BY PIPER KLEMM
Dealing with the countless types of notifications we’re presented with these days is kind of like swiping gnats away from your face on a humid night at the barn. Facebook videos automatically start speaking at us as we scroll, there’s bank reminders and texts and tweets and auto-shipping and fake news that we like to read because it’s funny, and fake news that we have to decipher for truth. I’m a fan of my phone and the tool it can be, but the constant flood exhausts me.
Whenever I feel unsettled, unhappy, and unclear, my answer is to read a book. It’s hard to do when I haven’t been reading much. Only a paragraph or two in, I want to check my phone. The impulse is there even before I hear a ding that directs me to Facebook, work messages or email. Eventually, I force myself to read a full page before I must, must, look back to my screen. The first ten pages of any book are set in front of me like hurdles.
But by the time I leap over a few and start rounding out chapters, my imagination begins to reawaken. I can see the characters. Mind wandering in its own space sans interruptions, I pull out real paper and pencils for hand-written notes of my ideas. Instead of short bytes of media I digest through a screen, my ideas take longer form with reading. I start feeling ambitious, start planning. There aren’t gnats to swipe away, but rather big rolling pastures to look off in the distance.
Through reading, I begin to feel at home with myself – in my body, my skin. It’s easier to accept where I am, and where I’m going. In characters in books and dreams locked in prose, I think about what truly matters in my life.
A few weeks ago on a plane, the perfect place to train yourself to read again, I had one of these moments. Fresh from a long morning battling too many gnats, I sat on a crowded plane with a book, escaping circumstance and crafting bold dreams for the future.
Tom Wolfe wrote, “The depressed person wants trips to be literally endless, because as long as she is in transit from one point to another, her worries, her despair, are removed from where they originated… and where they will inevitably resume.”
I thought about a few months ago, standing the doorway of my house about to leave for a horse show when my visiting mother asked, “Are you going to the horse show because you’re running away from your problems?”
I smiled at her. “Today? No, I’m running to a meeting. In general? Absolutely.”
Anyone who has ever been to a horse show knows that time stops there. It’s not unlike staying up all night to finish a book you can’t put down. The show atmosphere, warmup rings, braided hunters and melodic announcers, sweeps me into a vortex. In today’s climate, with each news story more depressing than the last and the swarm of gnats bigger than ever, it’s a welcome respite. Nothing exists at a horse show except the horse show. It’s easy to let emails pile up, texts accumulate, and tasks magically disappear.
But we can’t live at the horse show, even if it seems like we do sometimes. We can’t stay up all night reading night after night either. Suddenly, the mail isn’t taken care of, the bills aren’t paid, you’re not moving forward in life, and you haven’t scheduled a doctor’s appointment in years. Even if you’ve managed to avoid them for a minute, the gnats never go away.
We need to allow ourselves these moments, the books and the horse shows and the escapes, because they give us time to breathe. They remind us why we deal with all the notifications in our daily lives. Let yourself read longer than you meant to, leave your phone in the tack trunk at the show. The world will still be there when you get back to it.
If you’re lucky, if you’ve allowed yourself to take some time to dream a little during your escape, you might even find yourself a bit recharged the next time you pick up that phone.