Around noon today I became quite dizzy. It could have been several things, I thought: the late Friday night, the cruel workout I'd put myself through the previous afternoon, the sugariness of the grapefruit blackberry pear juice I'd just drank, the coffee I'd washed it down with-- but the dizziness persisted. Now it's nine-thirty at night and I still haven't quite shaken it. My concerns grew larger as the time went by. My sister gets terrible vertigo, and I worried that I had it, too. Eventually I started to worry that it would just never go away. Though I knew I was probably just tired or have a slight ear infection or something, I found myself unsure of what to do with myself for the day. I'd had big plans (as always).
Being dizzy is a strange little symptom. It's hard to admit that there's really anything wrong, as you are yourself, but just off-kilter. By that definition I have been mentally dizzy for years now, asking myself silly adolescent questions like "If I'm not being the person I wanted to be, am I still me?" Sometimes I look at pictures of myself and am shocked by how much I do not look like my mental self-image. Sometimes I reflect on my own behavior and don't recognize myself. And sometimes I say the words "I live in Connecticut" and feel very distant from this little story I've quietly held onto in my heart for years.
In order to fend off mental dizziness, I've taken goal-setting to ridiculous lengths. Today I had nothing planned, but my "day off" was to include rigorous writing, calisthenics, closet-cleaning, to-do-list checking, email-answering, complex cooking, and peppy socializing. I do not easily admit defeat, but I just could not do any of these tasks. I wandered the apartment for a little while, halfheartedly sharpening some knives with a new sharpener I just bought. (Probably not a great idea to do while dizzy, in retrospect.) Around two I gave up on the entire day and decided to just read.
I have a stack of ten books that I'm one-third to halfway through. They are (in order of when I started them):
The Life and Death of Great American Cities, nonfiction book about urban planning and what cities are all about. Read 126 of 448 pages back in August. Completely amazing book but too meaty to sit down with for hours, so I petered out.
The Book of Ebeneezer La Page, a novel about a man's life on Guernsey, which, after reading 80 pages, was already obviously amazing. I have no idea why I stopped reading it.
Midnight's Children, modern Indian fiction my Salman Rushdie. Started for a book club and never finished it; really dense with details, and you can't just snatch up a couple paragraphs in 20 minutes-- it takes a real time commitment to know what's going on. Read 194 pages, entirely on trains back and forth to New York.
The Lost Sailors, translated French novel about sailors stuck in Marseilles. Started it on the plane ride home from Greece. My Athens - Istanbul ticket was still tucked in page 71, and the two main characters are Turkish and Greek, which I thought was neat.
Dinner with Persephone, a traveloge about a year in Greece. Started when I got back.
A Literary Companion to Travel in Greece, Greek poems, essays, etc, which I was not reading in a linear fashion.
A Dance with Dragons It was such a pleasure reading these George R. R. Martin books that I got really sad that it would be over, so I intentionally stopped reading it for a while, in order to savor. I'm 463 pages in out of 959.
Steve Jobs I got totally derailed by this book over Christmas break-- read 277 pages (total 571) of my brother's copy. This is an excellent read and I just ordered myself my own copy.
Mockingjay After seeing the trailer for The Hunger Games, I got really excited and re-read all three books, stopping about 100 pages before the end of the third because I felt guilty for re-reading when I should be dealing with the rest of the pile.
The Chairs are Where the People Go Reading this for another sort of book club with a couple of friends. Transcribed monologues about self-help, modern philosophy, and (surprise to me!) improv. I just started it yesterday and I'd read about 40 pages so far.
So that's about as clear a picture of my reading life as you're every going to get: three novels (none of them American), one biography, one travelogue, one book of poems and criticism, one book of essays, one treatise on urban planning, one young adult dystopian novel, and one book in a series about dragons. All about halfway done.
My dizzy brain and I gathered all of these books together and arranged them in a stack. I crawled onto the couch and started reading.
My brain goes into a special place when I read. As a child I trained myself to read in the car without feeling carsick-- it took a lot of work but turned out to be an amazing boon for all of the traveling I've done. Nothing makes me feel as calm and steady as reading a book. Every hour or so I'd get up and think "yup, still dizzy" and then return to the bookmark.
Today I read all day and finished Mockingjay, The Chairs are Where the People Go, and the Lost Sailors. By my estimation I have 2,400 more pages to read in this stack. When I'm done, there will be only two kinds of books in my house: read or not read. No more fits and starts. No more simultaneously being a person who reads, and a person who doesn't finish what she's reading. I will steady myself on these books. It was a very quiet day: no movies, no music, very few interactions with other human beings. Mainly just reading.
I'm already beginning to feel better.