“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page. But it was conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue cluckers and the unrelenting hand of a clock.” ~Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone (Time Enough at Last)
I often wonder how I’ll find enough time to keep up with the countless articles, newspapers, emails, texts, journals, magazines and books that constantly glare at me from my tremendous, messy pile in the corner of my desk. That pile haunts me. I actually harbor guilt over my inability to tackle it. How do I create a balance between my reading list and the daily responsibilities of my work and family life?
Sometimes I see myself as Henry Bemis, Rod Serling’s masterful character who was brilliantly portrayed by Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last.” Mr. Bemis is a simple, nearsighted bank clerk whose greatest wish is to have time enough to quietly read all the great classics in literature. His passion becomes endlessly annoying to his employer, his wife and the customers at the bank. He is desperate to find a quiet place to read without being interrupted. One day he grabs a book and a newspaper, enters the empty bank vault and shuts the heavy door behind him.
After finishing his book, he turns to his newspaper and reads the headline, “H Bomb Capable of Total Destruction”. You guessed it. While in the vault the world is destroyed, and he is its only survivor.
After walking among the ruins of his town, his first reaction is to commit suicide. What was he going to do for the rest of his life with all the time he had on his hands? His grief instantly turns to joy after stumbling on to the contents of the town’s public library. He loudly proclaims, “And the very best thing of all is there’s time now. There’s all the time I need. And all the time I want.”
Okay, so I’m not exactly like Henry Bemis (except being very nearsighted) but you get my point.
On my nightstand I have three books I’ve wanted to read for some time now. One is a selection from my book club (The Paris Wife) – a meeting that occurred last week and I couldn’t attend. I haven’t finished the book and was too busy for the meeting. The second is a book of American religious poems that my beloved uncle sent me (I read a little at a time). The other is Jeff Bridges new book “The Dude and the Zen Master.” I love The Dude and I love books on spirituality. Hopefully my love of “The Big Lebowski” will rid me of my guilt over not yet starting the book.
On my desk are approximately 30 newsletters, magazines and articles (AARP newsletters, MORE magazine, dozens of health-related newsletters, an MS quarterly) that I thought would prove helpful while writing various articles and blog posts.
In my Google inbox are thousands of emails I never deleted. Why? When I quickly scan the title I think to myself, “That sounds interesting” or, “This is something that may enhance my blog.” “Measuring Social Media: How to Determine Your SOI” or “Best Apps for Taking, Editing and Organizing Photos” and “Buddhism: Are You Limiting Yourself?” are just some of what is stuffing my inbox and slowing down my computer.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
As a writer I know the best gift I can give myself is to constantly read, read, read. Writers write about what they know and what they learn. Their minds are always actively pursuing the next brilliant article, the next perfect post. Ideas and story lines consume our consciousness like a dress rehearsal for a one-act play, tweaking and rewriting stories until we are ready to write.
I grew up the product of two parents who are voracious readers. They read everything from the classics to world history to modern fiction. My father can quote from Shakespeare; my mother loves British literature. When they ask me what I am currently reading I sheepishly explain “WordPress for Dummies” and defend myself by adding, “But I’m still reading my daily New York Times.” Their incredulous look says it all.
I once read an article about Russell Baker, the famous columnist who, when watching a baseball game, noticed a pre-game interview of an author who had recently published a 300 page novel. The interviewer asked how people would be able to read her long book since they are so pressed for time. Mr. Baker found this amusing, considering viewers were about to watch a 3-hour baseball game.
Well, Mr. Baker, you certainly were right. So here’s my list of ways to conquer my reading list in 2013:
- Schedule a daily reading time.
- Organize what I want to read (journals, newsletters, emails) and make deadlines for when I want to be finished. (I won’t give myself deadlines for books I’m reading for pleasure.)
- Set up a reading area where there are no distractions.
- Know when to give up on a book, article or newsletter. If I’m not interested, or an email has been in my inbox for months, or it won’t benefit my professional needs, get rid of it.
- Define my “time wasters” and get rid of them. Limit my time on social media (we all know how hard that is). Journal how I spend my time in one day. This will help me to discover how to make better use of my time. (Journaling can be useful for many areas of our life, and this is no exception.)
- Breathe. Life is about the journey, and enjoying what I read is as important (actually it’s more important) as what I read.
- Don’t take this all too seriously (and stop the guilt!) or I’ll miss the whole point of reading. It should first and foremost be pleasurable, always educational and endlessly rewarding.
Getting back to Henry Bemis, as he grabs his first book to begin his long journey of uninterrupted reading, his glasses fall to the ground, shattering the lenses. He is unable to read and begins to cry. “This is not fair. This is not fair at all.” No Henry, it isn’t fair. But, as Rod Serling surmises, Henry is “just a fragment of what Man has deeded to himself.” Aye, there’s the rub.
Let’s take a lesson from Henry and give ourselves the gift of time to enjoy what we read, cherish the journey, and appreciate the lives we live with our loved ones – both real and fictional.
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