Life during a pandemic has affected my reading and streaming habits
Over Thanksgiving I got to spend time with family in Arizona, including my beloved nephew JR, who has been a lawyer for eight years in California. JR spent three Thanksgivings with me here in Virginia back when he was in law school at Georgetown, so I think of Thanksgiving as “our holiday” and love whenever I get to see him that time of year.
When we were hanging out waiting for the turkey to finish cooking, I asked him why he hadn’t become a prosecutor, something he had considered back in law school. He told me about an experience clerking for a judge and imagining the accused in a case getting ready for trial one morning, tying his tie without knowing whether or not he would end up behind bars that day. “The kind of litigation I do now doesn’t involve people’s lives in the same way,” he said. “It’s interesting and intellectually stimulating but doesn’t entail me trying to send someone to prison.”
The stakes aren’t as high, I thought, fascinated. Fascinated, because I am having trouble connecting with anything high stakes these days when I’m not working. I have written before about my addiction to reality television (for example, here and here), but am not watching reality television lately because of problems with cable/streaming. After some ninety minutes with customer service a few weeks back trying unsuccessfully to fix the problem, I decided to let cable and reality TV go for a while, in case this weirdness was actually some kind of nudge from the Holy Spirit.
I’d like to write that since stopping reality television I have read like crazy, but for the past two months I’ve had trouble reading for pleasure. I read for the book I’m writing, but other than that have managed to finish only one novel in the last two months. (Keep in mind that I’ve finished over 80 books this year, so this inability is not normal for me.)
I subscribed to Netflix back in November and was excited to watch various programs that I’ve heard about over the years. I started with Maid, because I loved the memoir on which it was based; but as soon as the first episode got to a point where the protagonist’s abusive husband had their daughter, I couldn’t watch anymore. I went to the last episode to make sure the protagonist ended up OK, which I already knew because I read the book, and then did not go back to watch the middle. I also tried watching the Gilmore Girls reboot, but as soon as there was a hint of drama, I had to stop. Same with Orange is the New Black, also based on a book I had read. As soon as the protagonist was entering the prison, I had to stop.
When JR talked about not becoming a prosecutor, I resonated deeply with what he was saying, and think that I am having trouble with anything with high stakes, or maybe any kind of conflict. Writers are trained to heap difficulties on our characters before they finally get what they want. Perhaps this everlasting pandemic feels like we have all had too many difficulties heaped on us, so I’m just over it and don’t want to watch or read about any more when I’m seeking to be entertained.
Recently I have started watching Nordic noir series on Netflix (my husband says “Sure, nothing says Christmas like murder in cold climates with subtitles”) and am indulging in those like Christmas cookies—or at least, I watch two episodes of one and then leap over to another. Maybe the drama and stakes in those are so over-the-top they don’t feel real—or maybe reading the subtitles distracts me enough that I allow the drama in.
In my own book this month, I’ve been working on a chapter about childless composers, featuring Dolly Parton and Hildegard of Bingen. This pairing has particularly tickled me, but I’ve been so drawn to Dolly that I have neglected poor Hildegard and am frantically trying to catch up now so that I can move on to childless activists in January. I’ve also been scheduling time to revise previous chapters, so today am filling in more information about Queen Elizabeth. I better get back to that now.
What about you? What are you reading and watching these dark winter days? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. (That is, as long as you don’t try to fix me!)
What I’m Reading:
Sarah Smarsh, She Come By It Natural. I was excited to see that the author of Heartland, which I read a couple of years ago, had a Dolly Parton book. I actually finished this one (but, I was reading it for my own book, not as entertainment). I admire the way Smarsh weaves memoir into her reporting. If I hadn’t checked the book out from the library, I would have marked it up to try to dissect how she does this so effectively.
Lydia Hamessley, Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton. This focuses on Dolly’s music. I had not known before how dark some of her songs are.
Honey Meconi, Hildegard of Bingen. Focuses on Hildegard’s music.
Sabina Flanagan, Hildegard of Bingen: A Visionary Life. An older book (1989) I’ve had for a long time that I’m revisiting for this chapter.
Claire Luchette, Agatha of Little Neon. The only novel I was able to finish in the past several weeks.
Emily Maloney, The Cost of Living: Essays. I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway! I was interested in it because the author accrued significant medical debt, and I had not understood the depths of disparities in health care costs in our country until my own cancer experiences. The book arrived right at Christmas as a wonderful surprise, because I had overlooked the email that told me that I had “won.” I cannot describe how happy this makes me. I have read several of the essays, but interrupted it for the following novel that came in from the library:
Louise Erdrich: The Sentence. Started this one last night and love it. Indigenous culture, books, a formerly incarcerated person. Riveting. I think it will break my curse of not being able to finish.
What I’m Writing:
My Christmas Eve sermon hasn’t been posted yet, but here are my Advent sermons, along with the Longest Night: