48 Books

nothing VIt all starts while looking through my bookshelf for a book on European birds. At one moment, I realize that I have not read any of the books on a particular shelf. This gets me to counting and I eventually procure a pen and a notebook. In about twenty minutes I have run into and from every room in the flat.

A dilemma is afoot; action needs to be taken. I adjourn to the bathroom.

I always do this sort of thing while writing. I’ll be sitting alone in my office typing at a steady and respectable four words an hour, when I get a bee in my bonnet, or in tonight’s case a European Thrush in my bonnet. I‘ll start pacing around looking at once for everything and nothing in particular. It’s how I imagine the average meth addict to spend an evening at home. I randomly focus on something and that becomes my project for the night.

Tonight it’s books.

In academic writing courses and creative writing workshops I have done at the university, I constantly remind the students that they should make smart goals. That is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarded and Timed. So instead of saying that you’ll build Rome in a day and then, finding yourself frustrated with your failure, get drunk on red wine and slaughtered by the Visigoths, you say that you’ll build Rome in about 800 years, complete the task, reward yourself by getting drunk on red wine, getting nailed by Caligula and hitting the vomitorium. And then get slaughtered by the Visigoths. Well, not you, but your descendents.

If you’re anything like me, you make very unsmart goals when you feel frustrated or guilty for having been lazy or for letting something go. This can be exemplified by the 675 pound man with a shopping cart full of yogurt, diet water and oranges. Instead of something reasonable like cutting out fried foods for a month, he decides in a moment of frustration to cut out all foods except for fruit and vegetables and…diet water. Trying to bite off more (or in this case, less) than one can chew often leads to failure of that goal and exacerbation of that frustration. Our friend will be spotted later in the afternoon crying into a bucket of KFC and smothered in a shame juice comprised of barbecue sauce and pizza cheese.

I try to practice what I preach, but I am susceptible to the temptation of wanting to force an attained goal. Now. If I haven’t written in a few days, I am far more likely to state that I will write 100 pages in a weekend, rather than the more reasonable ten pages. My flat is home to several twentysomething-page manuscripts that were undertaken with foolhardy abandon before I finally and sensibly got a whole novel written.

Still, one needs to scratch one’s impetuous, unreasonable itch. So, I supplant this urge to attain a goal with another, smaller goal.

And thus, my inability to complete writing an entire book in one night forces me to undertake other large tasks that are basically one big comb over. Once I ironed every article of clothing in my house. Another time I found one hundred seventeen recipes for corn meal. Menial, maybe, but at the end of these tasks I can have what I really want to have at the end of a writing session – a completed project.

Tonight it’s books. My ventures into every room in my flat end with the startling and brutal discovery that I house 48 books that I have not yet read. I make a list, a favored tactic since at the end of writing a list you have accomplished writing a list. Oh the twisted games. This list is composed of the 48 books in the house I have not read. These range from historical tomes (Battle Cry of Freedom, Team of Rivals) to light genre fiction (They Came from Baghdad, Rules of Perspective, Clive Cussler – Deep Six).

As silly and impetuous as I am still doesn’t negate the fact that the only people who may be able to read 48 books in one night are Harold Bloom and a meth addict with a broken Atari.

After some more focused thought in my second study (bathroom), I decide that this list requires a long-term plan. So, after long and serious thought, and some toilet paper sudoku, I decide to read these books in the next eighteen months. In proof, I shall clump them into groups of five and review them in a gingerly humorous manner that somehow mocks meth addicts and Bjork. And probably Michael Bay.

What are your unsmart goals?




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