These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Reading, Writing, Running: A Personal Challenge

Posted on April 5, 2013 by Ma'ayan Dyer

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From my blog:

With only a little over two months left in my second round of adventures in Jerusalem, I’ve been disappointed in myself for not keeping up my reading and writing habits as a part of my day to day life. I have been clinging to the romantic notion that living in the Holy Land would inspire my creative side, and that perhaps my study of Torah and my so-called yeshivish lifestyle would instill the discipline necessary to keep up good habits, like reading and writing every day. But alas; bad habits are so much easier to keep up than good ones, and though the environment that surrounds me inspires all kinds of meaningful emotions, thoughts and impulses, it would appear that I still have to get off of my ass once in a while and take the initiative to be productive in my literary practices…or rather, to sit on my ass, but with a pen and paper in hand, a laptop with an open Word document in front of me, and a new book sitting at my side, waiting for me to turn the next page.

Where have I gone wrong? It’s not as though I don’t love writing and reading, so why have I not been doing it all the damn time? I’ve been battling the same aversion to good habits when it comes to running. I used to be a runner you see, just on my own time and for my own pleasure, and after doing it several times a week for a month or so, it started to feel really good. To get outside and beat the pavement, to feel the runner’s high flooding my body, ear buds blasting my own personal, triumphant soundtrack to propel me along, to feel like I’m treating my body well for once, instead of depriving it of sleep, filling it with tar and nicotine, skipping meals that would feed it, and letting it atrophy from too many hours spent behind a computer screen (not spent writing, of course)…running was a good thing that I could have kept doing. But you see, there are a lot of YouTube videos to watch for cheap amusement, a lot of news articles available online to yell at, and a lot of obligations and responsibilities in the rest of my life to give me the necessary excuses as to why I’ve been choosing the way of the lazy loafer, instead of a path that would surely lead to a more fulfilling, healthy lifestyle.

So, it’s time for a change. The weeks in between blog posts have gotten too long, and my “to read” list hasn’t had a title crossed off of it in an embarrassingly long time. My thin body has gotten flabby in places that I find flab to be most unflattering, and my lungs screamed in protest when I went on my first run in over two months last night, reminding me that my once-in-a-while smoking habit has ballooned into a pack-every-couple-of-days habit. While it feels very Israeli to smoke a cigarette after a good, invigorating run, it’s not necessary for me to ‘go native’ in that sense. In an attempt to remedy all of this, I have come up with a new set of goals:

  1. Read a book a week. Doesn’t sound like much, right? It’s not, really, if I consider all the time I waste on the internet, or when I’m sitting on a bus, or pacing around feeling bored and wondering what I should do with such moments of free time when I’m not entirely up for going out, and the fact that bed time stories are great segues into sleep. If the book is on the shorter side one week, then I’ll start a longer book right afterwards and make finishing that book the goal for the following week. Those who are more voracious in their reading habits might scoff at this fairly simple goal, but it’s a start, and is just the pace I think I can keep up with for now.
  2. Publish a blog post every week. For the weeks when I am uninspired to write about my life here in Jerusalem (and there’s plenty to write about, though I don’t always have the focus to put it into words), I’ll write about the books that I’m reading. I don’t necessarily expect people to actually read such posts, but I mean, who knows? Maybe you’re really bored and have nothing better to do than read about me trying to think of something witty to say about Jane Austen, or ponder if Henry James got paid by the word, or complain about I.B. Singer’s horrible female character depictions, oddly juxtaposed with my begrudgingly admitted adoration of him. This is an exercise that I need to do just to make sure that I am actually writing something, and have something to show for it. The idea here is that by making writing a habit in this way and feeding my brain with books, I will be inspired to write more elsewhere, and start longer projects that will actually be worth working on to completion. You know…to actually be a real writer before I dry up and die.
  3. Run every other day. I can do this. I used to do it, and I loved it, so there is really no excuse for me to not do something that I once loved so much. To top it off, I have a shiny new obsession with audiobooks. That means, I can cram more bookstuff into my head, even when I can’t sit and focus with a book physically in my hands, due to my body being otherwise occupied with other endeavors. I rediscovered the magic of audiobooks quite recently while I was cleaning my apartment for Pesach a couple of weeks ago, after getting tired of listening to my iTunes play the same songs on an endless loop while I turned the place upside down, looking for traces of chametz to destroy. The lovely audio of Librivox recordings kept me company, their volunteer readers telling me the story of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera while I scrubbed my cupboards and mopped my floors, feeling something close to being content. It made the never-ending cleaning go by more or less painlessly. Of course, remembering my love of audiobooks from last year when I used to listen to them frequently, does make me stop and consider the kind of trouble I could get into while focusing intently on a story being told to me through my headphones while I run in the streets of Jerusalem. Listening to G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday was something I couldn’t comfortably do in public, since it would, at times, make me burst into sudden fits of raucous laughter. And listening to I.J. Singer’s The Brothers Ashkenazi would literally make me gasp aloud at some shocking new development in the plot, and, at least twice, brought a blur of tears to my eyes, along with the accompanying ache to my chest that one gets when they are about to sob. I can see the possibility of me running head first into a car while getting absorbed in my stories becoming a true threat to my safety because of my ridiculous emotional reactions to listening to audiobooks. At least my running shoes are bright blue, and my running shorts a disgustingly head-turning shade of garish orange–maybe the drivers will see me coming well before I fling myself obliviously into their oncoming vehicle. Putting such trust into the hands of Israeli drivers may be nothing short of insane, but what can I say–I’ve got a book quota to meet, damn it. This is important.

So to start off my book a week goal, I’ll be reading Solzhenitsyn’s We Never Make Mistakes novella, which I bought impulsively last time I was in a used book store–I kind of can’t leave a used bookstore empty-handed you see, and since I enjoyed A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich when I read it a couple of years ago, the only Solzhenitsyn that I am thus far familiar with (although “enjoyed” might be an inaccurate way to describe the experience of reading about the grim world of Soviet gulags), I thought, what the hell? And because of how short it is, I’ll surely get a second book in before the end of the week. And if I have nothing better to share with the class when my weekly blog deadline approaches? You’ll all get to hear about my reading experience, which is sure to be riveting.

Stay tuned.