good morning and welcome to the waffle house

I woke up around 0530 this morning. I don’t sleep as much as I used to, though I generally sleep better. I have fewer nightmares, which is good. Fewer and less intense. And I seem to be better at remembering good dreams. This morning I remember dreaming about ordering breakfast at a Waffle House.

I’m sitting here in the kitchen in the heart of the American Midwest, drinking my cold brew coffee, craving hash browns, covered and chunked. Unless you’ve spent some time in a Waffle House–which is to say, unless you’ve lived in the American South–that won’t mean much to you. It’s probably been twenty years since I’ve set foot in a Waffle House, but I know in my bones I can walk into any Waffle House in any town and ask for hash browns covered and chunked, and they’ll know exactly what I want. It’s not code, exactly; it’s culture. I could make my own hash browns, of course. I could add some diced up ham and cover it all with melted cheese. But it wouldn’t be the same.

It’s 44F this morning. Unreasonably and unseasonably chilly, so I’ve been forced to put on socks and sweat pants–which I sorta kinda resent (I mean, c’mon, we’re three weeks into May, for fuck’s sake) and sorta kinda enjoy (it’s not so much the warm feet, although I like that; it’s that brief delicious pleasure of sliding my feet into warm socks). It feels like a late October morning in the South. The cat clearly thinks the chilly weather is bullshit, so is seeking extra attention this morning. I’m okay with that. Cats are warm.

The cool weather and the Waffle House dream have me feeling particularly nostalgic and Southern today. I enjoy the quiet too much to put on music, but in my head I’ve been hearing Mahalia Jackson, Mattie Moss Clark, and Tennessee Ernie Ford singing gospel music. I’m not even remotely Christian, but that was the Sunday morning music I grew up with. Snatches of Just a Closer Walk with Thee will drift through my head for a while this morning. As the sun comes up and the coffee disappears and the cat retreats to some quiet spot where she can curl up and sleep undisturbed, that music will gradually fade away again.

There. I’ve rinsed out my coffee mug. I’ve done today’s Wordle. I’ve read all the news I want to read (it’s still to early to read the news and pay attention; I’ll come back to it later, when I’m more willing to deal with reality). The sun has come up enough that I can turn off the kitchen lights. I’d say it’s time to start getting on with the day, but that sounds like I have some sort of plan or agenda to be accomplished. I don’t. I’ll read a bit, maybe go for a bike ride, give some thought to what to prepare for supper, do a few household chores. Since I woke up early, at some point I may take a nap.

There’s a verse of the gospel song Just a Closer Walk with Thee that rarely gets included in the more popular covers. It goes:

Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?

I know the lyric is meant to suggest the Lord cares, but since I don’t believe in any lord, I like to interpret the lyric as more tolerant and forgiving. It’s not a license to fuck up, but it acknowledges the universality of fucking up. Everybody fucks up. And everybody is welcome at the Waffle House. Doesn’t matter what you’ve done, if you ask for your hash browns chunked and covered, that’s what you’ll get.

goals

The first thing I saw on social media this morning was…no, wait, that’s not true. It wasn’t actually the first thing I saw, or even among the first 20-30 things I saw, but it was the first thing that caught me by surprise. The first thing that made me go “wait…what?” It was a question in a forum for readers. Two questions, really.

What are your reading goals and targets for the New Year? Do they include different genres?

That pretty much stopped me dead. People have reading goals and targets? What does that even mean? And what’s the difference between a reading goal and a reading target? What does genre have to do with it?

The responses to those questions helped clarify them, but some of them still left me confused. Here are a few sample responses. “I plan to read 100 books this year, with at least 5 hard scifi, 5 fantasy, 5 YA, and 5 historical fiction.” “I intend to read the entire Richard Bolitho British Navy novels by Alexander Kent.” “I’m going to reread the novels that were my favorites as a teen.” “This years book list challenge is set; I’ve already finished 2 books today that I started yesterday.” ” In 2021 I read 88 books; this year I want to get 100.”

I can understand folks wanting to read favorite childhood novels. That makes sense to me. I do that occasionally. Just a few weeks ago I re-read The Prisoner of Zenda. I can also understand wanting to read a certain series of books–or at least start to read them. But what if you discover you don’t enjoy them? Or what if you enjoy the first couple, but them find the rest repetitive? If you’ve publicly committed to reading the entire series, do you keep reading…or do you stop?

And yeah, I understand the value of reading a variety of genres, They all have something to offer. But I do NOT understand the intention to read X number of books in a given time frame. I don’t understand that at all. What’s the point? What’s the purpose? Why does the number of books you read matter? It makes no sense to me.

The cat naps; I read. Simple goal, simple plan.

I guess I’m just a disorganized, unstructured reader. I read a book, then when I’m done, I buy another book and read it. I DO have a Google Keep list of books called ‘Books I Might Want to Consider Reading‘ which, now I think of it, is a shamefully wishy-washy title for a list. It probably doesn’t really qualify as a list; it’s just notes on books folks have recommended or books I’ve heard about. Sometimes I’ll consult it before buying a new book, but I’m just as likely to rummage through the online bookstore and buy whatever strikes my fancy at that moment. I don’t have anything remotely like a plan for what I’m going to read next. It depends on…hell, I don’t even know what it depends on.

Every four or five years (or three years or six years) I decide to re-read one of Dorothy Dunnett’s historical novel series. Does that count as a plan? I’m still two novels away from finishing The Expanse series. Or maybe it’s three novels; I’m not sure how many novels are in the series. Eight? Nine? I’m sure I’ll buy and read those novels at some point–but I haven’t yet and I’m not sure when I will. Does that count as a plan? Maybe it’s a goal?

What is a plan, really? It’s just a roadmap pointing toward a goal. But if you don’t have a goal–and I don’t–then what use is a plan? Or maybe I DO have a goal. Just a very simple, easily attainable goal. To read another book when I’ve finished the one I’m reading now. My plan, then, would be to buy another book. Piece of cake.

#

I wrote this yesterday morning, then got distracted. I had a point to make, but I’ve forgotten what it was. I’m pretty sure it was clever, though.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in a comfortable chair reading, a blanket on my lap, and the cat on the blanket. When the sun came through the transom, the cat got off my lap and laid in the sun. Every so often I looked up from my tablet and saw that the sunny spot and the cat had moved. It occurred to me that my reading goals and plans were similar to the cat’s napping goals and plans. Her goal is to nap in a sunny spot. When that sunny spot moves, she moves with it. My goal is to finish one book and start another.

The cat is content with her goal and plan; I’m content with mine. But I rather doubt my plan and goal will impress the other members of that reader forum.