From my earliest memories, life has always been filled with stories and words and imagination. Every single night during my toddlerhood, Dad would religiously turn on what essentially was an audiobook of bedtime stories, and I would fall asleep to them. Mom, on the other hand, was more of a storyteller. I looked forward to every road trip we did because I knew I’d be hearing all kinds of wild stories from her childhood.
At some point, then, I learned how to read and began to wander in the bookstore at the mall while my parents did their weekly shopping. There, I discovered comic books and completely fell in love with them. These comics, though, were what you could call “educational” comic books. In between each chapter, there would be a two-page break that contained facts or school lessons. They were all the rage at my school. My friends and I, wee little six-year-old nerds that we were, would secretly trade them under the desks during class, trying not to get caught by our teachers. By the third grade, I had already grown my beloved collection to about a hundred books or so.
As I grew a bit older, I progressed towards more complex, for-bigger-kids novels. Books like the Harry Potter series, Matilda, Ender’s Game, Little Women, etc. paved way for my journey into the world of fantasies, science fiction, and more. Everywhere I went, I always had at least three books with me — two I was currently reading and one in case I tired of the duo. Everything our family did, I did with my nose stuck in a book. At mealtimes, I was going on quests with Percy, Annabeth, and Grover (until my mom made me stop anyway). While we watched movies, I got pissed at the Capitol along with Katniss. In the car, I was solving cases with Sherlock. The bottom line is that I read as much as I could, whenever and wherever. I essentially lived and breathed reading.
As my love for books grew more and more and my growth rate began to hit a rut, I was driven to do things I would never do under any circumstances now. Once, after we’d just moved into our current house, I decided that I wanted to read a Harry Potter book. The only problem was that they were all tucked away in one of the many boxes that we still had stacked on the side of the stairs. Overcome with a rush of adrenaline and a sense of urgency, I decided I was going to find one no matter what it took. So, slowly and painstakingly, I managed to move at least five or six boxes (mind you, they were heavy) out of the way with sheer determination, scoured through them all, and voilà! There they were at the bottom of one little box, waiting for my eager, tiny, little hands to pick them up. For a kid who loathed all physical activities, moving all those boxes was an extremely huge deal. I wouldn’t even have done it for popcorn chicken— and if you know me, you know I love my popcorn chicken. That was just one of the examples of how far I’d go to satisfy my books craving.
For the rest of my primary school years, my dad and I made a deal that whenever I ranked at the top three of my class, he’d buy me twelve books on top of my regular budget (which, honestly, didn’t really exist). No more, no less. Those educational comic books certainly came in handy, as I ranked at the top almost every semester. At thirteen years old, then, I had become a proud owner of about eight hundred books — all of which I had read at least twice. (Got to get my money’s worth, am I right?)
Throughout all of this, my relationship with writing didn’t really exist outside of the classroom. I had moved to Dalat in the seventh grade, and, still, writing was something I mainly did only for class. Of course, I journaled here and there, but they were mostly rants and gushes about the kids I didn’t like or the guy I crushed on. Nothing much more. I also wrote lots of letters to all kinds of people, but that was also just that. Nothing much more again.
When high school rolled around, I continued to write letters to people and had joined all of the more advanced English classes. I, more or less, did very well in them. And while I knew I was one of the better writers for my age, I also knew that I was nowhere near being one of the best. Not to mention, my perfectionism killed me every time I tried to write in the past. I often would delete the whole document and write a brand new paper altogether because I hated the way it turned out so badly, according to my standards anyway. Consequentially, I never felt a desire to do anything worthwhile with my writings during these years.
Reading, akin to writing, began to become more of a chore — something I had to do for a grade — the A. I slowly lost interest in finding new books to read, especially for pleasure, during the school year. When I had free time, all I wanted to do was to hang out with my friends or to go on social media. I still had lots of books on my shelf, of course, but they honestly were there to give me comfort and make me feel a bit more at home, not there so I could read them. When I’m at home on breaks, however, I still read ravenously, devouring book after book to the point my parents have to say, “Areeya, stop reading and come socialize.”
But then junior year became the turning point.
I had gone through a bad experience that summer prior to the start of school and sunk into a rather dark period of my life. To process my thoughts, I began to pick up journaling again and found it to be incredibly therapeutic. Instead of ranting and gushing like before, this time around I wrote reflections on my life, relationships, and the world around me. I then branched out and started writing different types of pieces, spilling away my two-cents and feelings and things I found lovely each day. That ignited a newfound love for writing in me. Up until that point, I had never written any completed pieces for my own pleasure before; and, really, I had been missing out so much. This is not to say that I never struggle with writing or getting rid of my perfectionism anymore, but I truly have found joy in writing and discovered it to be so, so good for me and my mental health.
After I began to find joy in writing for myself and, eventually, for classes as well, I started to appreciate books and the way writers weave their words together to form magic on paper. Over the course of the year, I also found peace and joy in being alone, which in turn allowed me to have more free time to read, too. I gradually picked out a few books from the library (I really had gotten into non-fiction at this point) and tried to take up reading not-for-class books during the school year again. And though passion for reading still comes and goes in waves for me, I would view it as a rather successful attempt, seeing as I was basically apathetic towards reading a few years ago.
Right at this moment as I am writing, I could tell you how much I whined and grumbled and procrastinated before starting. But, honestly, isn’t that what most things in life are like? You complain and say you won’t like it or you’re terrible at it at the very beginning; but once you get into it, you find out that you absolutely love it and, hopefully, thrive. Writing and reading are like that for me even till now. But I know this for a fact: this time, I won’t give up but will keep on doing what I do.
Really, life’s too short not to tackle what you love.
(But don’t do that to your lover. Or maybe do it. Who knows, right?)