Yesterday, I was having a conversation with one of my oldest friends that covered a wide range of topics, from the upcoming Presidential election to religion and my feeling overwhelmed by all of the information I have to process. The latter remark was sparked by the fact that I have over 25 books, 2 books on tape and 8 DVDs out from two separate libraries, not to mention the books I have on loan from other people.
Towards the end of our conversation, he made a comment that really stuck me and I am trying out- namely, that just as people who need to lose weight need to exercise some discipline and practice portion control, one should practice it regarding one's information consumption.
In order to accomplish this, he suggested returning all but two books (and those that I need as reference material for my work), and to spend a short amount of time in the morning reading short selections of several books of philosophy before I even have any coffee. I shouldn't read too much- only about 10 pages- because I would not be able to adequately mentally digest what I had taken in.
I spent the rest of the evening taking in what he had said and applying it to my situation. How much of the information that I take in every day is "mentally nutritious?" How much of it is "mental junk food?" I fear the answer is mostly on the junk food side, especially in my daily interactions on the internet.
Last night, I picked out the book of philosophy I read last night before bed and read this morning before (and after) coffee: The Message in the Bottle: How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to Do with the Other by Walker Percy. In the past 6 months, I have read two of his novels: "Love in the Ruins" and his first, and most famous novel, "The Moviegoer". These books have moved me in a way I hadn't been moved by literature in a long time, and the subtitle of "Love in the Ruins," a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel of sorts (of which I am trying to write one) summed up what I have been feeling lately: "The adventures of a bad Catholic at a time near the end of the world."
I had taken out "The Message in the Bottle," a collection of his essays several months ago in the hope of learning more about him and his philosophy. I had perhaps cracked this book open once since bringing it back from the library, but when I decided to pick a work to begin this exercise with, I was drawn to it and have been floored so far by the first essay in the collection, "The Delta Factor," a meditation on what exactly is the thing we call "language."
Speaking of information portion control, when I was creating the hyperlinks for the books, my mind briefly wandered and I started to read the reviews until I noticed what I was doing. This is exactly the kind of thing I am trying to avoid right now. How many times a day do I do this action or its equivalent? How much time do I waste and how much anxiety do I create for myself by engaging in this behavior? How can I do my work during the day and digest what I have read if I am constantly and unconsciously "consuming" such things?
I will report back tomorrow on my progress.