Before I could drive, my mother would take me to the library to pick out a stack of books for the week. During the short drive home it was almost impossible to keep from opening the first and diving in. Reading was an escape, a way of entering another world for a while. I would read for hours, devouring whole books at a time. The images came so clearly to me then; it wasn’t reading, it was like stepping into the lead characters body and allowing them to take control, a dreamlike state.
At the time I was also fascinated by magic. Any magic trick was a source of awe and wonder. As a family we went to see the magician David Copperfield. The experience was breathtaking. The performance had me on the edge of my seat so I wouldn’t miss a single second. I lay awake in my bed that night replaying illusion after illusion unable to sleep.
Time passed, over the years I dabbled with both writing and magic to satisfy my curiosity but never dived into either. There was school and a series of different jobs to occupy my time. Reading was still a pleasure, but the stresses of college life had robbed me of the ability to fully immerse myself from the first page. Instead it took a chapter or two to get warmed up to a story and then I would often lose interest as I remembered assignments yet to be completed.
I married a fellow who lived in the same college apartments, he also loved books and magic. He even performed magic shows for birthdays on occasion and I went along as the lovely assistant. I learned that there is a difference between dabbling in magic and practicing enough to perform on stage. Now, whenever I attend a magic show my first reaction is no longer one of awe and wonder. I instead watch for how the performer accomplished his feats, which distraction he used to trick the crowd, and then judge how effective it was. Only the best were able to confound me enough that I could be amazed.
As I enter the realms of serious writing, I’m finding it nearly impossible to find the dreamlike state while reading. Instead of relaxing into a story, I pay attention to how it is built and which techniques are used. I pay attention to voice and transitions between points-of-view. I dissect effective passages of description, trying to learn what makes them work. It takes the work of a true master to distract me long enough so that my mind can take hold of the story and let me be immersed. Even then I never have time to spend hours at a time in the folds of a good book, I’m lucky to get minutes here and there thanks to my ever busy kiddos.
It’s an ironic twist of fate. We pursue something we are passionate about only to lose the ability to feel that passion. Great chefs struggle to enjoy mediocre food, ice skaters can find every point deduction, gardeners spot weeds and untidy borders, writers search out the art of a story. They all search out ways to do it better. It’s like the adage of not being able to see the forest because of the trees.
Is it curable? Is there anything we can do to reclaim our sense of wonder? Yes. Do I know what it is? No.