I stopped writing quite some time ago. Just stopped. I have been moving from one crisis to another and lost touch with the one thing I was so passionate about. In the past two months, I have had surgery to remove a parathyroid tumor (adenoma) from my neck and my six-year-old son with Asperger’s syndrome was admitted to a residential psychiatric facility where he will spend the next six to twelve months learning how to cope with life without becoming violent.
Tonight, because money is quickly running out, I had to sell most of my book collection. As I sat looking at my books, I felt such a sense of loss, not just because I was having to part with items that have sustained me for so many years, but also because I realized how long it has been since I picked up a book for pleasure or wrote a word that wasn’t for a grocery or to-do list. As I began to sort through them, my heart ached. I wanted to read each and every one of them.
How could I let them go?
I started with the books I didn’t feel an emotional attachment to and then those I had begun to read, set down for some reason, and never picked back up. That was fairly easy, but it wasn’t enough. I have an hour drive each way to visit my son every week. On the weekends he comes home to visit, I have to drive a total of four hours. Gas is not cheap and I have been unable to work full-time for several years because of the toll the tumor was taking on my body before it was finally discovered. As I sat staring at the books that were left, I felt intense anxiety and had to take a break.
Why are these books so important to me? Why am I having such a hard time letting them go?
The answer came to me. Books have been there for me when no one else was there. Books have allowed me to escape a sometimes unbearable life. I have looked to books to tell me how to live, how to behave, and how to better myself and my life. Somewhere along the way I became dependent on them instead of on myself. I believed that somewhere within those books was the answer to all my problems. If I could just read this book or that book I would finally find what I have been looking for all my life. But the reality is, most of the books have been collecting dust on the shelves for years not ever having been opened. Most importantly, I have been reading books and even using the idea of reading books to avoid sitting down and actually writing one.
I went back and started pulling books off the shelves and putting them in bins. I allowed myself one small shelf for each genre I enjoy: writing advice, self-help, fiction, and memoir. If I had more than would fit on the shelf, they had to go. After filling the bins, I immediately left for Half Price Books to sell them. I knew if I didn’t, I would start to go through the bins and pull books out.
Driving the 45 minutes there and back, I had time to reflect on the process of letting go I was experiencing and surprisingly felt relief. I realized that the books I decided to keep have helped define more clearly who I am and who I want to be as a writer. I have been struggling to figure out what kind of book I want to write. Letting go of my books gave me the answer. Through their loss, they finally gave me what I had so desperately been seeking: a better understanding of who I am as a writer and to start writing again.