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On Decompression

A (brief) meditation on rest—and reading lists.

June 10, 2017Filed under blog#reading#rest#writingMarkdown source

I’ve been thinking about reading plans and book lists. And about rest.

Plans and lists may not sound like rest to you; that’s fine: they don’t to me, either. I’ve been eager to move back into the kinds of reading I’m actively interested in doing now that I’m done with my seminary degree. But one of the challenges is that I need—and I’m very aware of this need—to decompress a bit.

The last roughly 8 years have been going fairly constantly. I began my first job after college the day after Jaimie and I got back from our honeymoon. For the next two years I worked full-time there and taught myself web development and then did 8–10 hours a week of web development consulting on the side while she finished school. I kept up that pace for another year and a half after that other than a slight break just after Ellie was born, and then we moved to North Carolina for me to get an M. Div. from SEBTS. Since we moved here, I’ve always been working—anywhere from 20 to 60 hours a week, always in at least one class a semester and often as many as three. All along the way, I’ve also been reading and writing for myself: these things are relaxing for me. And for the sheer joy and need of a good outlet, I added podcasting along the way as a hobby.

But the takeaway of all of that is that I’ve had to be extremely structured and disciplined with my time. I have always had a detailed schedule and an idea of what I wanted or needed to be working on at any given time: from learning new things in software to writing blog posts, and from actually programming as a job to writing papers for seminary.

It’s time to breathe a bit.

I feel very keenly the need to decompress. Not to stop doing things, but to add some slack to the schedule, to keep my number of hard external commitments low and to keep any self-imposed pressures low as well. That will let me recharge and avoid burnout, and it will give me lots of good time to just hang out with Jaimie and our little girls. We’ve made space for the family all the way through, but it has always been a matter of scheduling it and fitting it in. I’m looking forward to a season where it’s just normal for us to play and read and do life together. As I said: a kind of decompression, letting things stretch back out a bit and decreasing the tension of always being on a tight schedule.

That means that until about January 2018, I am not making myself a reading list in the way I want to in the future. Why do I even want that? Because I need it. So the better question is: why do I think I need a reading list or a plan?

I’m a voracious, multi-disciplinary reader, but this has two problems. One is I can be a bit like a squirrel: always seeing something shiny in that new subject over there. The other is that I can get sucked incredibly deep into one genre so that I end up reading only theology or programming or the like for six months. Having a plan and a reading list will help me both dig deeply and in focused ways into the subjects on which I want to think (and write!) more, but it will also help me balance that with a good mix of other kinds of reading from other fields—something which is both broadly helpful and which inevitably produces a better mix of insights than just reading one subject in isolation does.

But, for all the reasons outlined above: not now.

I still have books I want to read over the rest of this year. The list right now looks like this:

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order
  • Brandon Sanderson, the various sequels to Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (which I read and quite enjoyed last month)
  • Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
  • J. R. R. Tolkien, Beren and Lúthien

That’s a “list,” but it’s a list composed of exactly one kind of book: whatever I feel like reading. There are other books I’ve already started that aren’t on that list because while they’re important to me, they’re not decompressive at all: they feel like work, like pressure. And what I and my family need right now—especially in the midst of planning a cross-country move to be nearer our families in a new home!—is to relieve pressure, not add more.

So now I’m going to go read one of those books on our porch. Whichever one I feel like. And then I’ll read whichever one I feel like next. And if the list changes, that’s fine too.

Note: I cross-posted this to our new family blog!