Sweet Lies Before Bed
In 2022, I'd like to start reading fiction again.
Hi, I'm Alvin. I'm a 26-year-old entrepreneur, and I suffer from anxiety.
I didn't always feel this way. Just two years ago, I was as happy and as carefree as a lamb. I ran a successful sports event business. Life was calm and peaceful and good...then, everything changed when the fire nation attacked coronavirus struck.
My business, due to a country-wide ban on events, dried up overnight. I went from making five figures per event to making a net loss every month. One moment I was living in the highest mountaintops, the next I was drowning in the deepest of oceans. Such is the life of an entrepreneur.
And like an entrepreneur, I tried to tough things out. I tried to hustle myself out of the situation.
I read self-help books and watched motivational videos and woke myself up before the crack of dawn to take ice-cold showers while drinking bulletproof coffee. I, in short, worked hard to try to get better...but all working hard seemed to accomplish is make my anxiety worse.
I suffered from racing thoughts by day and insomnia by night. When I finally slept, I often had strange and terrifying dreams. I also, oddly enough, developed a condition known as sleep bruxism, a condition where I unconsciously grind my teeth when I sleep. My teeth grinding got so bad that when I went for a dental exam, the dentist had trouble believing I was only in my twenties, because of how worn out my teeth were.
I got to the point where I thought, deep in my heart of hearts, that all hope was lost. I shrugged and rationalized that having a permanent spike in cortisol levels was something normal and to be accepted, that stress was part and parcel of being an adult. In short, I was, until recently, very much resigned to my fate.
And then I discovered a remedy to the anxiety-riddled existence I was living.
And that remedy is, as unlikely as it sounds, reading fiction before bed.
The Oft-Forgotten Power of Fiction
“We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
They can keep their heavens. When I die, I'd rather go to Middle Earth."—George R.R Martin
I used to be a voracious reader of fantasy.
I was that kid who would check into the library with an empty bag and check out with said bag bulging with books. And not just any ordinary books, oh no. They all had titles like:
- Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
- The Ranger's Apprentice
- Cirque du Freak
- The Last Elf
I remember opening those books gently, reverentially, trying my utmost not to crease up the spine. I remember the way they smelled when I read them, a smell like woodsmoke and old paper, a smell that, to this very day, reminds me deliciously of lazy, Saturday afternoons spent with a book. And most of all, I remember the way my blood sang when those tales carried me away, away to far-off, impossible realms full of sword and sorcery and bittersweet sacrifice.
But somewhere along the line, I forgot.
I stopped reading fiction to pick up other, more "serious" books instead.
It began when I first started my business. I thought that I had to behave a certain way in order to succeed, so I surrounded myself with a certain type of people; people who are less interested in books and more interested in cold, hard numbers. I trusted these people. They told me that reading fiction was a waste of time, so I swapped out my beloved Darren Shan's and Christopher Paolini's for the "more applicable" works of Tim Ferriss and Robert Kiyosaki instead.
And I suffered for it.
I realize now, looking back, that the bulk of my anxiety stemmed from a lack of escapism in my life. If I'm already stressed out from running my business all day, the last thing my overworked brain needs is to read about things like cryptocurrencies, rising inflation rates, and the best way to structure my business to take advantage of existing tax benefits.
Yet that was exactly what I was doing, night after night. I thought that by burning the midnight oil, I'd get to where I wanted to go faster. That didn't happen.
All I accomplished was burning myself out.
A (Light) Reading Resolution
So here's my new year's resolution for the year 2022: I'm going to return to my childhood love. I'm going to return to reading fiction.
More specifically, I'm going to read a work of fiction every night, about an hour or so before I go to bed.
The story itself can come in the form of a novel, a short story, or a play. The medium, and indeed even the genre the story belongs to, is irrelevant. The only important criteria is this: it should be a story that takes me away from my worldly concerns. It should be, in other words, a story that helps me escape. Now, the term 'escapism' has gotten a bad rep, but, at least in the case of fiction, I would like to respectfully disagree. In the words of C.S Lewis, "The only people who hate escapism are jailers."
Yesterday, I read Voltaire's Candide, and I laughed so hard tears sprang unheralded out of my eyes.
After I finally stopped laughing, I closed the book and immediately fell into a deep and dreamful sleep. I awoke feeling more rested than I had felt for a long, long time.
Tonight, the book on the menu is George R.R Martin's Fire and Blood, a 736-page book on the Targaryen dynasty. Yes, I'm going to read all about the history of a family that has never existed—and I'm going to enjoy it.
Long story short, my resolution for the year 2022 is to feed myself sweet lies before bed. Because fiction is not the waste of time some people think it is. Fiction, as Bukowski once wrote, is an improvement on life. And this year, I'm going to improve my life, and heal my psyche, by trying out a tried-and-true, time-tested tradition that we humans have been practicing for millennia.
The tradition of telling bedtime stories before bed.