I have a large collection of books on a wide variety of subjects: novels, history, plays, poetry, essays, self-help, philosophy, short stories, memoirs, religion, visual arts... You name it and I probably have something to represent it. I began collecting books by keeping the ones that I read for high school. Books by Hemingway, Freud, Maya Angelou, Shakespeare and many others. In college my book collection expanded even more and covered a greater depth of subject matter and I began buying books for the pleasure of it instead of only for classes I needed to pass. I read a lot and enjoyed myself; I wrote interesting papers and discussed what I read with my boyfriend. After college I continued to read and collect books.
There were two lulls in my reading career, one was when I was with my alcoholic and unfortunately abusive boyfriend and the other was after I became acutely psychotic with schizophrenia. Both times abuse, one external and one internal, stopped me from settling into a good book. Once I entered into recovery from the most dire aspects of my illness, I, once again, reached out to the book, but I didn't commit to daily reading. Now within the last 2 months, 12 years after I became acutely psychotic, I am back to daily reading and daily writing. The writers I've read who have written about the writing process generally agree: if you want to learn how to write, you have to read. So I picked out books to look through from my library and brought them into the living room just by the couch (which is where I sleep and work when I am upstairs). I would read one book and the author would refer to another author; I would get curious and look to see if I had any writing by that newly referred to author. Often I did and so I'd carry the book into the living room to be closer to me as I worked. Within a week of doing this, the piles of books increased and spread, some that I had wanted to read getting lost under a new group.
With the proliferation of choices of what to read I developed "reading anxiety". Every time I woke up from a long sleep, often restless due to pressing and strange dreams, I would look around and see books. Though I kept certain key books in view (books on writing, several memoirs, short short stories and a book or two on feminism...) they and all the other books were not organized. I remember when I was acutely ill, I would go from one book to another reading little snippets trying to find some kind of guidance for this mental upheaval in my life. How lost I got! To the point where I stopped turning to books for any length of time. But now I am no longer acutely ill, but still my illness leaves me this anxiety about setting priorities and making choices.
After surviving the judgmental nature of my voices, I learned that I had indeed made many bad choices in my life. I had hurt myself, my family and my abused and abusive lover. I began to see that the choices I made went to form the life I lived. Poor choices (and bad karma) pulled me into more poor choices, until I scraped the bottom. At the bottom I looked into my own mortality and decided I wanted to fight to live. The first time that happened I had to reject my lover and the second time that happened I had to reject my delusions and take my medications. After each crisis and partial resolution, I have been left with myself and with a new set of choices. Invariably I wound up wandering from one thing to another. I dabbled, but did not commit.
So seven weeks ago I chose to return to daily reading and writing. Several weeks into it I set a goal -- to stick to this routine for 12 months and not return seriously to painting or songwriting. Next week will be my 2 month mark and it's an important one because it is usually around that time that I shift my focus. This time I will not. But still I have the anxiety over what to concentrate on each day. I have dipped into feminism, existentialism, US history, into memoirs, essays, prose-poems, flash and sudden fiction (which are short, short stories), and so much more. And I've been writing down memories for my memoir, poems and prose-poems, the beginnings of several short stories. As usual, I am going in many directions at once, tasting, testing, letting new or revisited ideas sink into my unconscious and then re-emerge into my writing. What I'm learning is that writing, with the intention of writing at least one book, is all about being willing to go into a mysterious creative process. The process requires a certain amount of surrender. I tell myself when I don't want to write -- Just Do It! Write anything, but commit!
I am commitment shy with my work and with my friendships, afraid of intimacy and potential revelation, but this makes me feel ill, depressed and anxious. I am in the process, I am surrendering, but it will be uncomfortable for a while till I grow my roots. Each day I face my discomfort and I make decisions. Fall will shift into winter and I will have months and months of time alone in my house with my books and my writing schedule. The more time I put into it, the more material I will have to work with, especially by the end of a year's apprenticeship. The deeper I go into the process of gathering and growing words on a page, the clearer I believe my sense of direction will be, the less the anxiety, the greater the sense of purpose. I do believe, but only time will tell.