I want to be reading and writing things. If there is time for a third, I’d also like to be talking about things, things like politics and other people’s psychological problems, issues of spiritual importance and Oprah’s Finale Season and food. But now there may not be so much time for talking about things, not in the in-depth way that I like, so that might have to be chucked, chucked out the window, that might have to go. So that leaves reading and writing. That’s how I want to spend my free time.
Why did it take me so long to figure this out? I experimented with all kinds of things, gave them all a shot to see if they were the kinds of things I’d like to give my heart, my brain, my full attention to. Baking was one. Oh, how I baked! Cheesecakes with cherries and carrot cakes with hand-shredded carrots from a vintage carrot-shredder, ovens full of cookies and breads and several full-time jobs where I did nothing but create confections. This did not work out; baking was not in my heart, but in my hands. I abandoned baking.
There was singing and dancing, a passion I turned into a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I really really really liked singing and dancing - especially the singing, especially the really really high notes - but can you imagine saying that to your spouse, your partner, the love of your life? I really really really like you? No, I couldn’t live like that. Not me.
There was gardening, crochet, and sketching. I am somewhat proud to say I never got into computers, software, or gaming - but I did try my hand at embroidery, the guitar, and being Amish. All these pastimes and passions were fun and thrilling, and many gave me a metallic ting at the back of my throat when I got proficient - even good - at them. But none have given me the same satisfaction as reading and writing and, when there’s time, talking about things.
I got really annoyed one time, reading a profile of Susan Sontag, because the writer of the profile referred to her as “leaving her old life behind to pursue the life of the mind,” which sounded so pretentious. I remember thinking, jeez, Susan Sontag, who does she think she is? But deep inside, I was jealous, I didn’t really want to bake cookies or pretend to be Amish or play the guitar, I wanted a life of the mind, too, but I just didn’t know how to go about it, or which mind-life I’d like to have. I was under the impression at the time that “a life of the mind” involved using large words and receiving advanced degrees from important schools. Susan Sontag certainly did that, and she did some pretty great writing (and reading, I’m sure). Although I would really like to receive advanced degrees from fancy schools, especially because I love tweed and longish wool skirts and knee-length boots, and I already have clear-framed glasses, which are perfect for earning an advanced degree, I no longer think that degrees are necessary for me. My mind-life likes to give equal attention to both the war in Afghanistan and prom fashions of the 1990’s; I enjoy chewing on what Sarah Palin’s home life must be like just as much as the themes of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. My life of the mind, you see, is kind of high-brow and low-brow and mid-brow all at once, totally undiscriminating, slightly judgemental and fickle and nitpicky – much more like a good girlfriend than a PhD. And I like it that way.
When I’m reading things or writing things, I can feel myself falling down a large, dark hole with only one way out. In the hole, my clothes and fingernails get unconscionably dirty, and I don’t care. All I want to do is find my way out of that hole, and hopefully at the end of my hilariously small amount of free time, drag myself out, exhausted and sweating, understanding someone or something in a way I didn’t really get before.
I’m thirty-eight years old and just figured this out. I wake up some mornings and think, god, took you long enough! I like reading things and writing things and, when there’s time, talking about things. Really really talking about things, talking them to death. That’s what I like to do with my free time.