How to Succeed at Comps Without Really Trying, Week 6

Oddly enough, I think I’m getting used to this. Reading. All the time.

I’m not saying that my brain doesn’t feel like it’s atrophying. Or that I don’t desire to wallow in a grassy field. Or that I’m not so so tired.

But despite all this, I may be hitting a stride here. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I can’t read during business hours, like I was originally panning to do. An 8-5 schedule implies that there is a beginning and an end. Both are lies.

Comp reading is like a flood: it rises and sweeps away everything that isn’t nailed down. It is the second half of the binary that has become my life. Should I watch a movie or should I read? Should I drink heavily or should I read? Should I go for a run or should I read?  Should I write or should I read? (These last two questions are often the hardest for me to answer as writing and running are usually at the top of my priority pile).

And of course, the answer is always the latter option, even if I don’t always do it.

Only very scheduled events survive the tide of reading, things that are planned a week or so in advance. Anything spontaneous doesn’t stand a chance. Because that empty time that say, a friend suggests we fill by going to a bar or watching a baseball game, isn’t really empty time. It’s already spoken for. Always.

Always. Always. Always.

My reading schedule is malleable though. If a friend wants to plan a lunch I can do that, but it means that I’ll be reading all evening (and thus will have to turn down any additional offers). If there’s a birthday party in the evening, I have to stay on task during the day.

Before this summer started, my professors kept saying that I needed to take advantage of this time, because I won’t ever have another summer like this. And this is true, but what they don’t mention is that life doesn’t stop. Friends and family still want to see you. Your body still needs to be exercised. Your groceries won’t buy themselves. Your car will still break down.

And all this needs to happen in those few hours in which you’re trying to wedge all these social activities.

Which means that, although I spend the majority of my days reading and fighting off an oncoming nap, I’m wildly busy because the pressure builds on both sides of the binary: if I don’t socialize enough I’ll start feeling like I’ve slipped through a crack in society’s fabric, if I don’t read enough I’m not taking advantage of what this summer is all about.

The edges of this flood are murky. Often they look like dry land upon which I can throw a frisbee or go for a hike, but really, it’s just more flood disguised as something solid.

But this is another way of saying that this binary isn’t so neat. There are so many social, mental, physical, emotional, moral, factors that something feels neglected all the time. And neglect leads to panic. Which leads to an overcorrection. Which leads to more neglect and panic.

So the flood has turned into an icy road and my life is an ’88 Bronco with bald tires, it’s fishtailing more often than it’s not, and every time I yank the wheel into the spin, I wonder if this is the time I end up in the ditch.

But the ditch is another metaphor altogether.

How to Succeed at Comps Without Really Trying, Week 4

Something is happening.

I was at the grocery store when a wave of thankfulness and love hit me. I loved the old ladies who park their carts in front of everything I need. I loved the smell of the seafood counter. I loved cart boy who was mopping isle 6 because he was whipping that thing.

I especially loved that I was doing something other than staring at book, at the written word, at scribbles on dead trees or darkened pixels on a screen. I loved that I was using my legs rather than sitting on my ass. Even if this was just walking through a grocery store a block from my house. Even then.

In the parking lot I smelled the sunset and thought, this is what it is to be illiterate. Just for a moment, to see the world as it is rather than the representation of characters as they shop for groceries and maneuver around old ladies’ carts and smell the seafood isle.

This euphoria is still echoing in my calves as I type this (yes, back in front of the screen) because behind my monitor I can see pink and purple clouds over the mountains. Not even the screeching of the neighborhood cat in heat can ruin this (Oh. We will discuss this cat. This fucking cat. In. Depth.)Image

This is what happens when you read a novel a day for three weeks and then, suddenly, find yourself doing something, anything, anything at all, other than reading. It feels like one big orgasm by absence (of reading) and presence (of god damn everything else).

Even as I’m starting to feel the accumulated exhaustion not just in my brain, but my body, I am, at this moment, in love with this Colorado summer because it links back to every other Colorado summer I’ve ever had where reading was something I did when I wasn’t chasing snakes in a creek bed or dip-shitting it up at some mall or standing so utterly bored in the outfield of a little league game.

Sometimes it’s good to remember that I wasn’t always doing this.

The other day I read a novel without reading it. My eyes passed over the words. When I finished I had copious notes. I thought, good job. I thought, another one down. Then I realized I couldn’t recall the main characters name 30 seconds after finishing the book. (The character’s name is Abel if anyone wants to guess what it is. And no, it’s not the Bible).

The other day I became aware of the other cars on the highway. I mean really aware, to the point I felt the panic of a 16 year old. There are so many. So fast. What if. What if.

The other day on the frisbee field I lined up one of my oldest friends. I looked at him dead center, let the frisbee fly, and then called him the completely wrong name.

The day I learned that caffeine isn’t nearly as effective as a nap.

The other day I saw a kid at the park and felt so happy for him because he can’t even read yet.

The exhaustion is worrying. Yes, I am just a bit over a third done with my time in comps. And, according to my very rough calculations, I’m about a third done with my primary sources. Here’s the bad news, those calculations don’t include the secondary sources (we may go into this math in more depth another time). So this euphoria, through absence, through exhaustion. Yeah, it’s going to muddy.