One Halloween long ago, maybe ten years, I was telling a friend that when I was a kid, I had no trouble with self-control when it came to candy. The treats I got on Halloween would last until Easter, if not longer. However, I lamented, those days of self-control were long gone.
Since the advent a few years ago of the beautiful activity known as binge-watching, I have been a devoted fan and addict. Why wait a week between episodes of a show, when you can get the whole storyline in a few days?
In the last year, I have added reading to my (albeit very short) list of hobbies. Over the years, I’ve had stretches of time to read, like when I would commute to work by bus. But mostly, it hasn’t been a major presence in my life. I consciously wanted to change that, feeling that I was being too consumed by the on-demand, information-less list-icle online culture.
Funnily enough, one of my favorite things to read about is culture. Over the past two weeks, I have been reading my way through Brigid Schulte’s fantastic Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play When No One Has the Time (a book I began to read a couple of years ago but didn’t finish because I didn’t have the time.) When I read, I usually do so in fragments, when Sonja is otherwise occupied for five minutes, and I don’t want to do the dishes or whatever other chore is staring me in the face. Since I work in the evenings, I try to get up before her in the morning and read for 20-30 minutes, but most days it doesn’t work out that way. I sometimes get upset that I don’t get more time to read in pleasant, daylight-filled uninterrupted stretches of time, which is the entire point of Schulte’s book. Before I started reading this book, I read a short novel that I breezed through in a couple of days. I started to become upset that I couldn’t finish this much denser, much longer book in that amount of time. And something about that thought in combination with the content of Overwhelmed made me realize I have fallen victim to the culture of bingeing. I was overlooking the fact that I was enjoying the time I was spending reading this book, far more than the little novel I read, because I couldn’t binge it fast enough.
Here’s what I think about that: finishing a book, or a season of a show, feels like an accomplishment. I’ve actually made it to the end, I can close the cover, hit the power button, check it off my list. And there is so very little these days that I can finish. I am interrupted a thousand times a day. Something as simple as paying bills, which should take five minutes, must sometimes be abandoned half-way through, picked up again either late in the night or when the nice people at the water company remind me they haven’t been paid. For Pete’s sake, I don’t even put my legs under the table when I sit down to dinner because I know I’m going to have to get up fifty times before the meal is over.
So finishing a book is like completing a thought. How novel – pun intended. I don’t suffer from the overwhelm as much as some of the people Schulte describes. I work part-time and I have the help of dual sets of grandparents. But the pressure I feel and put on myself to do everything and be perfect is real, and overwhelming. I tend to self-sacrifice instead of trying to find leisure time, because what would I do with the time if I had it? Oh Lord, I’d probably just screw it up. Or worse yet, I’d write a blog.