Recently, I did something I haven’t done in a long time, and, this being a time of year for resolutions and all, I promised myself I will do it more often. I turned off the TV, closed my laptop and opened a book.
See, it all started with a UPS delivery. Last week, two big boxes arrived at my doorstep. Of course, I knew what they were: a new record player/CD player/tape player and a stack of my parents’ old LPs; Christmas presents from my family that I couldn’t take on the plane back to Kansas.
I immediately tore open the boxes in a manner normally reserved for eight-year-olds in footie pajamas. After setting up my new turntable, and cleaning up a sizable number of packing peanuts, I put on an Animals record and sat on my couch.
Frankly, it seemed a little rude to keep my TV and laptop on while Eric Burdon was trying to sing “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place,” so, in a move that surprised even me, I turned them off. But then the stack of books I also received for Christmas started looking at me jealously, or as jealously as a stack of bound paper can look. So I cracked the spine on Craig Ferguson’s American on Purpose.
I read voraciously for two hours about the life of a man I genuinely admire, backed by a soundtrack composed of classic rock, Motown and blues records. It was more satisfying than I imagined; it was more satisfying than words on a page or hanging in the air should be.
Maybe, that’s not exactly true. Perhaps, that’s exactly how satisfying that experience should have been, but I’ve just been jaded or desensitized by a culture that’s moving more and more toward instant gratification and digital stimuli.
Removing those digital stimuli and time-sucking distractions (Facebook, Gmail, SportsCenter, etc…) lead me to an entirely different experience than what has somehow become my day-to-day routine. I was immersed and totally engrossed in Craig’s journey. You know, the way reading was meant to be.
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t read on a regular basis or never get caught up in a good story. I read the newspaper every day, as well as numerous articles on the Internet. I’m also trying to power my way through Sherlock Holmes the Complete Novels and Stories.
However, if I’m at work and reading a hot-of-the-presses copy of the Mercury or a story on the BBC’s website, I usually stick in those ubiquitous white earbuds to block out the hustle and bustle of the newsroom. It still doesn’t work a significant amount of the time.
If I’m reading at home, I usually have the tube tuned into a sporting event or a movie. I don’t why either, but I suspect it’s because often I’m afraid to be alone with my own thoughts. I suppose the TV acts as a flickering, electronic sedative that calms my hyper-vigilant brain.
Anyway, it’s a constant struggle between two stories, as I catch myself intermittently looking up to see if Marty McFly will make it back to the future, even though I know he will. It’s a really terrible way to go about reading something.
But last week was different.
I wasn’t using music as a wall to block distractions out because, well, there were none. Instead, it was part of the milieu that allowed me to take in the gravity of some chapters and the lightheartedness of others freely.
I made a connection and paused periodically, not to answer a Facebook chat message, but, to think about how the book related to my own life. It’s nice to have a moment of authentic introspection without being interrupted. It’s the type of moment I was determined to have again. So I’ve vowed to set aside time each week to read and listen to records.
I might finish reading about Sherlock’s escapades after all.