Grad school was 5 years ago, but my love of reading has been a lingering casualty (reams of peer-reviewed articles will do that to a person). Social work hasn't helped matters. Trade secret: most social workers don't read. We are physically and emotionally exhausted. We want naps, we want reality television, we want numbness. You know what we don't want? To emotionally engage with anyone or anything, even a book.
Still, the past few weeks I have somehow been clawing my way back into the fold of readers. Sometimes it's just a few pages per day, but there are periods of respectable progress. I am nearing the end of "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," an epistolary novel by Maria Semple. It focuses on the eponymous Bernadette, a once bright and successful woman whose spirit is crushed and sanity eroded by (wait for it...) SEATTLE! YES SERIOUSLY! IT IS OBVIOUSLY THE STORY OF MY VERY OWN LIFE! The only thing I hate about this book is that I did not think of the idea first because IT WAS OBVIOUSLY THE STORY I WAS BORN TO WRITE. It's been hard to not over identify with Bernadette (except for the part where she is a racist snob. That is pretty unappealing, but probably also an accurate depiction of a rich white lady living on Queen Anne). There are passages where I get a sense of deja vu because they detail my very own complaints, almost down to the letter! Bernadette even complains about Seattleites' habit of always saying "No worries" in response to every interaction, something I thought only bothered me! Sometimes it's so familiar that it's painful. There is one passage in which Bernadette's husband describes her obsessive, long-winded, and repetitive rants about Seattle's 5 way intersections and poor urban planning. This is practically my daily diatribe.
Then this past weekend, I had a friend in town from a comparatively rural part of Washington State, which she moved to from NYC about a year back. She's making a go of it, certainly doing a better job than I ever have. But still, it's a pretty drastic transition. We spent a night on the town; cocktails at various Capitol Hill haunts, catching a cab down to Belltown, ending the night eating pizza in the taxi home (have you all been to Rocco's? So delicious! I thought my dreams of decent Seattle slices died with Piercora's but I was mistaken). Throughout the night, she made several comments about how great it was to be in a city, how much she missed being able to walk to her destination, or even catch a cab, how my tiny studio apartment (which I am always apologizing for) is really cute. And she's right: all of that stuff is great. Unfortunately, it doesn't always feel so great. I can't think of Seattle as "the big city" without a snicker, but I know for a lot of people it is just that. For so many, even the idea of living in Seattle is probably this unimaginable, intimidating dream, a treasured goal, the big time. It's all relative.
Of course, knowing that doesn't override my emotions. It's like when you're having a bad day and you try to remind yourself that people all over the world are starving and dying, and you are just in a crappy mood because there's a pile of crusty dishes in your sink and there's a run in your stocking, and then you feel even worse because you realize you were trying to use the tragedy of others for your own personal gain. Emotions aren't logical: just because you know something is true doesn't mean it feels that way. But sometimes hearing the perspectives of others can be a useful reminder that everything in your life isn't the complete worst.
How's that for a cheery mantra? "Everything in my life isn't the complete worst." I find it strangely soothing.