First, a bit of housekeeping: I’m sorry that the chapter didn’t go up last Wednesday as scheduled. It will go up tonight, but I’m taking next week off to catch up with the art chores. So expect to see some new paintings cropping up on the Facebook page … we now return you to your regularly scheduled blog entry.
It’s May. That means books.
I’m a big believer in positive incentives. I prefer the carrot to the stick, whether I’m the one dishing it out or the one taking it. I like to dangle little rewards for good behavior, whether I’m motivating students to finish their essays or motivating myself to get the dishes done. There’s a piece of chocolate with my name on it for when I finish the rewrites on Teh Novel. Yes, chocolate. Tasty, tasty chocolate …
Anyway, I long ago got into the habit of arranging a book binge for myself in late spring. When I was a kid, my parents would buy me a new book every June as a reward for getting straight A’s in school. (Yes, one new book for an entire report card of nothing but A’s … my folks drove a hard bargain, and they knew exactly where my levers were.) It was an event up there with Christmas and my birthday, and conveniently came in the middle of the long lull between those two events. I won’t say I got good grades specifically because it meant I got a new book out of the deal—my ego was way too tied up in my academic performance for that to be true—but it gave me something to look forward to and a reason not to slack off at the end of the school year.
Later on, when I got into middle school and high school and had some kind of standardized test just about every year in May or June, I started buying myself a new book or two, or a small stack of comics, as a reward for putting up with all that answer-bubbling monotony. I would always finish my tests early, and the book acted as a nice incentive to finish the tests well—if I did a good job, I could read my shiny new book while I waited for everyone else to finish. (On those rare tests that banned outside reading material in the testing room, I generally wrote scenes on scratch paper and then read them.) So I continued the tradition of book-bingeing in those years.
When I got to college, I used the book binge as a reward for getting through finals. Those tests actually were difficult for me, and they required a lot of studying and a lot of stress. I don’t handle stress well when I register it—if I don’t manage to ignore it entirely, I tend to weigh the benefits of whatever I’m doing against the cost of the stress, and the stress typically wins by just a little bit and I give up. So the carrot was necessary to tip the scales—maybe the classes themselves weren’t worth the stress of finals, but the classes and a new book or two were worth quite a bit more. I continued the custom in grad school.
Then, my first year out of grad, May rolled around and I felt vaguely bereft. I had no particular deadlines in that month, no onerous task that required a carrot to make me complete it. But I missed the warm pleasure of stretching out under a tree—or in the backseat of my car, or in a comfy chair by an open window—and reading my way through a stack of new stories in the late-spring sunshine. And I thought: Where is it written that grown-ups don’t need carrots? Is there some rule that says I can’t buy a couple of books just because it’s May?
Someday soon I’ll have to find myself a new shade tree …