I finished The Bell Jar on July 1st last year, so that's how long I have been working on this reading list. I know have referred to it at times, but I have never spoken very clearly about, because it is hard to explain for multiple reasons.
First of all, there is no clear way to categorize the reading. Some of it is psychological in nature, and some of it is feminist, but I don't know that there is any one word that takes in all of them. They were all connected, and all intended toward a single purpose. That's the second thing that's hard to explain.
I have referred to making friends through Twitter that have made me more aware of mental illness, eating disorders, depression, suicidal tendencies, and self-harm. They are mainly female, and largely in their teen years, but saying that I am connecting with young girls via the internet can't possibly sound right. It would be easier if I had some simple way to refer to them, but no label has ever felt right, and that is probably not a coincidence. Suffice it to say that there are people I care about a lot, and want to help.
I have pretty clear memories of my own adolescence, but there were still a lot of things I have never dealt with, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to be able to help more. My standard operating procedure when I want to know more is to look for a book. That's how I came up with the reading list.
It started with a list of about nine books. Obviously there was mission creep. Some of that was that I had other things going on. In the course of reading it I went through two Black History months and one Native American Heritage month, plus the MOOC and books that my sisters checked out that I wanted to read too.
I eventually needed to use a spreadsheet to keep track of it, and while that spreadsheet now has 11 tabs tracking various things, the Books tab now contains 10 other reading lists, though only one of them is really long. (Those will probably all eventually get their own posts.) It wasn't a fast process, but it was never going to be.
It is also not a tidy ending. For one thing, going back to the mission creep, there are books that I had not planned on reading initially that are sort of connected now. For example, Her Mother's Daughter mentions the Summer Hill school, which I felt like I needed to look into more. So I am now reading a book about the school, and after that I have one that is a follow up for many of the students who attended.
(I am also reading Drop Dead Healthy, which relates to the aftermath of the reading and things that I need to do, and Last Chain on Billie, which is a book that Julie read because it was mentioned in the Elephant Sanctuary newsletter.)
I could consider that still having those books unread means that I am not done, except there will always be more books. What I have read has covered the intended ground. I'm not going to stop reading, but it's okay to work on some other things. There were some exercises that I did with certain books, especially Behind the Mask and Fat is a Feminist Issue II, and they made me think of other exercises I should do, some of which are done, but some of which are not. They are extensions of this moving forward phase that I am in now.
There are going to be many, many blog posts about the reading. There has already been some journal writing, and there will be more, but there are two things that I want to point out now.
One is that having recently read Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson, one of the points mentioned is that the big innovators tend to have hobbies, and friends in other fields, because then you can get diverse ideas bouncing off of each other.
Seeing a justification for my dilettantism is nice, but the other interesting thing was that he mentioned some famous minds, like Bill Gates, taking reading vacations where they will take a month and read a variety of different books, and it can stir up ideas.
For the past few months, any time someone has asked me if I did anything interesting, the answer was always reading, so I totally see the appeal in just setting time aside and doing it all at once, and yes, I know I have forgotten things from the start because of the time elapsed. It is also not practical for everyone to do such a thing though, so I would like to recommend Smithsonian Magazine. They cover a range of interesting topics each month, and I can see it working well for creativity and general knowledge. (I say that admitting that my magazines are piling up too.)
The other thing is that when I mention moving forward, I hope there is something literal there. I have been restless and I think I am on the verge of change. I have been through big projects a few times before, and interesting things have happened.
About seven years ago I finished 100 pages of introspection, and then I had a dream with a haunting image that became the basis of my first screenplay. After writing one and a half screenplays, the world economy crashed and I lost my job. After finishing six screenplays, not selling any but getting a new job and having many other things happen I crashed, and I couldn't write anymore.
About two and a half years ago, I fell in love with a band and was shaken by a video, and four hundred pages later I had worked through what I needed to, and it was right after finishing it that my timeline began to fill up with young girls. That's what led me here.
This has been different. The other projects were writing, not research. Now the writing will start, and maybe that will be the real conclusion. I have never known in advance where something would take me, and I don't know now.
I will be trying very hard to capitalize on my other writing, and there will be some more on that tomorrow and next week.
It will be a new month, after all.