For Christmas a friend gave me a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In a vague intuitive way, I thought “something good is about to come from this.” It has. It will.
I had the mistaken impression that The Artist’s Way was one of those feel-good books for creative types, to be read once in cozy circumstances and then relegated to a bookshelf, to be removed when you need to feel good again.
Not so. The Artist’s Way is a twelve-week course in recovering creativity and focus in daily life. It is intensive. It brings up hidden things. Julia Cameron also links creativity to spirituality (a nonnegotiable point for her), and any time you venture into that country with an open mind, you embark on an adventure around every corner of which may be something you did not expect.
The tasks vary from week to week. The primary task of week 4 is Reading Deprivation. That means to stop idle-time reading. Cameron might have meant to stop reading entirely, but on a practical level this was impossible, not to mention undesirable. So I set two conditions:
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter) 1X/day.
- No reading in the evening. AT ALL.
Wait—ONCE a day?
I was an early adopter of social media. I’ve been using these sites in one iteration or another since the late 1990s. They are about connection. Also they are about hiding out from work, about being bored with work, and about nothing more than habit.
Here’s what I learned: the number of times I used to check into Facebook was too many, but once a day is not enough. Not for me. I am spending a half hour there every morning rather than the usual 5-6 minutes. I miss half of what I would otherwise have seen and barely respond to anything because that half hour is agenda driven. It is not fun. It is like skimming through 8,000 emails to see if there is anything important.
When the purpose is connection, all kinds of things can be important, including trivia. Sometimes especially trivia.
So when the week is up, I’ll give myself 3X/day and see how that goes.
Not surfing the Internet to waste time (as opposed to doing research) turned out to be surprisingly easy. That does tell me how little the purposeless surfing added to my day. It did nothing, basically.
My oldest habit—broken
I always read in the evenings. Even before I learned to read, books were part of the night, because I was read to. Going cold turkey on this particular habit was a major change.
The first thing reading deprivation did was to produce a flurry of housecleaning. The place now has better-looking kitchen cabinets and a number of other improvements. I stopped short of rearranging office furniture, but I did do a lot of throwing out and sorting.
There was something of the “new broom” about this cleaning. Reading deprivation is a big enough deal that it felt like a harbinger of change.
I was halfway through a new book when reading deprivation week came around and have been looking at it wistfully. A purchase from Abebooks arrived yesterday and I did not open it.
I have rediscovered the music on my seven-year-old iPod. I went through a Gregorian chant phase a few years ago. That’s nice music to get sleepy to.
An odd discovery: when I look at photos in a catalog and do not read the accompanying text, the photos look different. Imagination provides the stories rather than the sales pitch I am not reading. It’s nice.
When I lived in Washington, DC, I bought a beautiful art book from the National Gallery on the 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. That was a fine thing to rediscover. Look at his paintings.
To waste time (I knew I’d find a way), I discovered an addictive little computer game called Balloon Pop. If you know someone whose organizational skills and productivity have always annoyed you, Balloon Pop will derail them. It is part of a sweet and charming animation called Circus. It costs two dollars, and you can give it as a gift.
Just saying . . .