Irrepressable; or, how to, river-like, change your course

It’s a worthless task for me to make a book list – a reading list. My tastes change so much from day to day, even within in a day, from morning to afternoon to evening, that by the time I reach a certain book on my list, I will almost always have no patience for it.

Some days I feel an irrepressible urge to read nothing but the weather almanac, all day long. Maybe once a month I decide to read Shakespeare, then put it back on the shelf the next day. I read two Jane Austen books in five days several weeks ago.

Inevitably, I find myself reading the same book nearly exactly one year from when I read it last. In the spring, I’m drawn back to Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, because I read it in the London airport one spring several years ago.

We are creatures of habit. We live by precedents. We carve a course for ourselves, river-like, and unless we smash forcefully into an obstacle, we will continue to move over the same curves and narrows, smoothing them out, wearing them deeper, making them our own.

We can only truly speak and write from what we know. When we speak of what we don’t know, we’ll inevitably get the terms wrong and be ignorant of our blind spots on that topic. We can intuit – we can infer – but there is something to be said for experience.

What are you waiting for? The black letters on a page glare up at me. What are you waiting for to make that life-changing decision?

As creatures of habit, we don’t know how to change. Our ideas remain our ideas; the word change enters our minds and gets caught up in a stream of consciousness, something about  birds migrating across the Atlantic, elephants crossing jungle paths, dhows meandering up the coast of India. This is what we know.

And then we’re reading, one day, a self-help book called How To Change, and it strikes us, all at once, that we have to take action immediately. We begin to put our socks on inside-out, and we try to like the taste of black coffee. We buy, impulsively, a plane ticket to New Zealand. The hills aren’t as green as we had imagined, the hobbit-holes are smaller than we’d pictured. The next time we read The Hobbit we have a hard time remembering the way it had looked in our imagination.

We realize that we don’t know what we’ve been waiting for – no one has ever told us. We hope we figure it out someday, but we likely won’t know until it happens. And we’ll say, “Oh! This is what I’ve been waiting for.” And at that moment, we’ll realize that we’ve changed, nearly without trying to.


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