The reader-writer mind is one the most chaotic. I can say that with confidence because I am host to both millions of from-reading-ascribed feelings and an endless drive to write about them.
When I was much, much younger, I would spend my summer afternoons lying on a hammock in the backyard deeply engulfed in Sherlock Holmes, Tolstoy, or Christy (for the thousandth time), oblivious to the mosquitoes swarming around me. With the hum of the outdoors singing in the background, it was my book and me all to ourselves, and nothing was more satisfying than being in that world. Most kids would beg and cry their parents for more Nintendo time or a trip to the mall. (Things even now I shudder at!) I would beg and cry for more reading time because that is where I felt most alive–in the worlds and stories of others.
But then there was born the writer: the natural child of the ardent reader and passionate epistemophile.
I was probably around 10 when I began to write, expounding on things like the challenges of teaching (my own 3 year-old sister pupil). Most of those pieces were short sketches without a strong theme or plot. But by the time the Russian authors got my attention, around the same time in life I found myself, post-hammock, stepping indoors and wiping the overbearing summer heat from my face, I would find a notebook. That is when I would process the transfer of moods and momentum, book to brain, that took place in the midst of reading.
The writing world.
While reading gave me free places to run and explore and play, it was writing that put the journey in my hands. Where did I want to go? What characters were on my mind? What philosophies to pen? And back then I would pen them in the color that best reflected my mood–blue when I was at the height of creativity and enthusiasm, black when life was unfair or gloomy. There were many emotions between, but these two colors along with the shapes and sizes of my penmanship were the legend to my moods.
While I could not quite explain to someone how I felt about something or why I was broody, gloomy, and moody, I knew a book would entrap me further and a journal would help me climb out.
The truth is that bookworms easily slip in and out of the emotions their favorite characters wear, sometimes forgetting which emotions are their own and which belong to a fictional character. One morning I would awaken full of wistful longing for the future, pining for the wholesome life that my role models in late 19th century displayed. Daydreams about the types of dresses I could make filled my head. Would Conner Prairie, the nearby living history museum, ever hire a person like me to work for them? Other mornings, it took all my effort to push myself out of the “depths of despair” Anne Shirley so famously describes in Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I would never amount to anything, I sometimes felt! With my enormous neither straight-nor curly hair, my stubborn blue eyes (I had always wanted coffee-brown), and my height, I carried the burden of self-criticism to places I might not have had I been a girl who read just a bit less.
I suppose the tough part of straddling reading and writing love is being able to balance the two without getting lost in it! As a reflect, books opened the door for relaxation; they were an effortless way to spend my time. Journals were a place to relieve myself of all the anxiety, disappointments, and questions that had weaseled their way in from life. What I didn’t realize then but can see now is that the one (reading) largely shaped who I am while the other (writing) has helped me to overcome and manage that very person!
A way to know thyself
A writer can trust herself to get to the bottom of something if she just sits down and writes. What’s more, as an introvert, my “paper” never judges me. Never does a writer stop thinking that someone might read her thoughts down the road, but in those moments when the words are simply flowing from the mind through the hand, a freedom is achieved. It is for this reason when I am pent up or overwhelmed I will write. Moody me might not be able to express my feelings through social interactions, but writer me can and does. Best of all, after just ten minutes of free-fall scrawling, most ill-moods that threaten are gone! Lifted and free I am left, like a reptile who sheds its skin. Being a writer gives me the ability to take on all those experiences in my daily life, capture them, process them, and slip right on out of them.
What a gift.
What’s more, this ability to move fluidly in and out of emotion means an enhanced capacity to experience others’ pains and joys. As long as, that is, the reader makes it a point to offset these episodes with its counterweight in decompressing through outward conversation, journaling, or some form of mindfulness (for me that typically also entails prayer). On an average day, the many chaotic moods of the reader-turned-writer don’t show up on my face in public; however, I have found myself countless times aware that I have not said just what I meant or that I have over or under-communicated a thing to someone. This metacognition, I am sure, is the product of both the assimilation of thirty years of characters’ moods and my specific INFP personality.
It’s the blend of me I’ve come to accept.
Yes, I emit empathy, absorb burdens, and run to shipwrecks, but these things I typically tie down at night, listing them, chronicling them, analyzing them, imagining what move is to come, what next thing will happen, what purpose those interactions entail. I have come to learn that if I don’t, then those disappointments, fears, and frustrations become the mechanism driving me.
So I write. I read a little more. And I hope to not get lost in the balance.