Time to Absorb: A Few Good Books and Some Learning

Two decades ago in college, at the same time that I was introduced to the Internet, I read Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman. Since then devices for delivery of digital information have exploded. I’ve had to train myself to sense the onset of real anxiety from too much “byte”-sized consumption.

You may have experienced times like these. Some of my online friends retreat and disappear for a while. Some announce they are on a Facebook break. I don’t write Internet hate posts, unplug completely from my computer or even turn off my social networks, although I may participate less.

But when I notice this information anxiety in me, I do shift how and what I consume. Otherwise, it would stall my creative process and my ability to add anything of value.

This isn’t a post about the Internet or restricting media. Instead, It’s about noticing personal cues within ourselves and making room for seasonal shifts—whether that’s a shift in daily routines or larger goals—that help us reach deeper and gain perspective, real perspective about ourselves and other people.

An artistic friend once told me she moves between phases—times to create and times to take life in, learning and absorbing.

Maybe it is the children going back to school, the break between projects, or the literal change of season outside that brought this about for me right now, but I’ve spent some time this month and last focused on immersing myself in-depth into the creative works of others. So what have I taken in, learned and absorbed?

Global Mom

Melissa Dalton Bradford took me on a trip around her world with her memoir Global Mom: Sixteen Addresses, Eight Countries, FIve Languages, One Family. Better yet, I took her with me on my first ever audiobook to the elliptical, to the carpool line and to my own island in the kitchen. Who wouldn’t want a Global Mom as a traveling companion?

She explored topics where I wanted to travel—connecting with people who are different, overcoming anxieties in learning and new situations, and healing from loss. Melissa is a writer who embraces a richness of language that is often forced out of us these days. Her detail of fiction-like descriptions (think “driver seat anthropologist”) aided my visual journey with her to Norway, Paris, Munich, Singapore. And listening to her own narration encouraged me to revive metaphors not only in my writing but in my life again.

The conclusion wraps up her experience with a concept that just fascinates me—how our individual stories weave into the stories of others, making us interconnected in the fabric of history, a history that replenishes.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford was another adventure into a time and place—Seattle during World War II—that continued my learning about getting along with those of different cultures, backgrounds or even personalities. While the story was about a relationship between two Chinese and Japanese school children at the time of the Japanese American Internment camps, the story became my own as I identified ways that I, too, can be more open to and accepting of differences. The story moves between time periods of the 1940s and the 1980s. That back and forth made me wish for a similar view of our own life stories, which isn’t one we often get to see, but I plan to embark on a journal reading session in my near future. By the way, I loved the ending.

Have a Little FaithIn a little detour from reading and listening, I have a confession—I’ve watched a lot of Hallmark movies, even in the middle of the day. I know, they are sentimental and sometimes silly, but the diversion has been a backdrop for some deep cleaning spurts, so I can justify it. In the mix of clean romances and family-friendly dramas I realized something about myself–I can now enjoy a a less than perfect performance. My idealism and impatience for perfection is cooling and allowing me to laugh and smile and relax with my own flaws without thinking that those weaknesses ruin the outcome. Important purposes can still be met with fragmented or mediocre implementation.  You never know where you might find something great, like I did on the Hallmark Channel with the movie version of a favorite book, Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith.

The Evolution of Thomas HallI’m ending my foray into other’s creative expression with the audiobook of The Evolution of Thomas Hall by Kieth Merrill. I’m not an instant fan of audiobooks in general. I am a visual person and like to see the words and create the image in my mind, even going back and reviewing that image again for further clarity. In this book I found the narration detracted from my ability to add my own framework as a reader to this story.

While the audiobook wasn’t my favorite, I will definitely revisit this book in the written form since I am deeply immersed in the main character’s process of conversion.Thomas is an artist who moves from a self-centered state to one in which he is not only aware of others but begins to experience genuine connections and relationships that spring from love and compassion, not self-interest.

From all of these creative works, I sense a paradox about relationships with others. We need the communication, information, connections, activities and means to interact, learn from, love and serve others. But to do this in a meaningful way, we also need to prepare ourselves individually to participate. And that requires some deep and meaningful alone time—some time to withdraw to ponder, reevaluate, gain perspective, pray, believe and allow ourselves to change.

When I get to this point, that is when I can really create. In the Evolution of Thomas Hall, Merrill writes,  “From his earliest days as an artist, Thomas had recognized that the joy of creation was the process, not the results–the state of creative conciseness where reality ceased to exist.”

This process of both conversion and creation may appear to be very much our own. But again, we live in that overloaded information age, where we can’t help but be influenced by and influence others.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter how much we draw from or add to that stream. The joy we receive from both absorbing and producing has a place in the ever-flowing river of information that continues to flow by us like the public feeds of a social network.

Focusing in and selecting with a discerning eye, we can pluck out some wonderful words and ideas that will enrich us. And with thoughtful consideration about how, when and what we contribute to the current, our creations might be as simple as one more friendship, a needed act of service or even simply a genuine moment of deeper understanding.





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