Let me say, this is what happens when you tell your older daughter you are “going bookless.” She is 21 now, and she gets the verbal joke, and she gives you a sweetly wry smile. She also eyes you with a look on her face that is part fascination (“What in the world is my mother up to now?”) and part doubt (“How long will this last? How will if affect you and me? What happens now that we won’t be bonding through the shared identity of ‘avid reader’? Is the world falling out from under our feet?”).
This is only the beginning of the questions, because you yourself now have them, too. Some of these mirror your daughter’s: questions of timing and identity and loss. But some are more along the lines of, well, moss.
Before you decided to go bookless, you had planned to pick up Kimmerer’s thoughts on the subject. If they were anywhere near as good as Braiding Sweetgrass, you knew you’d be in for a lyrical treat, not to mention some delightful learning about this soft volunteer that has taken up residence between the bricks on your front steps, as well as outside the curve of your little herb garden, just next to the shells you’ve collected from various ocean- and riversides over various years.
Will going bookless mean going mossless? You do not want that. But you also decided to swear off reading for a while, so here you are, wondering what will happen next.
Your other daughter has questions, too. Do audiobooks count? Can you keep listening to Harry Potter, which you are only halfway through? She invokes the weight of promises and says that regardless of whether an audiobook counts as “reading,” you might need to keep listening, come the day when you start driving her to college again on an almost daily basis and are alone in the car on the way back, which is the perfect time to re-invite Harry to your world. This is only weeks away, and you don’t know yet. Do audiobooks count? Will you keep your promise to her? What happens when promises collide? Technically, you’ve promised no one you’ll go bookless, but your own soul has asked for it, at least until your own soul stops asking for it. Conundrum. Already.
On Sunday, you declared it your official Day 1, even though you stopped reading in December. It felt like a New Year’s thing to do. It felt like a challenge. Or maybe an invitation. You love a good chance to become something unexpected, to test the limits of your comfort without careening down mountains or jumping out of airplanes. Identity runs deep. It might look like nothing to the outside world for you to go bookless. But books are who you are. They are what you do. They are how you start revolutions.
And they can give you the secrets of moss.
But now it is Sunday, and you don’t have Kimmerer, and you don’t know how long until you can rely on her, and you suddenly realize how books have inserted themselves between you and the world. Plato (Socrates?) was right. In some significant way, you lost something when you began to rely on the book, above all, to touch your world.
On Day 2, you played dominoes with your daughters. You never played dominoes before, but you’d given them for Christmas, and you couldn’t read books, and you weren’t (yet) in the mood to play the piano (you started this on Day 1, because you had so much bookless time on your hands), so you emptied the dominoes box and learned how to do more than topple and stack these black-dotted ivory bricks.
After you finished playing dominoes, you made a domino town with them, because the other thing you did on Sunday was begin to sketch, starting with moss you plucked from near the herb garden, and now you wanted to sketch the dominoes and it seemed whimsical to organize them into a town in order to do so. Just like on Sunday, when you drew moss together, your older daughter went off on Day 2 to get her sketch book, and, in silence, you drew dominoes. She drew the box. You drew the town, including the little moss “tree” you made when you put a few stems into a Tabasco sauce cap on Sunday.
Sunday is when the other questions started: the ones about moss. It looks, remarkably, like seaweed. Are the two forms of vegetation related? You wondered. And, when the few little leaves on the—What are they called? Stalks? Spindles? Stems?—began, almost immediately, to shrivel, you placed their ends in the miniature Tabasco sauce cap and sprinkled the tiny greens with water. You got to watch the leaves literally move, as they revived themselves by drinking from the cap.
From there, it was probably inevitable that you’d go searching for a magnifying glass, but you could not find one. A jaunt to the basement produced, instead, the microscope that you and your daughter used to use to explore the world together while you were home educating her so long ago. This was further than you’d meant to go. Now you were looking through special glass, at jeweled kingdoms. You were peering inside walls you hadn’t expected to peer into. You and your daughter did this together, and you sketched together (hers the more colorful and beautiful), and you laughed together.
I wanted to tell you, Dear—, this is what happens when you tell your daughter you are going bookless. And then you do. And the world comes to you. I am not recommending you do what I’ve done. But, if you take a break from books, say, for a week, I wish you the world, rich as a page beneath your fingers.
P.S.: I promise I will share some of my Bookless sketches and other photos with you in my newsletter. Then you can join the journey with me, to domino towns with Tabasco moss trees.