This is an incredibly rare post for me, but I really wanted to share it. For the last nine days, my days have consisted of write/eat/study/gym break/write/eat/study/sleep/REPEAT. It’s been an exhausting period of me racing against deadlines, as final exams take place this week. But! In the midst of everything, I received the best news — I was admitted to a creative writing course for the fall!! Berkeley offers a few creative writing courses with different topics (mine is entertainment and cultural writing!) each semester. They require an application, and trust me when I say, it’s competitive. So though I never publish my creative writing, I wanted to publish the piece I wrote for entry into the class — a love letter to books. 🙂 I hope you enjoy it, and I promise a fashion post on Wednesday!
“I Used to Travel to Places I’ve Never Been”
As the scent of aging pages wafted up my nose — mustiness tinged with the sweetness of vanilla — I felt a familiar pang of longing grip my heart momentarily.
For just a second, I’m caught up in a different life: one where I’m 10-years-old, running my hand along the spines of dozens of Nancy Drew novels in the Children’s Mystery section of my neighborhood library, my inner Eloise gleaming as I consider how gosh darn “precocious” I am for being unable to locate a single title I haven’t already devoured. I’ll have to check the registrars of the other libraries in the area to see if they have any others. I push my glasses up, straighten the wrinkles of my plaid school uniform, and survey the remaining options before settling on Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart — because hey, I’ve been meaning to read that at some point anyway, and there’s no time like the present. I proudly slide my library card across the checkout desk.
“Great choice! Have you heard they’re coming out with a movie version? Wonderful idea to read it before. The book’ll be due in two weeks,” says the librarian, a sweet old lady by the name of Deborah (but really, aren’t all librarians sweet old ladies whose names are Deborah?).
I smile to myself. I’ll have it read in the next 4 days. Tops. But I certainly don’t voice this aloud and instead just grin and say a hurried “thanks!” before rushing out to mom, who’s been flipping through a month-old copy of Us Weekly she keeps in the car because she knows I tend to lose track of time whenever I enter something that even remotely resembles a bookstore. I climb in and immediately open to the first page, too impatient to even wait until we get home.
And the remainder of the memory gets fuzzy — or lost — the details just not as important as the leftover emptiness in my stomach that refuses to go away. I’m back to the loneliness of just me stuck in a different library, but one that’s meant to be looked at rather than engaged with or touched. This library is filled with laptops humming and caffeine-buzzed students, simultaneously awake and asleep — working endlessly but dead to the life taking place outside these barren walls.
Ugh, I sigh. The laundry list of to-do’s in this planner could not be longer at this point. My agenda is splashed with indistinguishable marks and colors, a beautiful array for an art project if you were studying Andy Warhol maybe, but for me at this particular time, is more akin to a giant stress ball I have yet to untangle.
I like to remember these pleasant times before life started to kick in when — in the latest hours of the night — I used to find myself cradling a book in one hand and trying to stifle the outpouring light, so as not to wake my little brother, snug in the bunk below me. I remember what it felt like to find comfort in the fact that everyone else was asleep. I remember thinking, Now, if only for ten minutes, I can lose myself — or perhaps find myself — in another world.
In a younger life, it was easy. Once I had given up agonizing over schoolwork and turned off the flickering light of my computer could I retire to the marvelous land of literature. I had an insatiable desire to read. John Steinbeck was my life coach, whilst Charles Dickens was my inspiration. Literature consumed my imagination and enlightened my conscience. My greatest sources of relief, my guiltiest pleasures, were found in the pages of a novel.
My interests were gathered from the many communities around me. No matter if it was a heartwarming biographical novel about the inner workings of a Supreme Being passed along to me by my grandma or a poignant and thoughtful vignette that considers the nuance of the subject of life versus the action of living, I became entranced with the dancing print on a page. I absorbed war-torn stories and historical anecdotes, criminal investigations and humorous satires, bittersweet memoirs and thrilling mysteries all alike — I did not wish to discriminate.
I ventured to different worlds, some real, some fantastical. I traveled with Gulliver to Lilliput, land of the small. Les Misérables took me to a revolution in France. I traveled to a 1920s New York with Gatsby. To Kill a Mockingbird took me to Alabama during racial segregation. Books presented me with different places and times, all of which I had never before seen. They offered kindling for my imagination to make whatever it wanted out of these sights and eras. History, as I know it, was shaped solely by my mind.
From elementary school, the rule in our household was “No T.V. during the week,” a pronouncement which only gave me more opportunity to experiment with learning beyond the confines of a classroom. I learned to value time spent by myself, because with a book, I was never lonely. I realized that libraries are a lot like churches – no voice should be heard above a whisper, artifacts must be given due reverence, and walking amongst tradition and ancient preservation gives the impression that it is holy– DINNNNGGG DONNNNG.
With the tolling of the bell signaling it’s been an hour since I’ve gotten here even though I’ve barely made any progress, I’m forced back into the reality of everything. Paper due Monday. Project due Friday. Getting dinner with Claire Wednesday night. Conducting a photo shoots on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Check. Crossed off the list. Cancelled. And on and on. Why can’t I pinpoint when these responsibilities overtook this love of mine, and my desire to read slowly faded away? All I know is that wow, this smell has brought back buried memories, and right now, I yearn to assume these bibliophilic feelings again. I am acutely aware that the nostalgia my heart feels for my adolescent passion is enough to make it burst. It’s been so long since I’ve had an escape from all of this. WHY CAN’T IT BE SO SIMPLE AS WHEN I WAS WHISKED AWAY BY THE SOLE ACT OF FLIPPING A PAGE?!?!!!
I used to travel to places I’ve never been. Now, I stay stuck in the same place.
I used to travel to places I’ve never been. Now, I stay stuck in the same place.
I stay stuck in the same place. I am stuck in the same place. I am stuck.
I finger a piece of my hair as I complicate the seeming futility of my situation and think about what I know: The to-do list isn’t getting shorter. The obligations won’t go away.
But, I can change.
Because even when more to-dos get added to the list, and the obligations inevitably increase, my perspective is the one flexible piece of the puzzle. I’ve become seriously jaded. But I refuse to be anymore. I muster up those feelings of deep easy love I feel for literature.
I think back to how the tangibility of a book felt wholesome, sacred. I know there were many nights I fought to keep my flashlight hidden and read at the same time. I know I sometimes stayed up too long, only to regret the decision in the morning. I know I probably needed a cup of coffee to help the process when I finally did drag myself out of bed. Yet, I remember thinking, my few minutes of solace would not be complete without the struggle to turn a page and find myself someplace new.
I need to feel this way again. It’s going to be the only way I can breath.
So, with a newfound exhilaration, I reopen my computer and put a novel on hold I’ve been wanting to read for a bit. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. And oh look! There’s one copy left. I resolve to pick it up tomorrow. I resolve to stop blaming every external factor as reasoning for me not to indulge in simple pleasures. I resolve to be better. I resolve to travel again.