of any lofty ambition. I just want to read and discuss them because they're so much fun.
In early 2017 my dad died. I've been thinking a lot about how fast his few decades of retirement flew, and how he spent time doing plenty of what he loved, including gardening, hiking and watching TV. I've reached an age where I'm fully aware that the years ahead are limited for all of us. So putting aside time for reading is vital not because I'm significant enough to make a major contribution, but because it's an excellent treat I look forward to. I'm sure that great books also provide us with lofty company and tools to put our own lives into perspective in the light of well-known characters, but those are just bonuses after the tremendous enjoyment.
This blog is here to honour that enthusiastic part of myself, as Cheryl Richardson suggested. Up above is a photo of me aged 20, visiting Highgate Cemetery in England. Many famous folk are buried there, but I was hunting specifically for the tombstone of one of my favourite authors, George Eliot, aka Mary Ann Evans. She wrote some of my favourite classics, including Middlemarch.
I was stoked to find the grave, especially when I remembered the famous final paragraph of her masterpiece. Discussing her heroine Dorothea Brooke, Eliot wrote, 'Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.'
Well, George Eliot's own tomb isn't unvisited, but I certainly had it all to myself that morning, as a kid pilgrim all the way from Australia. And the memorial from my past reinforces how deep and long my passion flows. (I'm even wearing my Adelaide Uni windcheater, as I'd taken a semester long break from those interesting but disillusioning days I mentioned.) All these years later I'm taking it as a sign that I was on the right track, and that life is more to do with paying homage to the brilliant than aspiring to be anything out of the box myself.
I guess anyone who enjoys visiting my blog might have a similar passion for reading, but is there anything else that does it for you, or had to be excavated?