Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How many?

If the Inuit people have 97 different words for snow, I wonder how many words surfers have for waves?  I dont know the first thing about surfing but even I can see that the surf is different today than it was yesterday.  Today its frothy and fizzy.  The aqua waves are marbled with white veins.

 Yesterday the waves were clear enough to see through and the white fluff on top looked firm, like uncooked meringue.

They were like this the day before, as well. Crisp and clear.

Everyday they are beautiful to me. I love hearing them thunder and roar.  Especially at night but all day long as well.  There is no letting up. I think about breathing in all that extra oxygen, imagining the good it is doing me.  A week here at Tuross Heads (NSW) is every kind of relaxing unwinding bliss.  No wonder the locals want to keep this place a secret.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Slow reading

Photo from Flickr: click image to go to photographer's photostream
I've never forgotten the school holidays when I had to spend days lying on my bed in a darkened room.  Not being able to read anything. It was terrible. Boring. Painful. I'd strained my eyes reading, and how they hurt!  I dont imagine the torture of that experience did much to curb my book worm ways, though it probably did for a while.  All my life I've been someone who never goes anywhere without a book, reading at any opportune moment.  Well, that was until I began working in a job that required me to spend hours each day in front of a computer screen.  I did that job for five years and in that time I reckon I could count the books I actually finished reading on my fingers, perhaps I'd need a few toes.  It wasnt that I lost interest in books. I'd want to read. I'd start but I just couldnt get very far into them before losing interest. Unless I was on holidays.  It was most unlike me.  My pattern of reading a book a week with several on the go at any one time came to a halt. I'd look at pictures in magazines and in the newspapers but seldom read all of the accompanying text.  I discovered I liked reading poetry - as long as they were not too long.  Just postcard sized poems that i could mull over. It has now been a year since I began different work where I dont spend most of the day in front of a screen. I'm so relieved to discover that I can still lose myself in a book. Returning to reading has taken time though.  I still dont read anything like the volume I used to.  But I feel I am finding my way towards the pleasure I used to know and I hope that in time, I will get back to the level of reading I once enjoyed.  Heaven knows, the list of books I want to read just keeps growing.
During my non-reading phase I did sometimes wonder what had happened to me.  In one of the week end papers i found an article that offered a very acceptable rationale to me. One that would suggest I wasnt alone in finding it difficult to settle into reading lengthy texts.  Tech expert Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brain, argues that our "our hyperactive online habits are damaging to the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information".  The technologies we use to find store and share information can reroute our neural pathways.  Carr describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by "tools of the mind" - from the alphabet, to maps, to the printing press, the clock and the computer.  Discoveries in neuroscience have shown how the human brain makes patterns for expediency, and how it changes in response to our experiences.  The internet has made us very adept at scanning and skimming but in the process, Carr argues, we are losing our capacity for concentration, contemplation and reflection.  The internet invites rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources.  Research has shown that office workers glance at their email inbox 30 or more times in an hour.  My own experience causes me not to doubt this.  Sometimes I would turn off the email notification if I was needing to get something done by a deadline but most of the time, I have to admit, I enjoyed the distraction of checking emails. Tracy Seeley, an English Professor at the University of San Fransisco has noticed that many of her students have difficulty concentrating on a text for more than a minute at a time.
Our technology has trained us away from slow concentrated reading.   Some who have recognised this advocate for slow reading. Tracy Seeley has a blog about it.   Nicholas Carr does too.  Ramona Koval mentioned it during one of the Bookshow episodes last week.  Apparently,  there is a whole movement towards slow: slow food, slow travel and now slow reading.  When applied to reading it's about the practice of the intentional reduction in the speed of reading for the purpose of greater comprehension, learning or just plain old pleasure.  It's about reading things that take a bit more time: reading things fully rather than just skimming. And for me its about taking a book with me to read while I wait for a friend, an appointment, a tram.  It's about reading in bed before I turn out the light and sometimes turning off the TV and curling up on the magic carpet of my couch, ready to be other than who i am, just for a brief while.