Reading my Way to Recovery
The most important thing I've been doing to get past my literary burn out (which yes is a serious problem in my field) over the past few months has been reading whatever I want to read, whether it's academic, useful, or not. This means I've been rediscovering lost classics like Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Making of a Marchioness, dipping back into social satire, and picking up random academic publications like Jane Austen's Erotic Advice (which, almost disappointingly, is not what it seems). There hasn't really been much to tie my reading material together beyond the usual fact that most of what I read is either written by or about women, but that doesn't really change much from what I normally read anyway.
Reading what I want to read has also led to my changing how I read. I'm still coming up with ideas here and there – I've decided for instance that I want to try to work The Making of a Marchioness into my new thesis projects – but I'm letting myself read for pleasure. For years, I've attacked just about every text with my case full of highlighters and handy post-it booklets, ready to annotate every page and turn the edges of the book into a colorful paper flag collage. The approach has helped me with my academic texts – endlessly, but it's also killed my ability to read for fun. And what really is the point of going into academia to pursue your passion if you've killed it along the way?
Because that is essentially what I did. Making it into academia means that you need to fine tune your reading skills and be ready to attack anything, yes, but actually successfully making it with your sanity in tact also means that you need to be able to draw an (even if admittedly fine) line between work and pleasure. I took that line and eviscerated it. I decided to take my fun reads (and watches) and turn them into work, and I forgot to distinguish between the two along the way.
And then I tripped.
So now I've taking a step back. I focused on my classes of the semester, and then I put my highlighters away and folded my post-it booklet shut. I haven't annotated a single one of the new books I've picked up, and I've truly enjoyed myself. I've made it through several books without once thinking, "How can I work this into a critical piece?" I've found inspiration when not looking for it (Burnett), and I rediscovered the pleasure that drove me into this field into the first place. I also started sleeping better and feeling less anxious during my waking hours.
Part of me is worried that I've gotten too comfortable relaxing and refusing to critically engage, that I'll get used to this state of mind and not want to go back to doing what I love, but the logical part of my brain is constantly trying to remind me that I need this, that a month of reading purely for fun isn't really that long when compared to the seven years I've spent immersing myself in critical reading. This is what I need to do to reset and go back into things with that fine line clearly drawn.