• Lijing Cobb

8 books and all

I’ve been digging into writing this blog. Every morning I wake up at 3:30-4, make a large mug of tea, greet our youngest dog who comes to visit me with a toy, scrape my tongue and wash my eyes, and sit down at my desk. After a brief planning of my day ahead, I write in my journal to recall the events of the past day, jot down the time on a separate journal which keeps track of how long each entry took me to write, turn on my computer screen, and start writing. Some days the topic forms itself from writing my journal entry. Some days it’s shaped from the night before. Some days I start typing and then the blog comes together at the end. Some days I sit, wanting to explore a certain topic, but know that I have not the courage to tackle it just yet. All in good time.

Yesterday, a local girlfriend I recently introduced my blog to texted me to say that she’s been reading my blog, and called me a “prolific and excellent writer.” The day before, I got a notification from Wix that my girlfriend from California who I met 16 years ago when I lived in San Diego for a year, and who I’ve seen only sporadically over the last 15 years, all too briefly, has joined my website and is reading my words. A few days back, another girlfriend I made 14 years ago in Texas, and have only seen twice since we moved away (once in Paris and once in Tokyo), commented on a blog entry and congratulated me on realizing my dream of writing.

I could go on and on. Every time I discover that someone has been spending time on reading what I have to say, my heart is filled with humility and gratitude. All my life, I’ve been wanting to talk to people like this, honest, heart to heart, in tears and smiles, and now I’m actually doing it. There are people who are listening to the etchings of my heart and mind. Thank you, my friends, it means the world to me.

Writing has been therapy for me. I have 45 entries to date, and if someone was crazy enough to publish them all as is, I’d have a 300 page book in my hand right this moment.

In 45 days I wrote a book. Just like that. And I’m only getting started.

Being Chinese and stereotyped for my mathematical excellence by default, I can’t help but do the calculation. There are 365 days in a year. If I can write a book in 45 days, I can write 7 more by the end of this year. Oh boy.

The thought of writing 8 books a year (plus running a small business, managing a household, parenting three growing children, etc.) tickles me. How is it possible that I got this far so quickly? Am I going to be able to keep this up? Will I run out of words and ideas eventually?

At the moment I’m reading 4 books simultaneously: Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I’m stuck on page 253, because her militant feminism got a little too heavy for me. Gandhi’s autobiography, because I wanted to know his “experiments with truth” in his own words. In the Ream of Hungry Ghosts, a powerful and poetic book by a medical doctor about addiction. And finally, Bored and Brilliant, a book I came across in my search to sever relations with my phone and social media.

It used to be anathema to me to start another book before I finish one. One thing at a time, right? Finish what you started, right? But once I started experimenting reading multiple books at the same time, I found out that not only is it not bad at all, it is actually extremely rewarding. First of all, I can leave one in my office, one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen, and one in my purse. I’m never running after a book! Second, my mood changes throughout the day, from day to day, so I’m not necessarily always fully receptive to the central theme of a particular book. Feeding my mind what it needs in a particular moment seems important, so reading a different book for different times of the day seems appropriate as well. And yes, just like food and people, some books are not meant to be finished, and some books cannot wait. Rather than letting myself steep in curiosity about what a book reads like, I find out a little bit about the book right away to quench my thirst, so that my mind is more at ease. All in good time.

I have a collection of books I accumulated over the last couple of years that I keep thinking I would read. Yet just over the last month I bought 10 more books. In my past life, being a literature student for 8 years and college professor for 6, I have bins and bins of books that I hold on to, thinking that no doubt one day I would get back to them. Now that I’m going to write 8 books a year myself, how realistic is my dream of reading all the words others have to say? How much of what I’m holding onto needs to be let go of? How can I lighten my load so I can travel far?

Whenever I teach or receive a lesson, one word that is central to my thinking is space. When I’m cramped in I feel fidgety and uncomfortable. When I’m surrounded by empty space with a few choice decorations, I feel expansive and at ease. How is it then that I allow all these books (and other things) to take up space in my life, space that I could use to breathe and think, space that I turn to to be quiet and rest, space that I use to recharge and find joy? Is it perhaps this futuristic thinking, “one day I will,” that’s taking away my peace and focus?

Somehow I have a feeling that if I can figure out my relationship with all these books I have, dead (never going to read them again) or alive (reading and will read for sure), I’ll be able to use the same logic in many other areas of my life, and therefore make a significant leap in my search for peace.

How do I determine what books are dead to me? How do I know they still have breath in them? How do I not add on to the dead pile from this day forward? In other words, how do I allow the books I place on my shelf the fullest meaning: read, thought about, discussed, cherished? How do I respect words as they deserve? As my heart fills with gratitude when I learn of people’s appreciation for my words, how do I fill someone else’s heart with the same buoyant feeling?

How do I stop lying to myself about my future? How do I let “what will be” alone, and allow “what is” more agency?

What’s possible is a result of what I do persistently. It is the culmination of the every day effort, time put in, threads disentangled, tears shed, hands held. It is not the wanton thought about an unidentifiable tomorrow. So yes, it is entirely possible that I write 8 books a year, given the trajectory of my toil on a daily basis, but it makes no sense to dream of a future that has no relevance to my everyday life. The future is here, now.

It is possible for my words to echo in the heart space of more people, near and far, strange and familiar. The magic of words brings friends back to me across time and space, pierces through barriers of all kinds to show me kindred spirits, heals wounds old and fresh, and infuses purpose and meaning into moments past and present, creating time capsules like pieces of artwork on a museum wall. In words carefully crafted and sincerely proffered we celebrate the reunion of souls, pure and simple.

This morning when my husband got up in the dark to go to work and earn money so I can write and do what I love to do, I told him that I’d already written a book and joked that he might need to make more money so I can publish it. He chuckled, and I know if I really asked him to do that one day, he would not dismiss it out of hand. He always takes me seriously, this love of mine.

And I think I’m taking this seriously as well, 8 books and all.

Because, my friends, in 45 days I did not just write a book. I discovered a new world.

My shelf of good intentions that just might not be my reality

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