Julia Cameron sure has my number. For about six weeks now, I’ve been studying her book, “The Artist’s Way,” a twelve-week course to rediscover your creativity. Because I’m a week behind schedule, I just completed chapter four. As soon as I read the chapter introduction, in which she states, “Warning: Do not skip the tool of reading deprivation!,” I knew I was in big trouble.
I read constantly. New books, old favorites, my blog, other people’s blogs, random things I find online, whatever. I like lots and lots of input. I know I spend too much time reading, and I should have expected something like this from “The Artist’s Way” when, in week two, one of the assignments was to track where you spend your time. Then, last week, I was supposed to look at any self-destructive habits and determine what the payoff of each is. I’m self-aware enough to know that, for me, reading is a form of avoidance, but I enjoy it. The reading ban was thus a day-by-day, moment-to-moment challenge.
Why is it even important to the program, you might ask. In Julia’s words:
For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.
Giving up reading may seem like a fairly simple thing to do until you understand the point of the exercise. Not only are you not allowed to read, you’re also prohibited from filling your well with other external input, including Facebook, email, tv and movies, gossiping with friends… When you think of the reading deprivation in those terms, what else are you left with? Yourself, and your own resources. Ok, Julia, I get it. How did I do?
Day 1: To avoid reading, I listen to music, talk to Brian and dance around the house for a little while in the morning. Then I drive Brian to his flight lesson and get the bright idea that, instead of sitting in the hot sun waiting for him, I’d cruise by the bookstore. What?! I’m not supposed to be reading and yet here I am, writing this blog post on the patio of Borders in Kona, thousands of books only steps away inside the comfy, air-conditioned building. Oh, and to make matters truly ridiculous, I stop by the local used bookstore on the way and buy a new novel. I know, I’m a total glutton for punishment. I pledge to hold off on starting my new book, however, until after the reading deprivation week has finished.
Day 2: Like any good addict, I try to distract myself from jonesing for my next fix by talking on the phone for two hours (a common occurrence and mistake, Julia says), going for a walk and yes, you guessed it, couching reading in terms of “research I need to do to plan the next leg of our trip.” I spend way too much time surfing the Internet looking at airfare, transportation options and apartment rentals in our new home city, anything I could think of that seemed legitimate, but is, of course, a complete relapse. I end the day watching an episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” because I’d been so “good” and deserved it. Yeah, right.
Day 3: I awaken ready to face the music. I know I’ve been bad and I am going to do better. I hand over my iPhone to Brian so I can’t obsessively check email — I’m allowing myself once per day — and we head out for an island air tour that thankfully keeps me engaged in the real world for all of the morning and early afternoon. Later, as we run some errands, I realize that I had been casually perusing some tour pamphlets while at Brian’s flight academy. D’oh! Why is it so hard to avoid reading? Once home, I rededicate myself to the task by taking a nap, writing up some ideas for future blog posts, and reviewing our videos and photos from the air tour. I also secure my evening fix by asking Brian if he wants to watch a movie together. I figure if it’s a joint venture, it’s legit, or is that junkie rationale talking again?
Day 4: The high point of my week, I practice yoga in the morning and then have an inspiration: I will create an online gallery to sell some of my art prints. I spend most of the day choosing photos and setting up the gallery while hanging out in the real world and keeping my Internet obsession under control. Feel free (and accomplished!) for the first time since starting the deprivation. Get a little wound up before bed, however, so I read less than a chapter of a novel before going to sleep.
Day 5: A lazy day leads to complete meltdown. Brian proposes a movie day! We agree to go see the newest Twilight movie in the theater, and then return home to the first two Star Wars films on video. I fall asleep watching The Phantom Menace and remove myself to the bedroom for a nap, then rejoin Brian for Attack of the Clones. Ugh, I feel a total reversal of all the great work yesterday and go to bed grumpy.
Day 6: I awaken feeling uninspired, but Brian is up and at ’em, practicing yoga and then going for a 4-mile run. I pick up the computer to write while eating breakfast and psych myself into getting out of the house and going for a walk. Upon returning home, I tackle our to-do list by scanning 130 documents for safekeeping, and then we leave the house to watch the local 4th of July parade and see fireworks. I reward myself with some fiction before bed. All in all, a productive day.
Day 7: Last day! I check in with my Artist’s Way partner-in-crime to review our progress, and then I contact some folks about other artistic endeavors. Brian and I review our to-do list so we can prepare for the next phase of our trip, and I continue work on my new photo gallery. In the afternoon, I attend my first hula class and come home to write up some notes for my next photography lesson with Laurie. Along the way, I do some Internet research, which I know is banned, but on day 7, it’s time to start phasing back into reality (or so I tell myself).
Revelations: Reading deprivation week was not easy, but I felt a lot better when I was adhering to it. I have a strong guilt instinct so that’s part of the reason, but I also accomplished so much more when I wasn’t playing on the Internet or reading all the time. I’m leaving the week feeling so inspired to conquer the world and achieve great things, and so much happier and healthier than when I was constantly anesthetizing myself with other people’s words. I definitely won’t continue the reading deprivation, but I am considering restricting novel reading during the day and saving it for evening and bedtime. Imagine how much more I could accomplish if I do!
Have you ever done something that you really didn’t want to do, but the experience turned out to be surprisingly worthwhile or even life altering?