You're not allowed to read.
No books. No newspapers. No magazines. No backs of cereal boxes. Nothing. For someone who is pretty much a reading addict, this particular assignment fills me with horror. I make a living --(and I use the word "living" in a metaphorical sense) by writing books. So, reading books is my job. And telling me not to read books is like telling me not to breathe air.
Side note: I am doing this course called The Artist's Way, a twelve week set of exercises that is supposed to help you rediscover your creative self. I went through the course seven years ago and as loony-tunes as it seemed to me at the time, IT WORKED. See here.
The first time I went through Week Four, I thought I was going to die not being allowed to read for a week. But funny thing: back then I was not on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram. I did not spend hours answering emails and reading blog posts and scrolling around online. Social media did not exist when Julia Cameron designed the exercises for The Artist's Way, but I have to think that when she says No Reading, she also means No Tweeting or Facebooking or emailing.
The whole point of Reading Deprivation is to take a break from consuming other people's words, to control what we allow in. "Our reward," Julia Cameron says, "will be a new outflow. Our own art, our own thoughts and feelings will begin to nudge aside the sludge of blockage, to loosen it and move it upward and outward until once again our well is running freely."
Yeah yeah, whatever, Julia. Bring it.
Last Sunday night I signed off all of my accounts. Goodbye Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and Instagram. Adios blog posts and Yahoo news. So long BOOKS. My husband was out of town. When I talked to him on the phone, I told him I was ready for my week of reading deprivation. My prediction was that without my constant farting around online, I'd get a ton of work done on my latest writing project, which honestly, I had been slogging through and not enjoying all that much anymore.
Also, I would clean the house.
Because I don't check email or read the crap news of the day, I feel peaceful and happy and oblivious. I clean the breakfast dishes directly after breakfast. I walk the dog. I write for most of the day. When my daughter gets home from school, she is greeted by the enticing smell of freshly baked chocolate chip scones. Yay! This is fun! I am Miss Productivity!
I don't miss reading until I get into bed. It's my habit to read a book at night and to scroll once more through all of my various forms of social media. I am stricken. What do I do?
I solve this problem by rereading the chapter about Not Reading in The Artist's Way and go to sleep happily.
I have no idea what's going on in the world or what my friends on Facebook or on Twitter are doing and I am okay with that because after I finish my day's writing, I'll be busy cleaning my office.
Later, as I am taking books off the bookshelves, I realize that I don't want all of these books. Some are books that I read and didn't like and never plan to read again. Some are books that I haven't read and admit I never will.
And come to think of it, what about the books on the bookshelves in other parts of my house? The ones gathering dust in my bedroom? The ones on the shelves in the living room? The ones piled in the bathrooms and next to my bed?
I don't want some of those either.
I don't want some of those either.
I make a vat of homemade lentil soup. My daughter informs me that she does not like lentil soup.
|The aromatic sofrito base of my lentil soup|
My dining table is covered with books.
My office is a disaster area. Thinking about what books I really want and don't really want has made me question everything in the room. Why do I have these curtains? These beads hanging in the closet that my daughter hung when this was her bedroom annoy the hell out of me. And I never liked this rug. It's ugly.
I sneak a peek at email and realize that I am not as important as I thought I was. I suspect the worlds of Twitter and Facebook are rolling along just fine without me too. I am both saddened and relieved.
My daughter's home sick from school. She's watching a Dance Moms Marathon. I have never watched this show and immediately begin to mock it. Three hours later I am still mocking it, while my ailing daughter snoozes on the couch beside me.
I pull down the curtains in my office. I throw out the closet beads. I roll up the rug. I eat the hell out of leftover lentil soup.
I write my ass off.
Daughter's home sick again and I am secretly happy so I can watch Dance Moms with her. I eye the cluttered dining room table with despair. In addition to books, I've now added pictures I've always hated, clunky bookends that I refuse to put back on my pristine organized bookshelves, various ceramic cats from that time in my life when I thought it would be fun to collect ceramic cats, stupid plastic plants that exist only to gather dust, and a bunch of shoes I haven't worn in years.
|I don't want these cats.|
I eat leftover lentil soup.
I realize that I don't like a lot of the things I have in my house. Some stuff's kinda neutral and pointless. A gift that's not my style. A thing that has no meaning or purpose. Other stuff has a halo of negative connotation surrounding it. Gifts with strings attached. Or worse, guilt. Ugly things I used to like but can't remember what the hell I was thinking. Plastic fruit covered with beads? Why do I have these things?
That's it. They're going on the dining room table.
I write and write and write.
I don't like the dining room table. Truth be told, I loathe it. There. I said it.
I have an epiphany. What has been blocking me in my writing project is that I have been holding onto an earlier version of the story. Once I decide that I can let it go, I feel a surge of energy and excitement. I know what to do now.
The entire dining room is filled with things to give away, including the dining room furniture.
My daughter and I are watching Dance Moms when my husband calls from the airport on his way home.
"How was your week?" he asks.
"Pretty good," I tell him.
My husband and I walk around the house together expressing our loathing and love for a quarter century's worth of accumulated stuff. I head up to my office to tackle a file cabinet. My husband begins to excavate the basement.
I work a bit more on my book. I love it again.