If I don’t read, will I still exist?

OK, I already mentioned in my last Artist’s Way roundup that the thought of the reading-less week next week is freaking me out a bit. As it gets ever closer (I only have two full reading days left!) I have to say it is nagging at my mind even more.

For the non-Artist’s Way people: the Artist’s Way is a set of weekly exercises to promote creativity. I’ve never done it before, but those who have done it speak about week 4 in hushed tones. Week 4 is the week that you’re not allowed to read anything. It is The Week of Reading Deprivation.

Of course to someone as addicted to text as I am, this sounds exceptionally painful. Julia Cameron says in the book that when she teaches this course, “I break the news that we won’t be reading and then I brace myself for the waves of antagonism and sarcasm that follows”.

I understand the idea that without reading, I’m more likely to reach a stage of productive boredom. I can even believe in principle that the week is going to be marvellously good for me. But still. Don’t WANT to.

I’m not concerned that I won’t find enough to do when I’m not reading. I have plenty of things to do around here. Writing and knitting and cooking alone could fill my time perfectly adequately. I need to sort out the ipod dock and load up some music but otherwise I think I’m set on the entertainment front.

I can certainly imagine that the removal of all internet-based procrastination will help me finally get round to a lot of other activities (my second-favourite procrastination method – that of planning unnecessary and irrelevant activities on a large number of post-its – will still of course be available to me.)

I’m just not sure who I am without a constant inward flow of words. There’s a particular sort of input I’m always seeking: a calm, authoritative, practical, literate, radio 4 voice. Nothing over-emotional. Nothing irrational. A nice political memoir or travel book or not-too-exciting novel. A dry, make-up-your-own-mind documentary. In Our Time. Today in Parliament. Soothing and regular and absorbing. For the last 30 years, I’ve been feeding and medicating myself with that voice.

My own inner voice: well, it’s a bit of a pest. It gets emotional, and bored, and wound up, and obsessive, and just generally noisy. It is never free of horrible earworms. It gets stuck with re-iterating stuff it once read and can’t quite accurately remember. And it has bloody ideas all the time, which make it very difficult to get any peace around here, I tell you. One way I do know of calming it down is to take it for a walk, so I have this feeling that I’ll be getting plenty of exercise next week.

For accountability, here are my rules of engagement.
a) no novels, memoirs, biography, anything with a plot.
b) no newspapers (sob! My poor Guardian. I will have to cancel him.)
c) no cheating by listening to audiobooks.
d) NO RADIO 4. Because let’s face it, it’s just one big audiobook. Or maybe audio newspaper.
e) Radio 2 is allowed if it’s not a really chatty Jeremy Vine bit. Bonus points for listening to Radio 3.
f) no internet (!!!)
g) event listings are allowed, because God knows I’ll need to get out of the house.
h) recipes and knitting patterns are allowed
i) no sneaking a look at the extra text round recipes
j) reading cereal boxes is permissible only if the desperation gets too much
k) textbooks are allowed as long as the reading is not lengthy and gratuitous
l) yes I can check jobhunting-related email and make job applications. I know that Julia Cameron says I can weasel out of my obligations but, y’know, I’m not going to let a job opportunity go past because some hippie-dippy creativity book says I’m not allowed to read.
m) I honestly have no idea how to get myself to sleep without either a book, Radio 4 or the World Service, so I’m allowing myself one of the latter two if the insomnia gets too much.
n) lectures: yes or no? Undecided. May depend how desperate I get.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and inhale a novel. Maybe two. Time is running out.

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9 Responses to If I don’t read, will I still exist?

  1. Pingback: If I Don’t Read, Will I Still Exist? | altdotlife: Build your own village

  2. october35 says:

    Cripes. Is that even possible? I must admit I never got that far, so I’m dying to hear how you get on. Maybe if you get desperate you could ring me and I could arrange to have The Archers on loud in the background and speak really quietly? ;) Best of luck! I’m sure those pesky ideas will love all the extra room to galumph around in – make sure you corral them into a notebook. :)

  3. kartiksingh says:

    How did it go? What week are you on now? I did TAW in late winter and early spring of 2011. I had problems with other things more than the no reading in week 4. Like baking in week 6. Or extending the Artist’s Date into a whole weekend.

  4. Hi kartiksingh, thanks for coming to comment!
    The no-reading week was interesting, but I spent too much time with people so I didn’t get quite as much time in my own head has I could have. I mostly kept to it.
    I’m now on week 9 for the second week in a row – I hardly got anything done last week and it’s taking me ages to read through my morning pages!
    I don’t do every single exercise. I almost always do my morning pages and artist’s date and have found them very valuable. I think I will try to keep them on once I finish TAW.

  5. jeffstroud says:

    This is a tough week 4 ! Yet it is important to understand how we distract ourselves with reading, and inflow of information. I have tried it twice and don’t think I made it through the who week… The internet is how I communicate with the world outside generally so reading is so much how I know what is going.
    I believe the whole process it to inform us of what we find that distracts us from our being creative…
    Thank you for sharing your journey!

    • Yes I think I am much more aware now of when I am getting something from my reading (even if that is just relaxation) and when I am just pointlessly reading to pass the time. Always nice to hear from others who didn’t strictly observe the entirity of the reading deprivation week but still got something out of it!

  6. Pingback: (A bit of) 2011 in blog posts | blurofwoodsmoke

  7. CJ says:

    I couldn’t live without reading. They say it is an addition if it would cause distress to do without. Reading is my addiction, but at least it’s not a destructive one like alcoholism or obsessive gambling.

    Just before I was eight, my family moved and one of our first acts in our new location was to acquire library cards. Within a few years, I had read the entire age-appropriate fiction collection at my local library and had to have parental permission to sign out books meant for older children. In Junior/Senior High, I had access to both the school and small public libraries and was old enough to take a bus to an even larger one.

    When I joined the Peace Corps and lived in a remote area of Brazil, my worst fear was that I would not have enough to read. I was thrilled to find that the Peace Corps provided each volunteer with a book locker, a box that could be folded and reconfigured into a cardboard bookcase to hold the 100 paperback books provided. And because each new group received a different assortment of books, I returned the ones I had read and picked up new ones on my monthly trip to the PC office in the state capital.

    Now, my local library is pathetic, so I drive 20 miles to my old library weekly. It is much larger than it used to be and is a part of a huge countywide library system. I can order any item online and have it delivered there. I have books in every room and audio books in my car, on my iPod and computer, and in the bedroom (so as not have the light on, preventing my husband from sleeping.) I love being able to do two things at once, “read’ an audio book while I drive, create art, garden, walk, do laundry, That is pure enjoyment for me and makes mundane tasks speed by. While I used to read mostly fiction, my reading is about equally divided into fiction and nonfiction these days. I also spend a lot of time reading and doing research online. That might be another addiction of its own.

    I couldn’t live without reading, at least not voluntarily, not even for a few days, nor would I ever want to try.

    • Thanks for dropping by! It definitely caused me distress to live without reading! But did help me to sort out which sorts of reading are most valuable and enjoyable – for example, sitting reading a good book is way better than reading junk on internet forums!

      Sounds like I use speech radio like you use audiobooks – it definitely helps to make tasks more enjoyable.

      My sister worked in Mexico for a few months and was running out of books so I carefully studied and weighed the books on my shelf to see which ones had the most words for the least weight and sent them off to her. Small type can be useful! Of course nowadays she would have been able to take more Kindle books than she could ever read.

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