“We are carried along by our thoughts, “now gently, now violently, according as the water is angry or calm … every day a new fancy, and our humors shift with the shifts in the weather.” It is no wonder that the mind is like this, since even the apparently solid physical world exists in endless slow turmoil.“ – Sarah Bakewell, quoting Montaigne, who was quoting Heraclitus
I’ve had the Montagnie’s Essays for some time now, but keep pushing it aside for other reading material. So when Bakewell’s book How To Live or A Life Of Montaigne was recommended by an author I follow closely I decided to dive in. While also reading the excellent Erik Larson book The Splendid And The Vile and Tristan Gooley’s How To Read Water and a business book recommended by the company President. So five books in various stages of completion, and a desire to complete them all. This happens now and then: every day a new fancy. I’m treating the business book like a homework assignment and read it for an hour then put it down for the day. But what of the others? You can’t read everything at once.
The answer is you put aside the books that aren’t capturing your imagination at the moment. Get out and live, return and see where the mind settles. At the moment I’m settled on The Battle of Britain with Larson’s book. There’s only so much time for reading, just as there’s only so much time for anything else meaningful. We prioritize and complete what we can in this tumultuous world, and accept the day as it is when it ends.
Being carried along by our thoughts is a very human condition. We all have the tendency to get distracted by the buzz around us, which has grown exponentially since Montaigne’s time. We do a disservice to ourselves having so much to consume, for we can’t possibly consume it all. Instead I’m trying to raise the bar. Consume, but make it nutrient-rich consumption. What are you getting out of this book? is as fair a question to ask as What are you getting following this person’s Twitter account? The price you pay to read it is time you’ll never get back and attention you could have spent on something else. So by all means make it worthwhile.
In all the madness that is 2020 I forgot that this was a Leap Year. There are 366 days in 2020 – as if we needed another day added to this crazy year. Looking back on the last 250 days that have passed, I’ve managed to read 13 books so far, fewer than anticipated but overall a higher level of reading. I’m barely skating by on learning French and Portuguese, doing just enough to keep the streak alive. And of course I’ve recommitted to hiking and local travel. 2020 will go down as the most unusual year in my lifetime, but it won’t be a lost cause.
“If you understand everything you consume, you’re probably going to be the same person 6 months from now.” – George Mack
So there’s the challenge: stretch your limitations and grow. To turn Mack’s quote and look back six months ago when this pandemic really started locking things down, I can say I’ve accomplished a lot in spite of the pandemic (or because?). The time hasn’t been lost at all: filled with learning and family time and local travel I might have otherwise put aside in favor of the faraway. And so to turn that quote back around as a challenge to myself and look out six months from now, what will I have accomplished? When you ask this question of yourself and take it seriously it stills the tumult of the mind and lends focus to the march we’re on. Sure the stack of distractions remain, but the path becomes more defined. A tumultuous river and a still river both arrive at the same sea eventually. Which has the better journey?