Friday, December 30, 2016
Book 91: Look at least I MENTIONED the book
I've thought a lot about what I might do next year. For the past few years I have set myself a goal each year, not always starting on New Year's Day. (I place no special importance on the start of a new year; if you want to do something, really want to do something, you just start doing it. I recognize that New Year's Day often is grounds for assessing the year or one's life or otherwise trying out new things, though, so I don't fault people who use that as an attempt to improve themselves. I just think people shouldn't wait until New Year's to try something.)
Some of those projects were my story-a-day project, which turned out to be harder and more wrenching than I thought. I once gave up McDonald's for a year, making it 10 months in before I accidentally -- seriously! -- ate some McDonald's. (What happened was this: for 10 months I had not eaten any McDonald's food. It wasn't done as a health project, but simply as a way to branch out; I felt like McDonald's had become a default if I wanted some fast food, and I don't like to feel caught in a rut. Even as I write this I know someone(s) somewhere(s) will be rolling their eyes and saying yeah but maybe you should not eat fast food at all or should resolve to try to eat healthier or something but I don't care about that. I have bigger fish to fry in my life, so to speak, than worrying too much about whether I occasionally eat fast food. Fast food is one of the pleasures of life, and while everything should be done in moderation, I refuse to entirely cut out the pleasures of life, especially when there are many more important things to worry about. Anyway, how it happened was, we had taken a day to have a date, Sweetie and I: I took a day off work while the boys were in school, and we saw a movie and got some fast food for lunch so we could eat and talk without interruption. She got a Big Mac, but doesn't like to have two hamburger patties on there, so she took one off and asked if I wanted it. I was eating a burger from Sonic, and said sure and put it on mine and then took a bite and then realized what I'd done.) I once spent a year giving up something that I loved for a month at a time (a different thing each month.) Once my goal was to increase my jogging until I could run from my house to the Wisconsin Capitol (7 miles) without stopping.
Reading 100 books in a year was the latest, and when I realized earlier this month that I wouldn't make it, I began wondering what I could do next. I've spent the better part of a month worrying (in a very minor way) about that.
This isn't a new thing. I have enough self-awareness to recognize in part the potential psychological underpinnings of behavior. When I was a smoker, years back (I haven't smoked in 12 years, so the amount of time since I quit smoking is getting closer to being greater than the amount of time I smoked, which was 17 years), I would frequently make attempts to quit smoking. Those almost always coincided with some big upheaval in my life: starting law school, moving to Washington DC, the like. They were, in a way, attempts to control the uncontrollable: I couldn't really control what might happen when I moved to Madison and started law school -- it was too big to do more than tackle one day at a time. So I would try instead to control something that nobody else could affect.
I think the current mania-ish I have about measuring things -- 100 books, a year's worth of stories, that kind of thing-- may have to do with the health issues of the past few years, with the fact of getting older, with the boys growing up, and with my own professional life. They are ways of gaining control, explaining the world, and improving myself that I can still do. When I tried, a few years back, to increase my upper body strength and start doing more push-ups I eventually had to give up (and I remain weak to this day), so physical challenges are starting to be harder and harder. (My recent blood clot in my leg coincidentally happened on the exact day I decided that I would start a new exercise program. I am at war with my body.)
There's a lot in my world I barely understand or control. The other day, talking with Mr Bunches about New Year's Eve, I said that on January 1 it would be the year "2017," and that's why it's a new year. He started crying. When I asked what was wrong he said it had to be still 2016, and I didn't understand why that was upsetting. So I said Why can't it be 2017? He said that in 2017 was when he goes to 5th grade and he doesn't want to go to 5th grade, he wants to be in 4th grade.
I had to explain to him that September in 2017 was 5th grade. He is very scared of growing up, Mr Bunches. Somewhere along the line he got scared of it, and so he will frequently ask us if he can stay a little boy forever. We tell him he can. What's the harm? He might well stay a little boy forever, our own Peter Pan. He's smart and funny and excited about life and has the maturity of roughly a first-grader, so the odds that he will one day go to college and get a job and get married and live on his own are at the least less than for some other kids who aren't autistic. Mr Bunches still believes in Santa Claus. I still want him to.
When you are walking along one day and get a sharp pain in your leg and two weeks later are in the ER with them wondering if you've maybe damaged your lungs with blood clots, when a discussion of holidays starts your son crying, when your professional life is one of near-constant troubles, it can be comforting to extend your vision out to the horizon, to peer ahead and say next year at this time I will have read 100 books or something similar. It reassures you that there will a next year at this time and that you will be part of it, and that something in your life then and now will be a constant.
Then, too, there is the fact that with much of physical improvement becoming a pipe dream, the mental improvement is a good goal. I like 100 Books Me: I like the guy that reads books rather than fritters away times on things he considers less important. We cannot always be living our life to the fullest extent, cannot constantly be climbing Mount Everest and otherwise exemplifying our best selves, but we can try. When I find myself doing things that I consider a waste of time, I try to rectify that. While I've always read a lot, much of my reading seemed to have fallen into what I think of as the junk food category, reading that didn't really entertain or enlighten so much as it just killed time. It was my equivalent of staring blankly at a TV while it played a sitcom. So I changed that.
The reason I was worrying about what to do next is because I don't like repeating myself, but as New Year's drew closer, I started thinking okay but what if instead of a one-year thing it was an every-year thing? What if you just challenged yourself to be this person all the time?
So that's what I did. I decided that from now on I will try to be 100-Book Me. I hit 91 so far this year, but my goal is no longer a 1-year goal; it's a goal to read 100 books every year, because ... because I want to.
If you're wondering how all this ties into Dune Messiah the answer is it doesn't. I could do something facile and say Oh Paul Atreides was concerned about how his goals and visions impacted his life and junk blah blah blah but I'm not going to bother. The 100 Books has always been more about me than about the books.