Taking a slower approach and re-embracing physical books

The summer of 2018 was rough. I felt like I was in a tornado of awful. Every single day felt like my amygdala was gushing the fight or flight response to the point that I took a week of vacation just to get a short break from the near-constant roller coaster I was on.

I decided to try something slightly different on this vacation since I needed to slow down and escape in a major way: I booked a one-day/one-night trip and I bought a bunch of books, with a plan to spend the remainder of my time enjoying my patio with beverages and snacks.

Buying books before I take vacation is nothing new for me. I literally never go anywhere without books since I have my phone with me everywhere I go. However, for the first time in years, I bought physical books. And I wanted fluffy books. That second part I pretty much failed since I bought books that mirrored, in various ways, the tumultuous period I was living through.

Despite my questionable judgment about the suitability of certain books for light, escapist vacation reading, I really enjoyed settling in for a book that requires two hands and a light source to read.

Since last summer, I’ve doubled down on reading physical books, making sure I always have one on the go. I still read on my devices and listen to audio books because this allows me to read more books more quickly and I love to read as much as I can get my hands on.

But I’ve learned to appreciate the calm that descends when I’m surrounded by quiet broken only by the crinkle and swish of a page turning. I’m still a fast reader but sitting down to read a physical book forces you to pay attention and forego other distractions, except some background music to help ward off distractions from ambient noise.

As long as I’m able, I’m not going to stop reading ebooks and audio books but it’s been nice to get back to my old ways of devouring books that aren’t quite as easily mobile.

Reading all night long

I love reading. I’m one of those people who reads relatively fast, though I wouldn’t say I’m a speed reader. I can read several books a week and I went through a period of reading almost a book a day several years ago. I was taking full advantage of the Ottawa Public Library at the time, and the number of books I checked out in a year is a number that - if I knew it - I would probably be embarrassed to admit (we’re talking triple digits). I was in between permanent jobs, taking on occasional contracts and I had a fair bit of free time on my hands. (I think I was also depressed, thus the incessant reading, but finally finding a job helped me get past that part.)

My mom and dad are both readers, but my mom is the one that I take after. She read often and quickly and all different kinds of books from Charles Dickens to the Bible to Encyclopedias to Patricia Cornwell, Dick Francis and Agatha Christie. Dad was more likely to read a well-thought out selection of books in a year where my mom almost always had a book she was reading or re-reading.

Where mom and I were slightly different is putting books down. I used to stay up all night long (literally) to see where a story went because I needed to know before I could sleep. When I lived alone back in 2000 shortly before moving to Canada, I read Kiss the Girls by James Patterson for the first time. Did I mention I lived alone? And in a slightly sketchy neighborhood? Luckily, it was a Friday night so I was able to stay up until 5:00am to finish the book so I didn’t stay awake all night listening and jumping at all the creaks and groans of the older house I lived in. I enjoy a good thriller, but that was too close to home for me.

Mom was much better about putting her books down and getting things done. But I think she understood me - perhaps even wished (like I sometimes do now) that she could just let things go for a day and just spend her time reading.

I’ve gotten better. I can now put a book down and go to sleep, but rarely without getting to the end of the chapter. I miss being able to stay up all night and read, though. I miss being able to take an entire day and plan to read like I’ve done with several of the Harry Potter releases. I can’t do these things anymore and still be a responsible adult, meaning being there for my husband and child (and also my employer). So, now I read Dr. Suess and other good children’s books to my son to get him excited about reading. Then, maybe one day, he and I can wile away the hours in our respective reader’s worlds - occasionally.

Do you have a favorite activity that you miss? A way of doing something that you miss? What is it? Why has it changed for you?

The good, the bad and the ugly supervisors

I'm reading The Devil Wears Prada right now and it's a pretty amusing book. (I know I'm about 6 years behind.) I've been wanting to see the movie for a long time, but I refuse to watch any movie that's also a book before I read the book. That's my personal policy ever since I saw the first Harry Potter movie before I read the book. Anyway, recently a colleague told me I needed to watch Julie & Julia because of some parallels she saw between myself and Julie. It was a fantastic movie - Meryl Streep was incredible and it reminded me that I still want to see The Devil Wears Prada, which meant I needed to first read the book. (No, I didn't read the book and I'm not sure if I want to - has anyone read it who really liked it? It's getting a lot of terrible reviews.)

Okay, no more rabbit trails.

If you've ever read The Devil Wears Prada, you probably thought about all the not-exactly-favorite supervisors you had in the past - like I am right now. In my personal work history, I've had roughly 50/50 male to female supervisors. I've gotten along well with all of them in general. Most males I've worked for are pretty laid back. They will occasionally ride you about silly things, but even when we disagreed it didn't seem to have a long-term impact. In fact, it barely had a short-term impact. 

The women I've worked for have been incomparable to the men - understandably so, as men and women have different ways of handling situations and different motivations for getting things done. Many of them were good to work for, but they often lacked essential management skills. In most cases this was because they just hadn't been trained in management. I think this was mostly due to constraints of the particular organizations I worked in. I didn't envy them doing a job they'd been ill-equipped to do. It's hard not to feel for someone who is clearly struggling to make a firm decision or doesn't have control over a group of employees. Another problem with ill-equipped managers is they aren't ever truly given the authority and autonomy they need to manage effectively without input from higher levels. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

Then there's the mean manager I worked for years ago. I'm fortunate that I've only had one of these and it just so happens that it was a woman. (With this exception of this one mean manager, whom I've dubbed "Her Highness" for this post, I've had perfectly lovely women managers who were really great people to know.) Her Highness would eat you up and spit you out. She would tell you how bad you were doing your job to your face AND behind your back (while you could hear). The toxicity in the environment of that workplace was so bad you needed a hazmat suit to survive. My second day of work, I got in trouble for not putting coffee and water out for a meeting someone had. My second day. The first time there was such a meeting. There was no way to set up a reminder that a meeting was about to begin (you know, in case I was in the middle of something important).

I came from a high-tech background and not having reminders was just strange to me. So, the time for the meeting came and went and no coffee was served. Instead of the consultant mentioning my slip to me, he went straight to my supervisor to tell on me (he was a real mature one). And I got reamed out for it. Reamed out. Over coffee. On my second day. I should have quit right then and there. (But I stupidly stayed for two more years.)

This woman seemed to have an innate ability to hone in on your weaknesses and vulnerabilities and use them to denigrate your ability to do a job. She would claim you weren't doing something to her standards - standards she almost never communicated. Then she would take the task away to complete herself or give it to someone else to do "the right way" rather than spend the time training people on how she wanted things done.

So, it is with that particular supervisor in mind that I'm reading The Devil Wears Prada. I'm sure you can understand the correlation.