The Pressure to Consume

Every year it gets worse. I first started to feel it at Uni. There were more books to read than there was time to read them.

But it’s gotten worse every year since. More books get added to the pile, and fewer get completed. At times it feels like an uphill battle.

Since I started working it’s become a much bigger problem. Whereas before, my budget limited what I could add to my to-read pile, suddenly I had a lot more money and a lot less free time. And suddenly it was not just books. It was music. Where once I might have bought a new CD once a month or so, suddenly I was drowning in them.

Then I started reading short stories. And there were thousands of them! And it was part of my duty as an editor and wannabe-writer to read them all, to find out for myself where the good ones were. And I joined a group of people dedicated to reading every SF/F story published in the world during the year.

Sometime in there came the internet. With heaps and heaps of free music and free stories, not to mention all the blog posts, news sites, and social media sites to keep up with.

At some point I realised that I had fallen behind with all my favourite TV shows. I started a stockpile of DVDs to catch up on. Right after I finished rewatching all the Buffy episodes.

And then there were comics, with fifty years of back issues to catch up on. And more and more and more of all of the above.

And I just couldn’t keep up. And every year the pressure of all that *stuff* that I wanted to read/watch/listen to but couldn’t find the time to… all that pressure just built up like a weight on me. I started making spreadsheets to keep track of what I was consuming and all the things I had to get through. And although I wouldn’t say I stopped enjoying things… I still love a good novel or a good story or a good album as much as ever…. when I’m reading one thing I have to work triply hard to block out the clamour, the din, of all those un-consumed works of art outside my mental door, banging to be let in, saying “Me next! Don’t forget me! You don’t want to miss out on me… do you?”

And progress? My to-read pile is bigger than it was ten years ago. My iPod has more music on than ever before, but I struggle to listen to all of it more than once every month or two. I have read thousands and thousands of stories but I have forgotten most of them and every month there are hundreds more to read.

And at a certain point, I guess, you have to just… stop.

Books and music are my chief vices, but all around us, in whatever field you like to spend your money, it’s the same. We are surrounded by more and more choices, more and more things clamouring to be let into our lives. And there’s just not room for them all.

At some point you have to admit defeat. I am just not going to read all the books I would like to read. I am not going to have the time to listen to every interesting album that comes out. I don’t *want* to have to keep up with every short story ever written. I don’t want to have to keep a tight grip on my daily schedule, to manage my time strictly and with no room for spontaneity, just to try to keep up with it all. What does it even mean, to have kept up?

But it’s not easy to let go. I have made an effort over the last six months, to relax my grip, to allow myself to just be, to stop thinking about what is still waiting to be consumed, and to just enjoy what I’m reading/watching/listening to *now*.

But it’s hard. Oh how hard. A dozen times at least I have backslid, have pulled out my spreadsheets, have had a flurry of reading, have updated all my iPod playlists to see what music I need to listen to to have kept up this month.

And each time I have to say to myself, take your hand slowly off the spreadsheet and step away from the book stack. Take a breath. Accept that you can’t do everything. Accept that you can’t be everywhere, in every moment. You can’t experience it all. All any of us can hope for is to experience the one life that we have.

You can try to cram it all in. But all that really achieves is to take away from the experience you’re having right now. To distract you from enjoying the here and now by reminding you of all that is left to do. It doesn’t make you happy. And when will you have ever achieved it all? It’s not possible.

The most we can ever hope to achieve is to be here, now, present, as fully as we can. To give our attention as completely as we can to what we are doing at this moment. And to let go of the guilt, the pressure, of all that we must leave unconsumed.

The same could be said for our achievements.

It doesn’t come naturally, to me. But I’m working on it.


Music: Tuesday – The Hummingbirds

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3 Responses to The Pressure to Consume

  1. Yes, yes and yes! I spend last year on a rigid ‘book diet,’ only letting myself buy a new book every time I read three (and at least 2 of those had to be from the dread to read shelf). Ridiculous to have to impose something like that on myself but I was determined to retrain my book buying brain to the amount I can consume NOW, not the amount of books I could tear through before kids & my thirties got the better of me.

    This year I’m not limiting myself like that, but I am buying fewer books. What I am doing as well, which feels like a TERRIBLE, naughty vice… I am reading old books. Classics. Not even science fiction ones. I’m reading nineteenth century books and early twentieth century books. THICK ONES.

    I’m even…

    I can’t even say it out loud.

    I’m re-reading. Books which are not current. Elderly, unfashionable novels. And not just for self-referential blogging projects! I’m 10% into Mists of Avalon on my Kindle, enjoying the hell out of it, and wondering if now is the time for Alex and me to delve into our ‘reread those stupidly long Rome books by Colleen McCullough’ plan.

    So… can we make an agreement that no books published this year will be remotely exciting? I’m busy being retro. Kthnx.

  2. Yep – I hear you! I’m finding I have a love/hate relationship with social media in the same way. I’m constantly trying to slow down and deliberately skip things to break the pattern.
    As for my reading pile… Don’t get me started!

  3. Christina says:

    I feel the same way, not just about novels and magazines, but also rss feeds and podcasts. The podcasts are the hardest part because I always feel the need to do something else when I’m listening to them, but that something else distracts me from what I’m listening to! It’s a catch 22.

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