I Have A Mental Illness (Well, sort of)

A watercolor by Randy Elrod

I read books every day. It’s a sickness. I’ve tried therapy but I’m afraid it’s untreatable. It may be hard to believe, but for fifty-six of my sixty-one years, I have rarely if ever missed a day.

Over these past five decades, a reading cycle has emerged. I read for sheer pleasure in bed at least thirty minutes before falling asleep. For me, a well-written work of fiction acts like serotonin. In the morning I read non-fiction for at least fifteen minutes. Lately, it has been a cycle of Pulitzer-prize winners, recommendations from friends, and tomes by the existentialists and the transcendentalists.

I once tried reading non-fiction in the evenings hoping the thoughts would subliminally influence my dreams and enhance my creativity—but instead, the books stimulated my mind and kept me awake. I would end up reading for hours—a few times all night.

However, good fiction soothes my being and gently rocks me to sleep and often I find myself euphorically dreaming of the exotic locations and colorful characters.

The past week or so I’ve found myself in a rare but glorious place. Both the evening fiction (“Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles) and the morning non-fiction (“How To Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan) are two of the most extraordinary books I’ve read. And I have devoured thousands of books in my lifetime.

Here is a favorite quote from each book.

“When I think of the last few years, I’ve been hounded by regrets for what’s already happened and fears for what might. By nostalgia for what I’ve lost and desire for what I don’t have. All this wanting and not wanting. It’s worn me out. For once, I’m going to try the present on for size.” —Rules of Civility

“Huston Smith, the scholar of religion, once described a spiritually ‘realized being’ as simply a person with ‘an acute sense of the astonishing mystery of everything.'” —How To Change Your Mind

This disease is expensive and I’m very grateful for the Dunedin Library and their amazing selection of Kindle-friendly books. This service (available to all) is saving me hundreds of dollars annually. It’s like a prescription drug for free.

And so today these books ravage my mind amidst the magical world that Towles has created in 1920’s Manhattan and the present-day life-altering research of Pollan. My companions are imagined characters such as Katey Kontent, Tinker Grey, and Wallace Wolcott accompanied by real-life world changers such as Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, and Al Hubbard.

Ironically both books captivate, entertain, and tell beautiful yet unique stories about consciousness, dying, addiction, depression, and transcendence.

Coincidentally, last night and this morning I finished both books. Their words were like honey—sweet to the soul, medicine for the mind, salve for the spirit, and healthy for the body.

I wonder what uncharted worlds await me tonight?

*****The watercolor is called “Through The Pages.” It features actual pages from an edition of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and my depiction of the protagonist.