I am an avid book collector. I adore words and I adore the floating among words and books. I gather and I poke through them, gathering research and words put together in patterns that makes me stop. Or makes me rush through like a banshee. I am obsessed with libraries and bookstores and bookshelves in other people’s homes. I touch the spines and pull books from shelves and tickle the pages with fingertips as I read words. I silently judge teachers that don’t have large book collections in their classrooms (sorry), and I see a love of reading as the #1 MOST important thing I can pass on to my students.
It has been a struggle for me to read books made of paper and glue and thread. I have continued to collect them and want to read their every hidden lesson, but I have not been able to FOCUS enough to read a book from cover to cover. In, honestly, probably a few years. In addition to the focus issue, I have been having a hard time actually seeing print. I realized this was a critical issue for my reading, and got myself a lamp for my bedside and for my couchside so I can read and actually see.what.I.want.to.read. It has changed things significantly.
I have listened to dozens and dozens of books. I throw no shade on the reading of books that are read to me, and do not see it as something “less than” to listen to an amazing book on read to you. I especially love listening to books that are read by the author. There is something different that happens to a reader when they hold a book in their hands and pause over the way the words were written on a page. The words become part of you in a different way. This is why I own the audio and print version of so.many.books. I listened to them first and then had to read the parts that really grabbed me. Some books I own digitally, on audio and on print. They got to me that much I had to be able to interact with them in all ways possible.
This book reversed my trajectory. Written by Jedidiah Jenkins, it is a collection of his thoughts on ego, family, home, friendship, love, work, death and soul. It is not a treatise or a how-to or a self-help book. It is a memoir filled with wisdom. I dog eared pages as I read and I read this book with a fervour I have not experienced in a long time. I simply could not stop reading it. I read this book yesterday and today, and now it is done. This was the first time in a long time that a book grabbed on to me so much that all I wanted to do was spend time with it. There were so many poetic and sharp explorations on life and thought it caught me, hard.
Take, for example, this metaphor of water as ego:
Water falls as snow on the mountains. As a trillion tiny bits without memory. The love of the sun transforms the snow. They melt and feel one urgency: gravity. They did not learn this. It is just mysteriously ever present. The stream starts small, a clear trickle. Uncluttered with the confusion of sediment or history, it rolls over rocks and joins with other newborn streams and widens. The beginning of a lifetime of widening.
On its way down the mountain the stream becomes the creek. It collects soil and memories. It flattens a bit. It meets farms and bridges and other confusing things.
It joins with other creeks and becomes a river. It is brown now with soil and experience and runoff and living. It runs slower, no longer in a hurry. Muddy with patience, yet always feeling that pull, toward somewhere it is certain exists, but has never seen.-Jedidiah Jenkins, Like Streams to the Ocean
I feel like this book showed up for me, on a table in Barnes and Noble, at exactly the right moment. I was having a particularly challenging time about three weeks ago, and my life axis was dented and shifting. I picked up the book because the title and the picture of the mountains captured my interest, and the very first words he writes are about sometimes how he wishes he had it as “easy” as the lizard, only thoughts for basic needs and survival, none of this big human existential crap. I was hooked. I brought the book home. I moved it from coffee table to bedside to work bag to purse for a few weeks. Now on spring break I picked it up and read it until it was done. I feel like some magic happened. Some mystical understanding of myself because there is recognition in story. One other human felt like that, and I did too, and now I’m less hard on myself for my humanness.
What a gift. To see one’s self in another, to know we are not alone. That it’s ok not to be the lizard. It’s ok to have this giant brain.
What a gift.