Reading and writing, at least for me, have a kind of zero-sum relation. If I’m writing more, I’m reading less and vice versa. Some of that has to do with the time each of them takes, but I also think they probably draw on and deplete the same cognitive resources. So I tend to put off writing when I have a lot to read, and then I’m left with the feeling that I’m not “being productive.” When I’m writing a lot and not reading as much, I tend to feel that I’m “getting dumber.” This has definitely been a “dumber” month. Part of that is due to the time and energy teaching requires, along with whatever other gigs I’m doing to pay the rent. But I’ve also gotten a fair number of words on the page.
A lot of the “dumb” and “unproductive” calculus is determined by publication as well, of which I did very little last month. Part of that is due to a sort of confusion on my own part: should I be devoting a lot of energy to scholarly publication right now? Besides the projects I’m already embarked on, should I be putting together another peer-reviewed article? Going full-bore on the book? Or is my energy best spent elsewhere: pitching freelance pieces, working on creative endeavors, following up with friends and potential collaborators on things we said we wanted to work on together?
I suppose all of this is to say that the question of “putting words on the page” and “keeping up with the reading” isn’t simply zero-sum. What you get “done” hangs suspended between all kinds of sets of competing interests and distractions that range from present necessity (What am I doing to make money?) to existential quandary (What am I doing with my life?). I’m not, it turns out, one of those people who sits down six days a week and cranks out 1,000 words before noon. Or perhaps I am, but I have too many things to do right now in too many different directions, that it’s not feasible to write like the machine I’ve always wanted to be.
Right now, I think it’s about “the small victories,” as they say. One thing I know I’m good at is finishing projects I invent myself, even if they they take longer than I want them to (they always do). But then, I’m also good at meeting deadlines imposed from the outside. That means that “outside” projects are always going to bump the self-invented projects onto the back burner, and that’s what’s happening now, which has made writing and reading into a kind of treadmill.
Barbara Browning, The Correspondence Artist
Barbara Browning, The Gift
Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
Pauline E. Hopkins, Of One Blood
Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power
To be fair, I didn’t read even close to all of Crowds and Power. But then, I think it’s sort of designed to be read around in and dipped into, a practice I recommend for this book, especially in our current political “situation.” Canetti understood everything.