Several months ago I began writing a post which I never finished. Today, I feel inspired to re-write it.
In December 2018, I decided that motivation, as a force, never shows up when I need it. It is, of course, remarkably present when it's time for me to go to sleep or when I log into Netflix. This being so I can binge a series that I would have no interest in watching if I did not have work to do.
It is an oddly specific problem which I think nearly everyone has.
So after my realisation that motivation was not on my side, I decided that I would force myself to start reading again. For reasons which are too complicated to address today, I stopped reading for quite a long time. As someone whose identity was summed up consistently as "bookworm", this was a weirdly disorientating thing for me to do. Upon arriving at my undergraduate induction, I did not feel particularly well-read. By this, I mean that the last things I had read were children's and teenage literature, and some Danielle Steel novels. Thirteen-year-old-me sobbed uncontrollably over rich middle-aged people getting divorced.
Turning up to studying for my degree in English Language and Literature was daunting because evidently I had never read any 'classic' literature. I hadn't even heard of some of the authors. I have no doubt that this is true for most new undergraduates, but I felt especially alone and behind. I felt I was amongst true academics who would eventually find me out. The abstract, giant shadows of these novels convinced me that, un-read, they were the reason I was feeling so unaccomplished.
Perhaps it will comfort those of you who are just embarking on your degree that I still feel like that now. I've read Dracula and Frankenstein and other "classics". I've carried out independent, academic research. I'm teaching undergraduates myself as a graduate teacher. Despite all of this progress that past-me would be in awe of, I still feel very much like an academic imposter. Someone is going to find out I don't know what I'm doing! But it turns out that I did not need to have read every classic novel by the age of eighteen to be worthy of my degree, and neither do you. Not only will there be ample opportunity to read these novels during your study, but you will hopefully come to the same realisation that I have. Some of them are brilliant, some of them not-so-much, and none of them are worth feeling paralysed over. At this point, I'm not sure we are entirely sure about what "classics" really means. There are the culturally ingrained ones (see above), but there is certainly always the argument of subjectivity. I know incredibly successful academics who dislike the work of Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens, and others who are bewildered by Austenmania.
The point I am trying to make is don't feel pressured to be a stereotypical academic. You can be an academic and exclusively study an area of your interest. You need only read what you want to read (and what's on your required reading list if you're a student, I'M SORRY). Although we must also remember the huge importance of reading texts you hate, texts that you might feel are objectively terrible, and texts you would never normally pick up. There is a lot of interesting insight to be gained by reading your literary hell. I think my real point is that not having read particular books does not contradict your identity as a reader, as a student, as an academic, as a teacher or as a person with valuable contributions. There is something terrifying about a mountain of books we feel its absolutely necessary for us to have read, and if you really feel that you need to check some off the list, don't wait for motivation! Motivation will not come and save you from book-mountain-related paralysis!
Since my decision in December 2018, thirteen books have been read. This might not seem like a lot, but it's a large step for me in finding time and concentration for reading. One of the books I decided to pick up was inspired by my own book-mountain-paralysis (read: don't die before you read this!): 1984 - George Orwell. The most wonderful thing about finally reading a book with a repuation like this is that you realise it is not the huge undertaking you imagined it to be...and you finally understand a lot more pop-culture references.
In the middle of all of this, though, I made a connection which I did not expect to make. I felt a strong reaction to the quote which reads;
"Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes".
As someone with chronic pain, physical pain is never far away. I am in pain every single day to some degree. Sometimes it's so faint that I can distract myself and nearly forget about it. Other days it is at the forefront of my attention and there is nothing I would not do to take it away.
I know there are so many people out there who are experiencing their own pain, and so many who share the unusual, frustrating and so-awful-I-need-to-laugh-experience of having migraines. Needing to laugh because they are so awful might sound strange, but when you dramatically flee goalkeeper-style from anyone spraying perfume, you gotta laugh.When you find that the nausea and flashing lights only cease when you bend at an exact right-angle, so you walk around like that all day and your mom catches you emerging from the bathroom hunched over and grunting, you gotta laugh. When you're hanging out a car window, vomiting, wearing obnoxious yellow glasses and a bright purple ice-pack-hat on your head and you stop at traffic lights and you're valliantly ignoring everyone in the car beside you, you just gotta laugh.
In the face of pain, there are no heroes. Nothing and nobody in the world exists that can instantly take it away. However, George Orwell reminded me that I am not alone, and I don't know how soon another reminder of that kind would have come along.
It's okay if you put down the books, but take comfort in knowing that there might be something there waiting for you if you decide to pick them back up.
Take care saplings x