When I stopped should-ing myself in one part of my life, it became easier to do it in others.
August was going to be my month. I moved into a new house, was traveling to Austin for the first time, bought a van (like, full #vanlife van) with my partner, and was going to a small and special wedding for two amazing people. Knowing I’d be traveling by plane, van, and expecting to be physically and emotionally exhausted, I bought this book.
I never read this type of book anymore. You know what I mean: strong female lead, she’s stylish, you love her, you see yourself in her. There’s a romance, but she has bigger things going for her.
This was the type of book that made me fall in love with reading (special shoutout to Carrie Bradshaw). Before the B.A. in English literature, before the master’s in library science, before the editing gig that pays the bills, I was 14 and falling in love with reading this kind of book.
But somewhere along the way, between ca. 2012 and 2021, someone or something or perhaps even just me, told me that I shouldn’t be reading this kind of book. If I was going to be in honors English classes, study literature in college, perhaps even be the next great American writer, I should be reading smarter things.
I should be reading the classics. I should be reading serious novels. I should be reading Russian, French, British novels. I should be reading sad books. I should be reading non-fiction. I should be reading books that make me question and wonder and ask why. I should be reading weird books. I should be reading banned books, books out of publication, books that aren’t so acceptable now, but I should read them anyway. And I did.
I should-ed myself through undergrad, minoring in Medieval Literature because, well, I should. In undergrad and grad school, I took any course that had "important" books in the syllabus. Even through the pandemic, I cried myself through Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, Beloved, and Crying in H Mart because I told myself I should still be reading serious novels after reading hard hitting news all day, talking nearly exclusively about COVID, and wearing a mask all day.
When August came, though, I thought that I’d need a light read for plane rides and van adventures—but I think my body already knew what was coming.
I work at a university and, no surprise to anyone, COVID stepped up its game on my campus at the beginning of August. Even though Austin was breaking new COVID records, my trip wasn't refundable, so we spent a lot of time anxious and eating takeout in the Airbnb. There’s nothing bad to say about the van, but our flight to the wedding was canceled and we couldn't rebook in time to make it. The worst, though, was Hurricane Ida destroying my hometown.
For Labor Day weekend, for what was supposed to be our first #vanlife weekend, we went to Cut Off, Louisiana instead. You can find many images of destruction online, and even donate to Down the Bayou Mutual Aid Fund which directly supports my hometown, but in sum: it's going to take a while to recover.
Back home and stuck in an hour-long gas line, I pulled out my novel and retreated. There was no COVID. No destruction. No danger. No pain (ok, just a little bit of heartbreak). There were sights and smells, emotions that were very feeling in real life, and banter that made me LOL. I escaped to a safer world, a happier world. Before we got out of that hour-long line, I had added a few of Jasmine Guillory's books, Beach Read, and a few other popular fiction novels to my to-read list.
When I joined the Lost Creative team, I told myself I should get into making more. Despite loving to cook, garden, and—surprise, write my own stories—I felt that working for a fabric curation company meant that I should be a skilled sewer or quilter. It didn't happen, and I felt really disappointed in my self because of that. I knew I should stop should-ing myself, but I didn't know where to start.
Once I stopped should-ing myself in one part of my life—what I chose to read—it became easier to stop should-ing myself in others. I don’t should myself into exercise; I listen to my body when it tells me I need yoga. I don’t should myself into making one new recipe a week; I stay true to the season (even if we have tomato pie once a week during this time of year). I won't should myself into reading classic literature, even though I might go back to it one day later, and I won't should myself into only reading this type of b0ok.
My should-less life has shown me that I can simply like the fabric, enjoy working with it, and do a little bit of making. It'd be inauthentic of me to try to fit a mold of what I imagined a maker should be. Instead, I'll be myself—enjoy making what I can, practice authenticity, and read only what I want to.