How A Lamp Took Away My Reading And A Box Brought It Back

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So here’s a dumb thing: I read only a handful of books in 2015.
But I played a loooooot of phone games.
Which felt like the moral equivalent of subsisting on Pop Tarts and McDonald’s breakfasts. But if I had an hour to kill in the evening, I’d play Ascension until I fell asleep. And people kept talking about all these great books they were reading, and I’d read maybe 15 books in the last year – which sounds like a lot to people who don’t read a lot, but I usually read about 60.
When I finish a book, I feel like I’ve expanded my life – I have learned new things about writing from watching some woman’s techniques, I’ve got a new conversation-starter with other people who’ve read it, I’ve inhaled a couple of interesting ideas.  When I finish a phone game, I feel sort of vaguely disappointed.
And I thought that it was that the phone was too distracting – which, yes, it was.  But it was also too small for me to read comfortably on, with my age-blurred eyes, so between that and the constant stream of texts, I just sort of gave up reading on it.
Yet I got a Kindle Paperwhite earlier this week, and last night was glorious.  Instead of killing time with my phone, I slipped into bed and read 15% of Traitor Baru Cormorant, which I’m sure will be on all the awards ballots that I’m not this year.  And when I got tired, I put it down and fell asleep…
…and in the morning, I realized why I’d stopped reading.
The lamp was too high.
When I’d read a lot as a kid, I had a nightstand at bed-height – I reached over and darkened the room. (I can’t fall asleep with the lights on.)  But in our bedroom, I had a big torch-style light that was five feet high. I had to get out of bed to turn it off.
And God forbid I wanted to read when Gini was trying to sleep – I’d flood her face with luminescence.  So I’d just learned to live in darkness.
Time had been, if I wanted to read, I went off to my reading room – but both of my daughters had moved back in with me over the past two years while they hunted for new jobs, and they both moved into the room I used to go and read in.  So I had nowhere I was comfortable reading.
It was all little things.  A lamp.  An unavailable bed.  A TV in the living room that made me think “Living room is for television.”  And if you’d tried to tell me any one of those things would have caused massive changes to my lifestyle, I’d have laughed. But all those little things nudged me into Not Reading.
A larger screen with a backlight turned that back on.
And I think that as humans, we often dismiss the idea that little environmental stimuli can alter our behavior. “We’re big people,” we say.  “I’d know if I was being affected!”
But the world is full of little tweaks like this. I never consciously thought, “God, that light is up too high” – or if I did, I never connected it with my reluctance to read.  I was, and am, an animal of low instincts, where I now realize I read best lying down and if I can’t lie down then some small switch in my brain tells me it’s not time to read.
And there’s all these other things that control my behavior that I doubtlessly don’t think about, but other people do. I know the dish size in a restaurant can control my portions.  I know colors can affect my mood.  I know that smells can make me hungrier or calmer.
And the frightening thing is, I don’t notice these nudges.  They just happen.  And then my reading is cut by 75% in a year.
And I think about racism and sexism, and how much of that is kind of like a too-tall lamp or a blocked bedroom.  Hardly anyone means to be racist, but maybe we look at a black face and that’s another environmental stimuli.  Hardly anyone means to be sexist, but maybe a woman speaks up and that’s another environmental stimuli.
And that sort of sedimentary discrimination is hard to battle, because not only do people not notice it happening, but when you do notice it there’s no bravery in overcoming it.  You don’t get to go, “Well, my parents taught me a woman’s place was in the kitchen, but I overcame that with logic and my own opinions!”  Instead, you have to go, “My subconscious makes me react more negatively to a woman interrupting me, and, uh, that’s something nobody ever taught me, I just sort of picked it up like lead in the water.”
That acknowledgement feels stupid. It reduces you to some lab mouse.  It makes you a dumb sea anemone, tossed about by currents you don’t fully control, and that’s the same terror of We’re bound by our biology that makes people deny evolution and put off seeing the doctor about that mole on their breast because this can’t be cancer.
I dunno.  I do know that last night, I read for ninety minutes straight, and it was lovely.  And now that I’m aware, I know that I need a) a larger box that’s b) backlit, and c) doesn’t bombard me with messages, so I can read in the dark while my wife sleeps.
I’ll be reading a lot more.  That’s good.
I’ll be wondering about what other subliminal things affect me a lot more. That’s unsettling.

1 Comment

  1. Jericka
    Jan 31, 2016

    Once upon a time I had a disagreement with my husband about having a tv in the bedroom. I didn’t want it. He did.
    We got a new set of furniture for the bedroom, and, then he bought a huge tv for the wall. He said that he’d agreed to the furniture that I fell in love with if he got to have the tv. I didn’t remember that being a condition, but, I let it go.
    The problem was he didn’t remember why I objected to a tv in the bedroom. He just thought it was a philosophical objection, or some rule that I had in my head(“thou shalt not have a tv in the bedroom!”).
    Well, no. Actually I have a problem with second hand embarrassment for characters on the tv. Three minutes of Seinfeld always had me leaving the room. I don’t watch much tv, but, I don’t mind having one in the house. It just needs to be in a room that I can leave if I need to.
    This isn’t good in a bedroom!
    What happened after was that he would watch tv before bed, and I would delay going to bed until the tv was off. I played a lot more video games and read a lot…in a different room.
    I had to explain to him, again, that I wasn’t avoiding him. I was avoiding the tv, but, if he was in a room with the tv on, I probably wasn’t going to willingly join him. Also, I wasn’t trying to punish him for putting the tv there. This was just a consequence of having it there, plus my second hand embarrassment reaction that I had told him about, and wasn’t really capable of changing.
    The only exception that lasted was “So you think you can dance.” That show I could watch and not run away part way through. So, we watched that together in the bedroom.
    Anyway. He passed away in 2010, (valentines day. Whee!) and I think I have turned that tv on three times since? It’s really in the wrong place, but, it’s wall mounted and I don’t actually have a good place for it, or, really, the motivation to move it and use it. I’d give it away, but, the people that I know that like that sort of thing already have better ones, and I would have to find something to put on that wall instead.
    Sometimes you get what you want, but, it turns out you could have listened better to the other persons objections.

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