"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument." -Rumi
My friend Gena posted this quote on her Facebook page last week, and I’ve been thinking about it.
So I work in a library, and I have since I was fifteen. It is not a stretch to figure out that I love to read. My first reaction to the quote was: “Rumi, if you like to write so much, how can you not love reading?” Then I realized I was mentally arguing with a dead Persian poet. It’s true, though. We writers need to read. It’s a primal reaction. The thought of existing without books puts me into panic mode.
Some days, though, reading becomes a passive activity. It’s the worst with fashion magazines. I get a stack of them, sit on the couch, and zone out, not really concentrating on anything, even the articles that have the potential to be interesting. Or I read a book that I don’t entirely engage with – I just absorb the words, comprehend the plot, and move on with my life. That kind of reading – that’s the kind of reading that makes a person feel empty. On days when I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything, days that I haven’t put myself out there and created something, added anything of substance to the world, I feel empty.
In the last month, I’ve spent a lot of time forging new habits, one of those being daily (well, almost daily) bassoon practice. So the day I read this quote, I did what Rumi said. I took down my musical instrument. And happiness followed. I felt like I had contributed something, even if no one was around to hear me, and even if I sounded like, as my teacher put it, “a raucous fifth-grader.” I knew that I was tearing down my old self and building up my new self, this new self that can play the bassoon and not sound like a chainsaw most of the time. One day, someone will hear the new me play, and they will think, “I didn’t think a bassoon could sound so beautiful!” Because it doesn’t unless you play it right. I know from years of not playing it right.
So later, I started reading The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, a Swedish dystopian novel that’s bright with plot, character development, and lush writing, yet also colored by tragedy. I’m not done with this book, so I can’t pass judgment on it just yet. But as I read, I thought, no, this isn’t what Rumi was referring to. I didn’t feel empty. I felt engaged, part of the story, part of the world. The book inspired me to think about what I could contribute. It made me want to be back at that place, creating music, art, writing for the world to read and hear.
This is the type of change I want in my life. I want to pull out what makes me frightened and fill that space with hope.
We should read. Reading is essential. But we have to be part of the story. And then we have to make our own story.