Yesterday I had brunch with some friends. One of them brought along a bag of books that he had cleaned out of his shelves and he thought might appeal to us, in the hopes that we would take them home with us, and he wouldn’t have to carry them home through the rain and up the six flights of stairs to his apartment because, you know, books weigh a lot.
There were some books in French (because he is French), a biography or two, a book on linguistics, and the two that I took: Thinking Fast and Slow, and a book called, What Should I Do with My Life?
I don’t know why I adopted these books. I mean I know why, I guess I mean that I am judging myself for adopting more books – books that I will probably never clean out of my shelves because my shelves rarely get cleaned out – books that will sit in the pile on the living room buffet or lie on top of the other books on my shelves, that don’t get read, while I read, yet again, the entire mysteries of John Appleby or Phoebe Atwood, or, yet once more, The Hobbit.
I have a fantasy that someday I’ll assemble a group of people who love reading aloud and love The Hobbit, and somehow get access to a stage and some publicity, and arrange a staged reading. We would sit on chairs, one of us Bilbo, and another Gandalf. Maybe a dedicated reader for Thorin, or maybe the dwarf-readers would also read the goblins and the wood elves and Beorn. But maybe we need someone dedicated, as well, to Smaug. We would read 2-3 hours a night, not cutting or adding like Jackson did in the movies, for night after night. The audience would come when they could. Maybe a few at first, our friends, people who had heard about it from the guy who owns the space or whatever. Then a few more. Fridays and Saturdays would probably be packed. And there would be that one guy, the hard-core fan, who comes night after night, sitting in the same seat, eyes closed, letting the pictures emerge in his imagination from our words, from Tolkein’s words. Maybe we would record it as a podcast or a radio show. It would become a quirky thing, a thing people stumble across, people who saw the movie but had never read the book, and would come to realize that there is so much more there.
Anyhow, re-reading my favorites is not getting me any closer to reading the new books that I purchased when I was supposed to be Christmas-shopping, or the ones that people have given me, or the ones that I adopted yesterday.
The one that amuses me is the one, What Should I Do With My Life. This is a recurring theme for me. Like I’m supposed to be doing more than I am doing now. More than helping the people at work become more of what they are, more than speaking about my experiences at Toastmasters, and giving people insights into the areas that I’ve amassed some knowledge on that they maybe are a little unaware of, or hadn’t thought about that way before. I feel like I’m constantly searching for the answer in books and podcasts and articles, when the answer is here already inside me, and I need to be, not looking for it so much as accepting it, embracing it, and lifting it out for people to see.
The searching is a distraction, maybe. A way of telling myself that I don’t have it yet, a way of avoiding looking at it. Like, in Good Omens (the book, not the show), where they are all searching for something that is just in front of them and they walk right past it, and can’t see it, like it has an Oort field around it (now mixing another literary reference, although I’m not sure from what book this time). In the third book of RiddleMaster of Hed, Morgan (the riddle master), climbs the Earth Master’s tower, searching for the High One. He climbs the circular stairs around and around and around again, thighs aching, expecting to find what he is searching for around every bend, only to find more stairs. Until he finally stops, stops climbing, stops searching, just stops. And then his destination comes to him. And that is sometimes what life is like: when you stop, it comes to you.
I have a friend who, several years ago, really wanted to get married. She was in a hurry because, in her family the women have a history of health problems that affect their ability to bear children. She had been dating this one guy, call him X, on and off for years. But she knew him too well, and knew all the reasons that she couldn’t marry him, all the habits that annoyed her, and all the arguments that they had over and over until they had become boring. She dated a lot of other guys, the one who she dumped because they were on a long car ride and she shared with him a story about something that she felt passionately about and then asked his opinion, and he replied, “Oh I don’t know, I wasn’t really listening. I was thinking about something else and just kind of tuned you out.” (Good decision to dump him.) And there was the guy who she really liked and, on paper, he checked all the boxes: he treated her like a queen, he had a loving family, he was fun to be with and really cared about her, etc. etc., but he lived on the West Coast – it was important that he live near his family, I think he was in the family business – and she lived on the East Coast to live near her family, which was important to her, especially if she was going to start having babies soon. She asked my opinion about how to reconcile this and I told her I didn’t really think she wanted to reconcile it: he wasn’t going to change and neither was she. Later, she asked why I didn’t think she was ever meeting The Right Guy and I told her what one of my wisest friends told me once: the Right Guy isn’t the perfect guy or someone you can make perfect; the Right Guy is the one who, you know all his annoying habits, and you accept them; although they bother you, you still love him so much that it’s worth enduring the dirty socks on the floor or whatever. A year later she married the X she had been dating off and on, and now she has several children, and is very happy.
And that is what the journey is, when you are seeking your life’s purpose, I suppose, that you are not searching for the perfect job or mission or whatever; you are looking for one that you like enough that the little annoyances seem a reasonable price for the rest of the package.
And yet I still adopted this book.