Sometimes, a bad day comes at you like a freight train. On those days, I get myself to a book as fast as possible.
Raisins for rage
When I was at university, I did a course in mindfulness meditation. The idea is that you sit in silence and focus on the present moment, from noticing the sounds all around you to mindfully eating a raisin. (Ideally, you capture it with the tip of your tongue from your cupped palm. This is harder than it sounds.)
As dubious as I was about the raisin bit, meditation did help. Back then, I used to meditate for about ten minutes a day, sometimes longer. I used to do it between my last class and sitting down to dinner, like pressing a mental reset button.
Now I work full time and I have a long commute on either side – great for reading, but as anyone who’s experienced the central line in full swing will know, not great for meditation.
I don’t have those ten minutes a day so much anymore.
The crucial moment
But, to be honest, my problem with meditating was always that when I really needed to do it – say, when I was about to spontaneously combust in someone’s general direction – well, you can’t take five out of bawling someone out to sit down and appreciate the present moment.
I’ve had issues my entire life knowing what to do in that moment when all that anger and worry and sadness have to go somewhere.
When I was a toddler I used to scream my head off. I was notorious for it. I once cleared the aisles in Sainsbury’s with my wailings – a fact my mother doesn’t let me forget to this day.
Frankly, I think it was the healthiest approach I ever had.
Then you grow up, and being an adult means (for most people) that you don’t get to go round banging your fists on tables anymore. So where does it all go?
For me, it goes inwards, like swallowing a rotten oyster.
One of my colleagues was having a rough day today, and somebody said to him: ‘don’t internalise it all. You’ll get an eye twitch.’
There are times when I feel that my entire life is one big eye twitch.
Wise people have told me in the past that it’s not a good idea to be like a volcano, to let feelings bubble away and build up and up and up until one day: explosions! Villagers screaming! Bubbling orange lava destroying historic architecture!
The best I’ve done so far in coming to a resolution to my internal tectonics is to find something to concentrate on, to suck you in so entirely that it’s like going into a deep, dark tunnel, and when you come back to yourself back in daylight, those feelings are forgotten.
And to do that, you need a darn good book.
The other side
Books deliver something to the frustrated reader that TV and film just can’t, and that is because it demands participation. It takes effort to read. You need to apply yourself, and then slowly but surely you forget you’re reading and then you’re on the other side, in the other world.
Perhaps you might meet a hobbit.
An hour or two later, your eyes begin to strain a bit and you slide the bookmark out from between the back pages of your tatty novel: the act of ‘coming to’. You mark your place and close off the episode from your mind. You come back to the real world.
There’s this magical thing that happens in that moment, when you remember the things that were winding you up through a kind of fog. But now you’ve been to somewhere else, seen the bigger picture, known some kind of truth, possibly fought a dragon.
And you simply don’t give a shit anymore.