Random Musings

The Power of Reading

I’ve mentioned a few times, I believe, on this blog, that I recently just moved roughly 11 hours from home, to start the next step in my adventure: grad school. And let me just tell you that the process of being admitted late into grad school, plus figuring out the next steps required to enroll, not to mention finding a place to live while being unable to visit before you actually move, is not the easiest — or smoothest — process in the world. I found myself often times getting frustrated and overwhelmed. And, unfortunately, my instinctual reaction whenever I have any intense emotional response (positive or negative) usually involves the water works. I remember making cookies in my kitchen back home, one day, trying to find an apartment when all the leases started in June — this was mid-July. Surprisingly (and almost disappointedly) you couldn’t even taste the tears in my cookies.

Needless to say, it was a rough period for me. I was constantly running into roadblock after roadblock, making even step in this process require ten more unnecessary ones just to move forward. Only to be hit with, yet again, another roadblock. Frustration didn’t begin to cover it. Yet I was able to overcome many frustrations and anxieties through, to some, maybe a surprising form of inspiration and courage: by thinking about what I have read and written.

What does that even mean? I have read many books, most of the fantasy genre. I believe that also means that I have lived many lives. Through books, let me tell you of my accomplishments: I’ve walked into the very fires of Mordor. I’ve escaped my branding as a slave until I rose to the rank of general (despite not even being a lighteyes). I’ve became a knight, even though I was a woman. I’ve pulled the sword out of the stone and I have sat on the Iron Throne. I’ve fought wars, I’ve healed wounds, I’ve been betrayed, I’ve fallen in love. I’ve conquered and I have lost. I have suffered and I have survived. I’ve roamed with Elves and Dwarves, fought against — and with — dragons. Through reading, I have lived a thousand lives.

With every text I read came its own set of accomplishments and failures, some that stuck with me more than others. And when I was crying in my kitchen, looking at a list of a dozen apartments, most of which were crossed off because they were either full or out of range for my meager budget, I couldn’t help but feel completely lost. I felt like I had agreed to do something completely out of range of my capabilities; bit off more than I could chew, as it were. And, on top of it all, I also felt stupid for getting so worked up — and failing so miserably — at simply finding a place to live. It was just an apartment search, after all.

I went downstairs, determined to give up. It was hopeless (I know, I am one for the dramatics, it seems). I opened my laptop and found a copy of my manuscript I had been working on the previous night, opened up on my screen. And I started to think about one of my characters: McKenna. Her life is not easy. Often, when I wrote her chapters, I came up with the worst path she could possibly have to endure and then I went down that road, to see where it led. And no matter what I made her go through, I never turned around. I never backtracked to the easier path. I made her push through it. And she did.

In one of the most odd ways, I drew confidence from her. Here was a woman who had a shit life, who was forced to harden herself against the world, after it had taken everything away from her, simply to survive it. And her task wasn’t finding a place to live — she wasn’t lucky enough to have a place to call home. Nothing permanent, anyway. No, her task was to try and save multiple worlds, despite having every deck stacked against her. And she went after it without a blink of an eye. And I created her.

If she could do all of that, I could find a bloody apartment. I closed my laptop lid and went back upstairs, list of apartments in tow. It took a few more phone calls, but by that afternoon, I had a plan. By the end of the week, I had a lease. A few weeks later, I moved in.

Since moving away from home, I’ve continued to run into plenty of roadblocks: living in an apartment without a stove/dishwasher/a/c unit; staying in town for a week and not making a single friend; attempting to cook an entire meal on a single hot plate and quickly discovering that pasta is about the only weapon in my arsenal I can wield properly and not feel sick after wielding; undergoing my first teaching demo and failing. The emotional roller coaster has been real. Then, the night before I had to teach for the first time, I felt all of the stress and the nerves and the doubt and the self-loathing threatening to overpower me. I couldn’t sleep, could barely eat, couldn’t concentrate on anything else, but the inevitable failure that loomed before me. Not knowing what else I could do, I turned to the only place I could imagine where I could have comfort, solace or even guidance:

A book.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks, to be precise. Weeks is one of my favorite authors, having read his other series, The Night Angel trilogy previously. I started Prism a few months ago, to be honest. And it has taken me that long to work through the first 200 pages. I found myself choosing to do other things than read and neglecting the book a lot more than I should have. Yet as I lay in my bed, the clock ticking closer and closer to the dreaded first day of teaching, I found that I wanted nothing more than to get lost in that world; to engulf myself in Kip’s problems, to sympathize with Karris’s anger and to be both intrigued and impressed by Guile. Between that evening and the next morning, I read over 100 pages. When I slept, I wasn’t haunted by the nightmares that plagued me the previous week, of failed lesson plans and drowning underneath ocean waves. I dreamt of living in the world of Tyrea, with Prisms and drafters and the power of light. I woke up too early that morning, still with the flutterings of nerves, but I got ready slowly, my mind still reeling from the latest twist that I read over my cereal. I got to campus early and ate my lunch on a bench, rereading a few pages to make sure I had read the words right — Guile could not have done that to his brother. That meant…

My walk to class, I contemplated what my new discovery revealed. And as I walked into the classroom and greeted my freshmen, preparing to teach my lesson and preparing myself, I kept Prism sitting on the table beside me. If Kip could survive the Thresher, I could survive 50 minutes with students that were just as terrified as I was, only for different reasons. And I did.

My point is this: books are so much more powerful than you could ever imagine possible. Those who do not understand the pleasure of reading obviously are not doing it right. You invest yourself within these stories and that investment is returned to you tenfold. You have the chance to experience wonders that are impossible to this world at the hands of a paperback. The stories you fall in love with, you do so for a reason. There is a power to them that is unstoppable. For me, I find courage within them. By reading, I feel whole; myself, in ways I can’t otherwise. And though the “problems” I have dealt with the past month or so may have been minuscule to the problems I have read and survived, they felt very real to me.

The books and characters that helped me through them were just as real. And I am forever grateful to them.



PS: If you caught some of the references I made to very specific books throughout this piece without actually naming them outright, I’m impressed.

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