When I was younger and friends would ask what my chosen superpower would be, I decisively responded with speed reading. I have always been a terribly slow reader, and to absorb knowledge like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit was a dream. Most thought my chosen superpower was lame. But reading was–and still is–my version of flying, invisibility, healing, superhuman strength, mind reading, and time travel.
To me, it is all-encompassing.
••• The Shame •••
For years, I deprecated myself for oftentimes needing a few minutes (or more) to read a page, for sometimes needing to read the same passage a few times over, and–after all of this–for oftentimes being unable to comprehensively retain the details too far beyond completing the read. Though, I’d like to believe that the greater lessons become woven into my being.
A part of me was frustrated because I so badly wanted to swim with ease and elegance through the current of truths, histories, and ideas on the page. I wanted to be brimming with knowledge and understanding, I wanted to be witty and inventive. But another part of me–the one that is honest and vulnerable–felt insecure and ashamed. Despite my endless curiosity, compassion, and creativity in thought and action, I felt like an intellectual fraud.
I remember being jealous of a friend in junior high school who could read in a fraction of the time I could and still absorb infinitely more than I did. Both of her parents were lawyers, so my ego rationalized that she was merely genetically fortunate. I remember being jealous of the way my sisters could (and still can) remember the details of readings and projects from primary and secondary school. Considering we are from the same genetic pool, my ego was left feeling a bit hopeless. And occasionally I still feel intellectually inadequate in the company of the brilliant souls with which I surround myself.
••• The Acceptance •••
A few years ago, I went to a beautifully emotive and reflective photography exhibit with a dear friend. The artist had spent two decades documenting her family, her childhood hometown, and other places significant to her history. A minute or so after I’d begun to slowly and purposefully read the introductory exhibition text, my friend began to walk toward the first photograph.
I was impressed by her speed, more than a little jealous, and absolutely curious to know her secret. At first, I thought maybe she hadn’t read everything, but it turned out she had. Then I thought maybe she hadn’t absorbed all of the information, but it turned out she had. There was no secret; she is simply gifted in a way that I am not (and she also has an impeccable vocabulary, something of which my writer self is also jealous). Then I had an epiphany.
While my friend had read and absorbed everything so swiftly–something I longed to be able to do–the necessary slowness and purposefulness of my reading had allowed me to be transported into the artist’s world in a way my friend seemed not to have been (based on her responses to my determined investigation). In that moment, I fully realized what reading meant to me.
Words–and their collective meaning–are something I want to savor, something I want to explore, something I want to become one with. For much of my life, I so closely associated reading with knowingness and identity that I inadvertently diminished everything else that came with it: the emotion, the healing, the compassion, the curiosity, the connection, the clarity, the transportation, the empowerment.
••• The Practice •••
The truth is, I do everything better when I do it slowly and purposefully–from reading and thinking, to writing and creating, to cooking and cleaning. And, because of this, I have undoubtedly found understanding and community in the slow revolution.
So rather than continue to deprecate and disempower myself for reading (or doing anything) too slowly or for retaining too little, I have instead chosen to dig deeper and sink into all that I do. I have chosen to be mindful of the process. I have chosen to absorb the joy and meaning in simplicity. I have chosen to no longer pretend that I can read faster than I do. In fact, I have chosen to be quite vocal about my slowness and my need to linger a bit longer when reading alongside others. I have chosen to see all the goodness that comes with reading slowly as nourishment for my writing and creativity. I have chosen to focus my reading on material that captivates me, that draws me closer and causes time to stand still.
For reading is a life and a journey all its own. And its superpowers are magnified when done with intention.