Already behind, or Taming the Google Reader monster

Years and years ago, my dad told me about going to hear a talk by a college football coach. This coach talked about how he used to come to the athletic office  early in the morning, close the door, and sit there with his coffee for a few delicious moments before starting the day’s work.   It was quiet time at its best.

But then, the coach explained, it all changed with the advent of the answering machine.  “Now,” he explained, “when I go to my office with my coffee in the morning, I close the door and I’m no longer alone.  Instead, I see that light on the answering machine blinking, blinking, blinking.  Do you know what that light means?  It means that I’m already behind.

I still remember that anecdote, about twenty years after my dad first told it to me.  The coach’s words rang true to me then, and they do now.  And God only knows what that coach would say now, in the age of email.  Now, there are ever more ways to be behind before you’ve even gotten started.

I was thinking of this earlier, when I contemplated logging onto Google Reader for the first time in [ahem] about two weeks.  Like many of you, I subscribe to a  merry variety of different blogs, and Google Reader gets them all nicely together in one place.  Normally I log on in the evening, and voila! — I have about forty things to read, or at least skim.  That’s when I log on once a day.  When I’m back at school and my son has just started kindergarten and it’s been about thirteen days since I last looked at it … well, I’m an English teacher, so I’ll let you do the math.

I’m actually afraid to log on, at this point.   I think I’ve created a monster.  When it comes to blog reading, I — like the coach of yore — am already behind … frighteningly so.

This, my friends, is the double-edged sword that is the Internet.  I love reading blogs and getting new updates.  But there is always more to read.  It’s like whack-a-mole at the fairground: just when you’ve gotten through the list, a few more freshly-posted entries pop up, and you realize you can’t take home the chintzy stuffed animal just yet, because you simply are not done.  And — frankly — you never will be.

Writing this, of course, I’m fully aware of the irony: it’s not like someone is pointing a gun to my head and making me subscribe to all these blogs.  I do it myself because I like reading them.  And — ever more irony — as a blogger myself, I do my own part in stuffing others’ Google Readers on a fairly regular basis.  (Sorry about that.)

What’s to be done?  I guess on one level, the answer is simply to accept that there are certain things in life in which I will always be behind.  I’ll never be on top of the housecleaning, I’ll always be a deadbeat mom when it comes to updating the kids’ baby books, and there will always be weeds flourishing in some corner of the garden.  And I’ll  never be able to read all the great things on the Internet that I would like to read.     If I try, I’ll go loco, and I’ll find myself in danger of forgetting why I subscribe to these blogs in the first place: Because I enjoy reading them.

So what’s my answer?  Well, today, it’s this: I’m going to log onto Google Reader and hit “delete” and start over from scratch.  I know that yes, I will be missing some great stuff, but the world will go on turning all the same, and sometimes you need to give yourself that one minute of a clean inbox, just one little minute of a quiet office and a mug of coffee and no blinking answering machine, to savor the feeling that you are not behind.

And I will remind myself that scrolling through every single thing in my Google reader is really not the point.  The point is enjoying what I read, having the time to savor it, pondering the words and insights of others and letting them illuminate my own frenetic life.  That’s what writing and reading is all about, after all.  I love it when others’ words help me see my own world in a new light, and I hope that’s what my own random musings are able to do for you.

That said, if you ever need to delete my posts without reading them, go for it.  You have my blessing.

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