paper books

I was recently offered boxes of books.  Specifically they were boxes of books from my childhood, teen years, and twenties.  These books have resided in boxes at my parents’ house through a couple of moves, so not only are the books old, they are well-traveled.  My primary concern with taking ownership of long-abandoned boxes of books hinges largely on the the lack of bookshelf space for them.  Over the past half decade plus I have built a space for books in my life which centers on the idea that the vast majority of my books will either live on the Web (which in this case means almost always Amazon’s Kindle, but increasingly may be also Amazon’s Audible or even Google Play Books), or they will live in my local library, where I can retrieve the physical book or the ebook on demand.  I have bought physical books for only one reason in recent years – because I read the ebook or listened to the audiobook and then decided I wanted to share it with others.  My bookshelves have no book more recent than 10+ years ago, and mostly center around a few favorites I find hard to dispose of, ranging from the sublime (Gibran, Vonnegut) to the ridiculous but sentimental (Battlefield Earth – ignore the movie, the book is EVERYTHING good about sci-fi).

You get the idea…lots of paper books…

I personally have a tough time with paper books because it’s so much more convenient to have them as e-books, AND I have a library, AND I have no bookshelf space. 

I was watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix (yes, I am one of THOSE people). I had read her book but seeing it in practice was much more impactful. Pull all your “stuff” into a pile and then one by one decide if it “brings you joy” and if not, discard it. I thought that sounded quite hokey and new-age-y but then I thought about it and realized that’s probably true, and the reactions of the people on the show just reconfirmed that. It’s much like what I imagine “death cleaning” (another trendy concept recently) to be – a general sloughing off of possessions as if you had died. Now, there is the model where you, as a pharaoh, collect all this stuff and put it in the tomb with you. However, we are not pharaohs (at least I am not, maybe you have higher aspirations than I do) and do not have an endless storage space, so anything that’s not going to improve your life by owning it is probably pointless. Sadly this is 99% of the books I own – most of which I never intend to read again. It is too bad there is no wholesale way to pull your books from paper into digital ownership somehow. Amazon has a program to do so with some books but it is just cut rates, not free.

It’s hard! The yin and yang of “keep it in case someday because frugal and reduce/reuse/recycle” vs “well, this is just gathering dust and making my life about the maintenance of THINGS rather than living” is a hard call. I struggle with it and have no coherent set of personal rules for it. Sadly.  But I do know that I have seldom regretted moving towards less.

journals

I have kept a journal on an irregular basis since I was about 10 years old.  I don’t claim any sort of amazing foresight or discipline in doing this.  I’d attribute it mainly to the fact that I talk a lot but can also (sometimes) recognize when I’ve finally worn my listeners out.  I probably turned at age 10 to writing in a journal to spill out the REST of my thoughts.  Whether that lessened my verbal output is doubtful, but on and off I’ve kept it up over the years and that has provided a lot of insight as I flounder through middle age.

Journalling, along with meditation, appear to the be the trendy ‘mindfulness’ activities circa 2018-19.  It’s clear that taking some time for SELF reflection in the era of social media has value.  I can’t tell you where I heard the idea that Facebook is everyone’s highlight reel first, but that’s it – it forces an artificial positivity to writing, which doesn’t allow for examination of failures and sadnesses.  Sure, people will mention their cat died or that they felt crummy, but typically you won’t wrestle with purpose or mortality on Facebook.  Journaling and meditation let you do that.  If you begin to write with the idea that no-one – not friends, not family, maybe not even you – will ever read it, it’s freeing.  I am always surprised what ends up on the page.

I wrote on paper for 10 years.  At one point, I was using an Excel spreadsheet, believe it or not.  Now I use an app, although I wonder if that’s ideal, since it FEELS a lot like posting on Twitter or Facebook.  But the idea, regardless of the medium, is that each day I try to make a brief summary of the activities of the day and how I felt about those activities.  It’s not that easy.  Pick up a piece of paper write now, and write a few sentences describing your day and how you felt.  I find that the overwhelming feeling is usually “eh, OK” or whatever you’d like to call that emotion.  Oscar Wilde says it this way:  “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”  Journalling can point to the fact that you are, in fact, just existing.  I struggle to write on the days I simply exist.  I would argue this is the greatest single reason to journal – to separate the transcendent from the mundane, in an honest fashion, in a way that writing on social media cannot.  This blog post is almost like a public journal entry in that I could not have told you that’s where I would end up in a post talking about the benefits of journaling, but here I am.  Writing allows you to put a filter on your experience, and to use that filter to determine when you are alive.  But that filter is harder to expose in public.  My advice?  Pick up a blank notebook and write down how you feel right now, and see where that leads.