Recently I had a conversation about depression and killing time: what it looks like now, in the age of the internet and all its fringe benefits.
When I want to kill time I become so concerned with the how that I plunge headlong into a gluey kind of idle that is self-aware, that manifests as: hours sitting cross-legged at the foot of my bed, looking at the wall and holding onto a book like a toddler and their one soggy corn flake. I am weighing out the most efficient way to do nothing.
Recently I had a conversation about depression and killing time: what it was like to dawdle between the 1820s and 1950s. It must have been a fissure in time. Imagine the world industrialising. Imagine that because of it, neuroticism was peaking. The T.V. wasn’t commonplace in the average home until the 1950s, so imagine neuroticism peaking with no media to turn to.
What did people do?
- I guess they played solitaire (I’m thinking of John Steinbeck and Flowers on the Wall)
- I guess they read
* * *
I had a minor surgery in February last year that left me oscillating between my couch and my bed for five days. I was positioned in a new house alone with no internet. I read. I told my sister, I have nothing to do and I am reading so much and she said, I have so much to do and me too.
Three weeks later I was working and writing again. I was back at university. I invited a (now ex-) friend to come over and cook lunch with me, and on the walk to Coles I told her, I am reading so much and she turned it into a between-the-lines argument on capitalism.
One day last January (I will say it was the fifth because it’s organic to the narrative) I wrote myself a set of New Year’s resolutions. The last time I did this I was fifteen and I don’t remember a single one of them. Last year’s resolutions had a lot of fives and a lot of multiples of five. This wasn’t on purpose. I hadn’t even noticed until someone read them and said, hey there are a lot of fives in here.
Visit five new cities
See fifty live bands
Publish five pieces
Read twenty-five books
Last year was the most eventful year of my life. It was crammed so tight with stuff and things that every night I daydreamed about that scene in Eternal Sunshine where Jim Carey says, I ditched work today. Took a train out to Montauk. I don’t know why, I’m not an impulsive person. Objectively, I had a lot of things happen to me in fifty-two weeks. I will not list them, but they shoved me into a corner, placed strategy in my right hand, and calculation in my left. They said, use these to get out, and gave me no wiggle room for any other kind of approach.
For the first time, I logged every book I read.
Nothing about my Today is the same as my January 1st 2019.
I read my Turkish coffee
I read poetry, because it had been three years since I had read poetry
I read every interaction with every friend
every interaction with every relative
every interaction with every stranger
I read my dreams so intently that eventually they took on new vocabularies, ones I could no longer read
I read my Co-Star
I read my Pattern
I got a set of tarot for my birthday and read that on the mornings it rained
I buried impulse six feet under and spent twelve months mourning it.
I made myself a rule: finish every book you start. I thought about reading Ducks, Newburyport but, because of this rule and its >1,000 pages, didn’t. I saw the book on my Instagram feed, on my friends’ Goodreads profiles, on shortlists and 2019 reading lists. It was a reminder: you’re not doing this reading thing right. I didn’t care.
* * *
Five months into the year I capped the twenty-five books and changed my goal to fifty.
I gave my act of reading purpose and functionality. I said: Be productive. Read with endeavour. I read only on the tram to and from the city, in bed on nights where sleep wasn’t likely, in waiting rooms at psychs, doctors offices, and tattoo parlours.
I read books only because I wanted to finish them.
I do this very often. I pathologise little things and turn them into metaphors—like the way I somehow always run my bath too hot or the way I can only ever feel my heartbeat when I’m not trying to. So this one would be, last year I went through so much but at least I saw everything through. It would be, look: my reading reflects this. I will probably work it into a poem somehow. It will never leave my journal. It will probably look something like:
Crying and reading
are like swallowing and breathing in:
I can’t do both at once.
* * *
I made myself another rule: finish every book series you start. Because of this second rule, I did not start reading The Fellowship of the Ring, even though I really wanted to.
I have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. I have five senses. Islam works on the basis of five pillars and we pray five times a day. There are five working days in a week. Five is everything I am and everything I’m told I should be. It is productive and it is perfect.
On the sixth of December I went to Readings to use a gift card that had been tucked into my pocket since July (that’s five months, in case you’re not counting). This is the last gift they will ever get me. I collected myself. It’s sappy and it’s silly. It’s something it’s not. I chose three books: all poetry, two of them recommendations from friends, one of them a gamble. I walked past Ducks, Newburyport three times, on purpose, lingering. I touched the spine. I flicked through it, I put it back down. I picked it up and cradled it in my arms for four aisles. I picked up a fifth book and walked three more. I put Ducks back down in a different pile to the one I got it from. I checked out with my four books. Nothing about my visit to Readings felt good. The numbers were all wrongs: threes, fours, and sixes. Only one five.
It feels too much like a commitment and a little like betrayal to start reading Ducks when I spent months saying: I will not.
I didn’t update my reading goal after I capped fifty. My reading slowed because I didn’t have a target. I want so badly to turn this into a big essay on consumerism and Drive and what it means to do something worth anything in this ludicrous day and its godforsaken age, but that would be too perfect. I tried my hardest, as the year wrapped up, to do nothing, and then I would think of Otessa Moshfegh and My Year of Rest and Relaxation and the cycle starts back up again.
Lujayn Hourani is a diaspora Palestinian writer and editor. Their work has been published by Overland, The Lifted Brow, Voiceworks, and Going Down Swinging, among others.