About this time four years ago, I picked up reading as a hobby. I was not much of a reader growing up. I read a few books here or there that looked interesting, but it was never something that would be referred to as a hobby. Until I graduated college, I was pretty much about video and music. Music is still great, but video games bore me now.
Anyway, back to the reading. MY hobby of reading a ton of books is no secret to those who even remotely know me as an acquaintance. Having a book on me has become ubiquitous that reading has become more of an identity than a hobby. I’m not even talking about one particular genre, series, or author. I read all kinds of book on all kinds of subjects by all kinds of people.
I hit a major milestone last weekend. I dropped a nearly vomit-inducing amount of money to be done with my student loans. I had a spreadsheet tracking spending, student loan payouts, and estimates of when I would pay everything off based on a variety of different income levels and factors. That shit was ridiculous and became an obsession. I was tooling with its last week and then I paused. I just stared into the distance for a few seconds thinking about life. I decided this shit was dumb and I went for the nuclear option. It took a few days, but I did eventually feel good about that decision.
After paying that off and becoming debt free, I started thinking about my life now versus my life four years ago. Four years ago, I was flat broke, trying to get over a devastating breakup, and not regularly employed. I didn’t really have any hobbies or friends as most of what I was used to was part of my old life with my ex-girlfriend. All those things left with her, so I had to reassemble my life by finding new friends, hobbies, and interests that were interesting to me and allowed me to craft my own identity.
Despite a massive payment that made me want to collapse, my life is so much better than it was before. Even t my lowest, four years ago, I was determined to do things my way. I didn’t take money from parents and I set out to find ways to enrich my life. I wanted to take guitar classes, but I couldn’t afford them. So, I volunteered at a music school and got classes through that. I only had about or two friends, so I went and did stuff to meet more people and grow connections with them. It was a lot of work. Sometimes it felt forced, but I think that was more due to my intensity and tenacity. But, it was truly organic.
My hobby for reading developed during this time. A polar vortex hit Chicago, so it was too cold to wander around outside. I didn’t have a TV because I got rid of it prior to moving in my girlfriend at the time, but I had a laptop with Netflix. Though, even that was not interesting. Watching Netflix, alone in the dark or with bright lights, just depressed. I have a lot of difficulty turning off my brain, so I cannot really zone out while watching shows. Watching television is such a passive experience anyway, so all it allowed me to do was sit and stew. I did not know how to be alone with my thoughts in a healthy manner yet.
From recent interviews, I had seen that John Waters had a book about him hitch-hiking across the United States. That sounded interesting, so I got my library card for the first time, which was nearly 5 years after moving here. I am a little embarrassed by that.
Anyway, that book led to another one. I was unemployed, and everything was cold and Netflix was boring. Reading became a way to actively engage my brain and distract myself from my problems. It didn’t solve things, but it really helped.
Since I was unemployed, I could read all day. I ended up making a game of it. That is when I put together my first reading challenge. The goal was to read one book a week every week for a whole year. Fifty-two books in fifty-two weeks. And I had some rules. First, it had to be a book I had never read before. I recognized early on there was a lot I was missing out on, so I wanted to challenge myself and try new things. And last, once I read a book by an author, I couldn’t read another book by that author until the end of the challenge. Again, to keep my reading fresh and new.
That first year, I ended reading 90 books over 52 weeks. I read a few hours a week at home, daily during my work commute, and during lunch at work. I used to be really bored by reading, but I was loving it now. I even started a spreadsheet tracking new releases, when I expect to start a new book, which book is next, and how many books I had read during the year to date. Nerdy, I know, but it became fun and I liked the structure, though I did have surprise books I would drop in spontaneously as a palette cleanser.
Brining this up today because I am putting together my year-end reading stats for 2018. This is where I figure out how many books I read, total number of pages, and pick my superlatives such as my favorite book of the year. I still have two weeks before the end of year, but I already have my year-end choices down and I know I’ll finish them before the ball drops in Times Square.
I’ve also been winding down the last two weeks after finishing a really busy period. Another busy period is happening right after the new year. So, I’m gonna take some time to rest and think about the things I accomplished over the last few years through my own tenacity, plus the support of friends and family.
The Books dropped their first studio album Thought For Food in 2002. The second track, “Read, Eat, and Sleep” is basically my plan for the rest of the year. It is a slow-tempo folk, electronica song that is almost entirely instrumental expect for a vocalist spelling out the song title. Nothing too complex. Just straight chill, which is exactly what I need.
This holiday season, take some time and relax. DO what you love and with the people you love. Think about what you have and if there is anything you can learn from your past or appreciate from your present. I’m in a better place now, which I’m sure seemed hard to believe back then. I have three more days of work and then I’m checking out. Gonna read, eat, and sleep.