Paper Books, Looking In and Looking Out
Some musings on how these fit into my day-to-day and emergency kit
Last Saturday, my city was one of many hit by a powerful windstorm known as a derecho. This one rose up in southwestern Ontario, barreled across a thousand-kilometer stretch, spanning the whole province and moving well into Quebec. In a matter of hours, it hit four of Canada’s largest cities, bent power transmission towers in half, tore rooves off community centers, killed ten people and left hundreds of thousands in the dark.
As the sky turned greenish, sideways rain obscured my front yard. I couldn’t see the street. The four-story-tall pine tree just outside my living room window swirled and swayed. I sat poised, ready to call Jon and Tiber down from upstairs, ready to race into the basement. Then it was over. The whole storm lasted mere minutes. The power outage lasted three days—for us. Some areas are still out.
I’ve experienced scary storms before. At 3,200 meters above sea level, in Cuzco, Peru, we were basically in the clouds, in the middle of thunder and lightning. I saw furniture and animals swept down cobblestone streets. In the prairies of Saskatchewan, sheet lightning lit up my tent and miles in every direction.
I didn’t realize it until Sunday, but something about this weather event triggered my nervous system. It revved into high anxiety, then slipped into freeze mode. The feeling was similar to when the pandemic started, not knowing how long this adverse event would last. Add that to other less-than-ideal circumstances in parts of my life right now, and the unknown took on extra large proportions. A long weekend that should have been delightfully relaxing filled me with fraught uncertainty.
The good thing is I recognized my reaction right away and have gathered multiple tools and techniques over the years to calm my system.
I turned to books, as I so often do, only this time back to a real paper book. I tend to read ebooks on my phone, but with no power this weekend, I picked up a novella* that Other Press had kindly sent me for consideration. It helped tremendously. To escape, yes. Less obvious, though, it helped me to read of migration and war.
Sometimes those topics hurt. This time, they provided a contrast. The people in this novel faced the most momentous, life-altering unknowns. They let me see that, despite my body’s reaction, I was alright. My circumstances were still lush in comparison, with nothing of that magnitude to endure. Though the storm as a whole was devastating, but no tree crashed through my roof, like at my sister-in-law’s. I didn’t lose a loved one to a falling branch or entire trunk, as some did.
The lives of these characters also offered a mirror. At one point, a mother falls mute, unable to cope. A daughter gives up something she loves when it’s no longer tenable. A grandson writes to ease his pain.
There on the page were events and reactions, failures and triumphs, hurt and courage and determination. I was reminded that I am just another member of the human race, riding the highs and lows of life.
It’s a beautiful circle. I look inside a book to look away from life, and what I encounter on the page reminds me to look once again at myself, and at the same time to keep lifting my gaze, to see all that is around, whether near or far away.
When I did look out, here in my corner of the city, I saw heaps of kindness. Our neighbor borrowed an industrial-sized generator and offered to connect an extension cord, snaking across the fence, over the lawn and through our window, to run our fridge. They stored another neighbor’s insulin and another’s chemo drugs in theirs. We made room for yet another’s perishables. A friend across the city who did have power invited us to come for a hot shower and connect to wifi to work on Tuesday. I saw charging stations set up in nearby driveways, with lawn chairs to make the wait more comfortable. Friends and family texted to check in with us, happy to hear we were safe, and crossed fingers and toes for the quick return of electricity.
That paper book, that story that led me to peer inside and out, all contributed renewed calm in body and mind.
We see every day how the world can still be a precarious, tragic place. In Ukraine. In Uvalde, Texas. In Senegal today.
But if I can keep my eyes open, if I can continue to take in fictional and real lives, within my sphere and far beyond, I know I will continue to find contrasts and mirrors to support me, which I can hopefully then use to support others in turn.
Join me? Let’s continue the circle right here, today.
Comment or hit reply to share what you’ve found in a book lately, to share a hurt I can perhaps witness for you and/or a joy I can celebrate with you.
Yours, in Books & Love,
*P.S. I promise to tell you more about the novella from Other Press in a future letter. I’m hoping to chat with the author and/or translator, and share their their insights too. (And if you’re in Wayfarers, we’ll be reading it for sure!)
**P.P.S. If you write for an audience of any kind, I’d love to be the reader you need, to see you and your writing, to offer zero judgment, oodles of encouragement and keen professional advice. See here for a list of coaching and editing services or schedule a chat to talk about what you need and how I can support you and your stories.
Lisa Carter is Founder and Creative Director of Intralingo, helping authors and translators write and readers explore stories. Lisa brings two decades of professional literary experience, including nine books and multiple other pieces published in translation, and nearly as many years of contemplative and compassion practices to her work. Her inclusive, engaged, caring presence inspires people to share their stories, create new ones and feel truly heard.
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We often receive free books from publishers, authors and/or translators, and will always identify when that is the case. Recommendations are never paid. They are offered only when we genuinely want to share a book with you.