Cadence Seeger

A picture of me in high school reading a newspaper next to a deflated sheet ghost. Unable to have anyone pose underneath the sheet with only two people and no tripod, we filled the ghost with sticks and branches found in the park around us. It didn’t really work, but we still got a laugh out of this photoshoot.

A Rediscovery

When I was younger, I read all the time. I devoured books with an insatiable appetite: fantasy, thrillers, romance, classics, and baby horror novels, ones that would keep me up afraid of shadows for a few nights but not devour my entire sense of the world. The library was my sanctuary, and even well before knowing how to drive I could mentally trace the journey from our house to the local library.

Before the age of 10, we lived in California and my library had a large central room surrounded by smaller alcoves filled with books. The central room had a large tent that descended from the ceiling, creating a sweeping reading nook underneath. The librarians would hold book readings under this tent, where children of all ages clustered around perched on brightly colored pillows and floor mats. I remember poking my head into the tent whenever we were there to see if I could sit in on an impromptu reading.

Right outside the tent was the Youth section. I knew that the Shel Silverstein books were in the middle rows, at eye level. And if you dropped down, knees brushing against the rough grey speckled carpet, I’d find a long row of colorful R. L. Stein books, all lined up in chronological order, along the very bottom shelf. I checked out Goosebumps books by the handful, reading one a day for a week until we could journey back to the library the following weekend. They were my favorite and I read every single one, in chronological order.

I remember searching for my parents in the alcoves among the other stacks of books. I remember those sections always seemed a little dingier, a little darker, a little more intimidating. I preferred to stay in the central room, with its long white tent, bright yellow and blue cushions, and tall stretching windows that flooded the space with light. With my next set of Goosebumps books in hand, I’d pick up a random book that piqued my interest and sit in the light of those windows and read or people-watch.

When I was 12, we moved to Virginia. The first memory I have of our new home is the squirrels. Instead of a warm brown color, they were a deep jet black color. I’d never seen a squirrel that wasn’t brown before. My second memory is of the library.

There were local libraries dotted around the area, but the one I loved was the first one we frequented near the hotel we were staying in while we house-hunted. I didn’t know anyone at school, and I was shy and anxious. After school I’d come home, eat a cheese stick and an applesauce, and read whatever we had lying around. On the weekends, we’d walk to the library. This library didn’t have a grand children’s section, but then again I was no longer at an age where I needed a grand children’s section. Instead, this library had its Young Adult section tucked into the far back corner of the building. A few wooden rocking chairs lined the back aisle, and colorful salacious spines screamed from the walls. It was secret, quiet, and hidden. Perfect.

It was in this back corner where I no longer reached for Goosebumps or The Magic Treehouse. Instead I read Gossip Girl, carefully hidden from my mother’s judgmental eye, and The Clique, and TTYL. I found myself drawn to books with scandal, escapism, and drama. I remember reading a fantasy book called Bartholomew about a young traumatized magician boy and his impish demonic sidekick. I remember staying up late in bed, clutching the book as I read, this pitiful magician and his snarky companion fulfilling a girlish itch I’d never before scratched. I had the same hunger for books throughout my teens as I did in my youth, though the handfuls of books were now periodically substituted with DVDs. In this library, I knew the film section almost better than the stacks. My interests were widening as my attention span was shortening.

The older I got, the less adventurous my selections became. I no longer picked books out based on a pretty cover. As books got longer, they became more of a commitment. The range of options before me spiraled and unraveled, creating an endless maze of choices. I went from 30 books in any given genre to 30,000. I needed a starting place to help me navigate the sea of options. So I looked up a list of “100 best books” and went through those like I went through the Goosebumps books. Sequential, orderly, all lined up in a row. Some I loved, but most felt like reading a class textbook. These books had the aura of a text I was obligated to read because of its historical importance, though the writing was boring and the story failed to come alive as I read it. I wanted to be well-versed in the world of literature, and I thought that this was the unshakable foundation my knowledge must be based upon. However, the longer I spent building that foundation, the more my fire for reading began to dim. I was reading what I Should, but not what I Wanted. So soon, I stopped reading.

In college, I decided to apply for a job in the Rare Books section of the university library. Unbeknownst to me, this section was actually up in the archives, rather than in the library itself. I took the job as the Office Assistant, managing the front desk, and the library became a place of work rather than refuge.

I chose to take a series of English classes that taught a sequential history of The Classics. I read the Bible for the first time in my life, along with Aristotle, Confucius, and Lao Tzu. I read the entirely of Don Quixote, rather than only the assigned chapters, because it was the first book I’d read since high school that I truly couldn’t put down. It brought to life that fire for reading as the characters materialized in front of me, fighting their windmills and proclaiming their excitement. And just as I felt the passion for reading return, it was snuffed out by the very next assigned reading: Paradise Lost. This book was not only lifeless and dry, but reading it was like brushing a cat’s fur backwards. It was like scratching your nails a little too harshly against a seatbelt. It not only didn’t dance or come to life, but it felt like I was actively being punished by the writer for daring to read the words he’d put to paper. This book did not want me reading it. And for the first time in any class, from elementary school to college, I didn’t do the assigned reading. I refused to swallow any more of that dry, sandpapery book. Halfway through I set it down, and I didn’t pick up another book for pleasure for a long time. 6 years to be exact.

I’m being dramatic, of course. I read the odd book here and there in that time. I read articles, and the news, and journals I found online. I read a friend’s book that he had written and gave edits and notes. I read while sitting at the front desk of my first job, bored and waiting for people to arrive so I could greet them. I read so that I wouldn’t go on my phone, until my boss noticed one day and chewed me out for reading while at the front desk. So from then on I just went on my phone. I read long lengthy fantasy stories and biographies of people I liked. I read things that folks in my life recommended. But it really hasn’t been until lately that I’ve felt the fire, the itch for reading really come back into my life.

I promise this isn’t going to be a ‘technology bad’ story. It’s a boring and reductive take. Technology isn’t bad. Phones aren’t bad. I did, however, recently have to reckon with myself that I’d completely lost the ability to be bored.

While watching TV, laptop propped in front of me opened to some online storefront, I found myself reaching for my phone. The little bit of my brain saying “Entertain me! Distract me! Fill me up! Make me feel whole!” was not satisfied with merely two simultaneous outlets of entertainment. I was suddenly also on my phone, mindlessly flipping through friends’ Instagram stories at a rate far too fast to actually comprehend anything. Just a blur of colors, faces, boomerangs, flashes of life going by in the blink of an eye, rapid, thoughtless, just trying to get through them all as fast as possible. Cram everything in, pacify the ever-anxious, ever-itchy, ever-screaming part of my brain that needed more more more. It was in one of these technology blitzes that I put everything down. I turned my phone all the way off. I closed the laptop and put it on the floor. I turned off the TV. I sat in silence, absolute silence. “Fill me up!” my brain screamed. ‘But my phone is off. It’ll take a while to boot back up. What would I even do when it does? I don’t want to look at any of that.’ Instead, I forced myself to stay in the silence. To grow bored. To get restless. And when I’d finally gotten restless enough, I thought ‘Okay, what do I want to do? What do I REALLY want to do right now?’ For the first time in years, and certainly for the first time since the pandemic, I found that I wanted to read.

That was about a week ago. I’ve put a focus on my phone that only allows notifications from my mom and my partner, and I’ve deleted all apps from my homepage except weather and my calendar. All of my apps are still available, a quick search away, but adding in that extra step forces me to think ‘Is this REALLY what I want to be looking at right now? Is there anything else I’d rather be doing?’ I treat TikTok and Twitter and Instagram like TV rather than a reflex. When I ask myself ‘Okay. I’m bored. Do I want to read? No. Clean? No, I want to relax. Do I want a TV show? No, I want TikTok,’ then I put all my focus into watching TikToks, for about 40 minutes. Then I reevaluate.

When everything becomes a purposeful decision rather than a blind instinct, an itch to scratch, then everything feels like a choice I’ve made. A decision with thought and intention put into it. And in this past week, I’ve finished 3 books.

I feel like I’ve unburied a part of myself that’s been dormant for a long time. I feel a fire that I’d forgotten I could light. What started as a weekend experiment has turned into a beautiful reawakening and a reintroduction of myself. I remember now how important it is to give yourself the stillness, the quiet, the time to grow bored and restless. To check in with yourself and see what you truly need in this moment. I know that I’m honoring my child self, the deepest roots of what makes me feel like Me. After years of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, I feel like I’m finally carving out space and refocusing on myself. It’s amazing how transformational such a simple action can feel, simply letting myself read. I can’t wait to see what book I pick up next.