OK. Let me tell you something about me: I love reading.
Love, love, love.
This passion was nurtured from a very young age and bolstered by a lack of television. It is a key part of why I want to write fiction, why I want to share my stories with others. This love of reading led me to read (and re-read) the backs of cereal boxes when I was a child at the breakfast table. It led me to feel a deep anxiety at being out and about without a book - so much so that I will often bring two books everywhere I go “just in case” I finish one of them. It led to me spending 7 hours reading several newspapers every Sunday for years. I hate to admit this next one as it is really an awful thing to think, but the extent to which I love reading has led me in moments of despair to daydream about being in hospital with something non-painful and non-life-threatening with nothing to do but lie there responsibility-free and read for a few days.
Awful, just really bad, I know.
These days, along with devouring books at lightning speed, I have replaced the cereal boxes with Twitter. I can’t even wait for my morning bus without scanning Facebook and Google Reader. Between bits of writing I will fit in holiday research, book reviews and the myriad blogs I follow.
Something happened yesterday that made me realise how much of a drug the written word is for me, how much of an addiction to it I have.
Background: I am working my way through The Artist’s Way and am currently on Week 4. In the introduction, the author mentioned something about the possibility of feeling angry during week 4 and I brushed it off, you know, I can handle anything, nothing fazes me, etc. However, yesterday I came to Week 4 in the book and with a happy little smile began to read up on my exercises and tasks for the week.
The main vein of Week 4 is to engage in a torture called reading deprivation. As soon as I saw those words, my brain already began equivocating - “Oh, it must be for a few hours, that will be OK.” But of course, the experiment is to be deprived of reading for the whole week. A WHOLE WEEK without reading. No books, newspapers, social media, internet, etc (and no over-indulging in television to compensate!).
I know there are real problems in the world and I don’t want to exaggerate here, but words actually cannot convey the sheer physical panic I felt. What on earth would I do if I couldn’t read? My brain flipped from panic to bargaining to excuses, but there was no way out - the author knows people like me too well and knew the tricks I would try to steal away from my commitment to myself. So, no reading for a week. I’m in. The level of my horror at the suggestion pretty much proves how much I need to do it.
30 hours have passed. How am I doing so far?
Hours 1-2 = Excuses, bargaining, denial. Believe it or not, an actual physical feeling like I might vomit any second. Fingers twitching with need to pick up phone/book/laptop/anything to *consume*.
Hours 3-7 = Rage; a violent, animal rage. Recriminating/accusing thoughts flying in from all over the place and no way to numb them, nothing to drown them out. Realisation and fear that I may feel like this for a whole week, could not cope. Snappy, agitated and possessed of an extremely short fuse (apologies to the saintly-patient @theallthing for these hours).
Hours 8-11 = Buds of productivity. I can’t just sit on the couch since I can’t read or watch television. Pace around. Think about life, think about my failures, how disappointed in myself I am. "Why am I so slow at writing? Why is my house so messy? Why are my clothes so scruffy? Why can’t I just have this most basic area of adulthood covered?" Propelled by hot rage I blitz through the messiest room in the house, cleaning out two closets completely, filling two large sacks of old clothes for charity. Something I have been putting off for TWO YEARS done in LESS THAN TWO HOURS! "What sorcery is this? Is this how normal people get shit done?!"
Hours 12-15 = Interaction. We play a boardgame, I am thoroughly engrossed in the fun, conversation and strategy and do not think about reading at all.
Hours 15-23 = Sleep.
Hours 24-30 = Productivity continued: I wake and immediately do my morning pages exercises, eat healthy breakfast, go to yoga and meditation class, buy some sketchpads and pencils to enjoy for previously-reading-occupied times, have lunch with a friend in the sun, write like a demon for 3 hours.
Power from pain
The initial burst of rage and panic was disconcerting to say the least (let’s not forget embarassing, I am well aware how pathetic it seems but if you are an addict like me I DARE you to try it). However, after that passed and I allowed myself (read: was forced) to really FEEL the feelings I had about my home/wardrobe without possibility of escape, I was compelled to take action where honestly I would usually have sat down and tried to chase those feelings away through a quick Twitter check or somesuch. I leapt out of bed this morning instead of scanning social media for 20 minutes. The key is maintaining awareness, not to use the wonders of connection and stories to cloud innate awareness. Based on just these first 30 hours, I can see that this is a pretty powerful activating tool for me.
Don’t worry friends, I have no intention of giving up reading (I'm already planning what book to dive into next week), but I can certainly see the value in limiting my consumption time within each day to ensure that creation/production is given the higher priority.
If any of you have tried something similar I’d love to hear about it, but you understand that I can’t read it until next week, right?