I’ve had a distressing epiphany.
Although as I’ve previously explained, my brain – which used to be a fine powerful tool – now works as slowly as Eskom doing upgrades. So “epiphany” is a strong word for what was a slow process.
To take a step back, about 6 weeks ago I stopped reading during the week. Now I am a reading addict – I chain read, I read anything rather than nothing, I’d rather read the small print on my deodorant than not read at all – but I realised that I needed writing time, and that if I stopped reading I could use that half an hour before I fall asleep to write.
In other news, I have recently been feeling a bit more in control of the whole parenting thing. I seem to be losing my temper less and controlling my children’s moods better.
So last night, I’m lying in the bath – the place that I used to do so much reading but now I stare at my toes and wonder about life and try to pretend that I am planning my writing – and these totally unrelated things are bashing about in my brain: I read less; I parent better; need a pedi; reading less; good children; miss reading; calmer with children; terrible toes. That’s how it sounds in my brain, when suddenly: Kerbang! Oh holy shit – I think I might be a better parent BECAUSE I’m reading less.
Now let’s take another step back (we’re almost backed against a wall now, aren’t we?) Do you remember a few paragraphs ago I told you that I was a reading addict? (If you don’t remember, you’ve got your own problems and should probably stop reading this and sort them out.) Now, when I said I was a reading addict, did any of you gasp at my brave revelation or consider staging an intervention? I doubt it. Because for some reason we think that reading is an inherently moral occupation. When someone says, “I read for 5 hours a day if I can” we think that it’s marvellous and aren’t they lucky and maybe a bit of an intellectual show off. But if someone says they play computer games for 5 hours a day or watch TV for 5 hours a day, we are all a bit horrified and think maybe they need to relook at that. And we say things like “Well at least Fifty Shades of Grey has got people reading”, like the act of reading is somehow morally superior. No-one says, “At least Idols has got people watching tv”.
Well, I’m not so convinced reading is any different from tv or computer games or anything else that takes your time up. It’s all about escapism, after all. And the problem is, when I have a book on the go – which I ALWAYS used to have – part of my brain is always looking for a way back to that other world. Being with my children or friends or husband is always competing with that underlying desire to Get Back To My Book. But now that I am reading less, I am arguably more present in my life. Like any other addict who kicks the habit. So maybe – and I am very, very, very open to contradiction – but maybe I’m a better parent BECAUSE I’m reading less.
Listen, don’t get me wrong, I have no plans to give up reading full stop. I am the person I am because I read widely, and there is no doubt it has enriched my language and spelling and knowledge of life. But I think that maybe the time has come for me at least to stop thinking that my nose in a book is somehow more defensible than my nose in an iPad or an Xbox or a line of coke. Because the ultimate effect is the same. . . I’m removed from reality.