Nov 23 2015

A Day of Planned Reading

It is another cool, rainy morning. I don’t have to open my eyes to know it. The cool air presses in around me like a vacuum as I shift my weight under the bed’s comforter. I don’t want to get up. And it’s Saturday. I don’t have to get up.

I open my eyes to the gray light filtering in around the edges of the blinds. “Seven A.M.,” I remark to myself. “I always wake up at seven A.M.” Rolling away from the window, I pull the blankets up to my ears, hugging my arms to my chest. “Mmm, I don’t HAVE to get up.”

Two hours later, I open my eyes again and the light coming in around the blinds hasn’t changed – the clouds have masked the sun’s movements, erasing shadows and spraying pallid, anemic light everywhere. But somehow, it does not depress me as it has for the past weeks of rain – incessant, passionless drizzle that always accompanies California winters. Today, my time is my own. Today, I have a plan – a plan to read.

Shuffling through the cool air in boxer shorts to the hall bathroom, I glance at the short tower of books neatly stacked on the desk the evening before. “Hello my friends,” I say out loud as I pass them. “I’ll be right with you.” It is a little too cool, and I hug my arms to my chest, turn the thermostat up just past the click. I step in to the bathroom and close the door quickly so that I can get the warm water running before the bed’s warmth totally dissipates from my being.

I take the extra time to run the bar of soap slowly over every part of my body, stretching my arms and legs out under the hot beads of water in exaggerated motions, like a cat moving sleepily in the sun. I breathe in the sweet floral scent of the shampoo, and massage it into my hair longer than I really need to. Rinsing it out leaves my hair extra squeaky. The room has totally filled with warm steam, and any trace of chill is outside the bathroom, somewhere.

Stepping out of the steamed chamber and back into the hallway, the electric heat has chased away the chill, and a refreshing, slight coolness greets me. Pulling out the fourth dresser drawer, I find my favorite set of sweats – the gray, all cotton ones that fit just loosely enough. I slip into them and they are fresh and crisp – the fruits of laundry done Thursday evening.

Walking out into the kitchen, I start the kettle. I am never hungry in the morning – seems like my stomach is the last part of me to wake up, so there is no preparation here. I pull a cup down from the cupboard while the blue glow of the gas flame warms the kettle’s bottom. Sugar in the cup. Cream in the cup. I know I shouldn’t use either one, especially cream, but it’s SATURDAY. It is a day of planned reading. I crunch the spoon into the instant coffee and dump it into the cup. All ready. I glance at the books on the desk. I smile. They smile back.

Steaming mug in hand, I take a deep sniff, just like I did with the shampoo, and think about the aroma. Wow. Coffee sure smells good, even when it’s instant. I take the obligatory sip, more to check sugar levels than to taste – it’s just too damn hot.

Mug in hand, I shuffle to the desk. I pick up the stack with my free hand, balancing the pen on top that I have placed there for underlining. We head towards the couch, where I place all my burdens down on the coffee table. Walking to the patio door, I pull the cord that moves the blinds totally out of the way so that I can get as much natural light as possible – not too easy considering the weather. Standing in front of the glass patio doors, I can see the wetness of the wood, the grayness of the skies, and the fine mist coming down. I shudder, saying lowly, “glad I don’t have to be out there today.”

I glance at the fireplace. It is too early for a fire – I’ll save that for later. Sitting cross-legged on one end of the soft, velvet-like cloth of the couch, I pick up the top book. It is a shiny and smooth paperback, brand new. I turn it over in my hands, examining the design. I read it’s title – Living With the End in Mind: A Practical Checklist for Living Life to the Fullest by Embracing Your Mortality. “Ahh, this one.” I remember picking this book up at the store, how its author drew me in with her bio, setting new priorities in light of her cancer. A thin 200 pages, it’s appeal is undeniable – simple, devoid of the laborious testimonials so many of today’s self help books use to appeal to a more example-oriented reader. The seriousness of this book calls deeply to my need to plan well, to live well.

I wonder at the masses who bury their days reading fiction – I am sure they would find my day one of dread, of tedious consideration of serious matters. But for me, facing my life, my death, brings me more peace than a whole weekend lost to fiction, no matter how inspiring or relatable its characters. I close my eyes for a minute and enjoy the anticipation of deeply considering my life, my future, my plans.

I put the book down. An hour has passed in my day of planned reading, but I have yet to read a paragraph. This is the foreplay of reading. These books are not casually chosen tomes from the overflowing bin of periodicals at the library.

I have courted these books for months in numerous visits to the bookstore. First a glance, then a brief encounter. A title draws me in – “Being and Loving.” I turn the book over, as if to examine it for blemishes – but I am reading the endorsements. Do I know any of these people? Do I respect them? What do their official positions say about this book?

I turn the book back over and admire the cover as I run my palm down the front, as if carefully wiping away dust. I read the table of contents, and find an interesting entry. Scanning, I suddenly find a passage that calls to me. “Yes, that is true,” I say to myself. Isn’t that what I’m doing here? I am searching for truth. Yes. The book seems valuable. I put it back on the bookstore shelf. “I do not need to buy this book yet,” I say within myself. But during the week, I think again and again about what I read. I remember seeing other pertinent passages. I consider my budget. “Do I need it? Must I own it?” After a few more visits, we are already very familiar. I commit. I take the book home.

And now, the courtship complete, we are engaged in reading foreplay. The books have won my heart, and I have won them. They are on my table, and we are about to enjoy one another in a day of planned reading.

I sip the sweet coffee nectar gently, and roll the taste of it around in my mouth before swallowing, my eyes closed as I smack my tongue, enjoying the coffee’s fading residue. The gray sunlight fills the room like a gentle haze. With care not to write on anything, I place the pen cap securely on top of the pen, bend the first book’s cover back slightly, and begin at the Preface.