I was always a reader.
I grew up in the serious country with a half mile long driveway and exactly no neighbors to play with. I had an outdoors enthusiast for an older brother, a little dog, and three reliable channels on TV.
I read books because they opened my world up, made it richer, and gave me places to go and things to think about. I read fast and I wasn’t picky. My parents were proud of how much I read and that made me proud of myself.
My mom took me to the used book store sometimes, where I could trade out Baby-Sitter’s Club paperbacks and Sweet Valley High books that were a little over my head. The store was dark and cluttered and full of romance novels with obscene covers. It smelled like cigarettes and heaven to me.
As much as I loved that bookstore, the downtown library was absolutely my favorite place on earth as a child. I remember the thick plastic drawstring bag my mom bought from behind the counter for 50 cents so that I could carry my baker’s dozen of chapter books back and forth every two weeks.
I probably read less after we got a satellite dish sometime in middle school. I’m sure I read a little here and there throughout high school, but I definitely wasn’t marking the seasons or defining my life by the books I was reading. My book consumption declined further when I started taking college classes at 17. I was able to keep up with my school work pretty easily but the rest of my life filled in quickly with new places to go and new people to see. The next year, I moved three hours from home for college and I don’t know that I read another book for pleasure for the next half dozen years. When I read during these years I had a goal in mind - to be better, to be right, to straighten myself out and finally achieve the kind of goodness I was sure other people already had. I read to try to find the secrets I believed everyone else already knew. Reading kind of lost it’s allure, imagine that.
And then around the time I became a mother, I got my first Iphone and Facebook became A WHOLE THING. I don’t think I picked up a book for years because it’s hard to turn pages with one hand and hold a baby with the other, but it’s really easy to hold the whole world wide web in one hand and use your thumb to access literally everything, good, bad and ugly. It’s hard to let books drag you deep down into your own heart and it is so very easy to numb every feeling and avoid every heavy thought and let that dopamine hit with every like and comment. Who would choose to dive deep into their own heart and mind when the ultimate escape from reality is always ready to receive you?
Fast forward a decade and we are living in a brand new world, where babies and toddlers have technology we couldn’t have dreamed of when my first kids were small.
It’s a lot to navigate for all of us.
It’s actually easier to manage my kids’ technological lives than it is my own. They have boundaries and structure in place to protect their minds and bodies from tech overload but I don’t. I have always been kind of a rebel, even against rules I make for myself. I don’t like anyone telling me what to do, even if that someone is myself an hour ago. I pretty much do what I want, anytime I think I can get away with it.
I had a bit of a book renaissance about two years ago after a conversation with a friend expecting her first baby. She asked for recommendations of books to read during her baby’s first year. I made a joke about her never being able to read again and what a silly question that was, which obviously really hurt her feelings. THAT really hurt my feelings and led to some serious introspection. I realized that my experience with reading books once I had kids was not necessarily universal and that my lack of reading wasn’t because I couldn’t read, but rather that I wouldn’t. Scrolling is easier, it distracts me from my life, and I think I actually had (have?) a real dependence on the escape and the superficial connections social media affords me.
I started reading again that week and it turned out I could still do it.
It was harder than before and it required me to use brainpower I hadn’t accessed in years. I still haven’t had the experience of getting lost in a book the way I used to. It still isn’t easy the way it was before I gave my phone the keys to my life but it’s getting easier. Reading is work now and it feels hard and holy. Learning how to read again has been a really good thing for me and I am finding that reading good books is critical to being a writer. If I am not consuming beauty and life and hope and joy and goodness and glory, I don’t have any of those things to offer when Thursday rolls around and it’s time to write an essay.
In my latest newsletter, I said that complaining about the weather is boring. You know what else I think is boring? Complaining about all the things I can’t do. I’m so bored of the sound of my own excuses, I’ll tell you what. B-O-R-E-D. Over it. Not entertained by myself in the least, actually.
Emily P. Freeman (a guru worth collecting, I’ll tell you what) wrote recently about her morning routine, and I think I’m going to give it a real shot. She writes in her line-a-day journal, she reads for 15 minutes, and then she sets a timer and prays til it dings.
I can do that.
I can do that instead of checking my DMs, my emails, my Twitter notifications on the way to the coffee pot. I can do that.
Ok friends, that’s what I can do.
What can you do? When you take a deep breath and let it all the way out, what do you feel down in the hollow pit of your stomach? Is there a thing in your life that is leading you away from still waters? Deep down, is there something you know you could let go of so your hands can be open and free for something lovely?
I don’t know about you, but I think my grace for being hyper-connected is running out.
I think I need some space for some soul breath.
Starting Monday, I’m giving this new morning routine a try. I’d truly love to hear from you. Would you like to jump on the bandwagon beside me? Got another small shift you know you need to make to turn your heart back toward its home? I’d love it if you’d leave a comment or send me a message and let me know what you find on your deep exhale and what you plan to do about it.
To celebrate new routines and new mornings, I’d like to do a giveaway! Make sure you are subscribed and follow on Instagram @BethanySpraginsLutz and Facebook @It’s Fine with Bethany Spragins Lutz for more details about how to win coming up this weekend.
Hint: I’m going to MAIL someone a real paper BOOK! In an envelope! IN THE REAL MAIL!