Books on deck: My TBR ("to be read") stack
A while ago, I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In Cameron’s 12-week “course,” she gives a variety of assignments in order to inspire and unblock the artist within. During week four, one of the assignments is a week of reading deprivation.
When I first read about this task, I was startled. A little angry, even. Is nothing sacred? I’m trying to give up things that are bad for me – things like processed foods and television and too much beer. Can’t we all agree that reading does not fall into that category? Can’t we leave a woman her books?
I’ll admit it: I panicked. I’m the kind of person who gets cranky if I somehow find myself without reading material for the 40-minute subway ride to Manhattan. I wondered what I would possibly do for the length of a week without the comfort of books to fill my free time.
Then I deconstructed that thought: I have free time. Precious little of it. And it was filled. With reading.
Cameron writes in The Artist’s Way, “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.” Her words made utter sense to me, especially in light of the panic I was feeling. I realized that I felt panicky and angry because I had come to depend on reading. Reading is easy. Reading requires little of me. Reading entertains me and makes me happy but, in truth, it doesn’t bring me any closer to achieving my own creative goals.
So, I actually did it. I spent a week not reading. It was really hard for me, but astonishing and wonderful at the same time. When I stopped reading I was shocked by the almost overwhelming amount of time that was suddenly available. Without reading, I wrote and slept a lot more than usual. I also did a lot more of what I can only describe as letting my mind be quiet. It felt restful, the way it feels when you finally turn off a noisy radio or close the window on a busy street. Only after the noise is gone do you realize what a headache it was giving you.
Now, about a year later, I’m up for it again. Like anyone readying for a deprivation, I went ahead and let myself binge over the last couple of days. Starting today, and for the next week, I will not be reading books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, or catalogues. (I know – who reads catalogues? Sadly, I often pick one up “while the water boils,” and find myself still standing there an hour later, closely examining the subtle differences between styles of jeans that I have no intention of buying.) I will read emails, yes, but only once each day; no more of this steady dribble of communication. In the spirit of this little experiment, I will even give up (gasp!) NPR. You heard me.
When I am not reading, I might sleep, write, listen to music, journal, exercise, and knit. I’d love to organize my files, which I have been a messy and definitively un-romantic presence in my bedroom for the past five years. I’d like to go through my clothes and give away anything I haven’t worn lately. Perhaps I’ll even update Win’s much neglected baby blog.
I’m excited about the possibilities. I’m a bit nervous, though not like I was the first time. This time, I’m actually looking forward to the enforced de-tox, the deep cleanse. I’m pretty sure that the next Sarah Dessen novel will still be on my nightstand when this deprivation is through. And, just maybe, I’ll be a little closer to finally writing my own.