Reading Deprivation

LibraryPerhaps it’s obvious, but I am a huge reader.  Actually, I come from a whole family of readers (some professional!).  And it’s undoubtedly due in part to the fact that we weren’t allowed to watch television or movies regularly while growing up.

Our peers were aghast (though I’m not sure they would have known what the word meant), but I have very fond memories of playing outside, creating intricate worlds with Legos and Little Tykes, and of reading.  A movie was a once-a-week treat, it seemed, primarily on Friday nights when we had “Silly Dinner” – a.k.a. whatever you wanted, as much as you wanted.  (My dinners usually consisted of popcorn, ice cream, and cheddar cheese; in retrospect, this would have been such a great time to have learned how unpleasant binge eating is…)

Yet my favorite times were when we’d go to the library, usually during summer or Christmas vacations.  I can’t even count how many times we came home with 25 or 30 books apiece, which we’d stack in piles near our beds or else line up on an open wall, allowing everyone to read whosever book they wanted.  I remember inhaling Sweet Valley Twins books, dubious-quality romance novels, and any title with fairies or promising-sounding princesses.

Fast forward a few years to my first couple years here in New York, where I was working an office job with lots of free time.  As I’ve mentioned before, I spent most of that perusing the Internet endlessly, and, as my family can attest with an eye-roll, I poured over countless articles (long ones, usually), sharing liberally with family and occasionally on Facebook.  I also discovered how much I enjoy blogs and reading what other people write and share.

So imagine my appalled shock when I was asked to endure one week of “Reading Deprivation.”  No blogs, no books, no magazines, no articles, no long Facebook status rants, not even long informational emails!  How on earth was I going to survive, let alone enjoy, such an onerous task?

You see, I was (and still am) in the middle of Julia Cameron’s book/course, The Artist’s Way, a “course in discovering and recovering your creative self.”  It’s been profound and literally life-changing, and yet so gentle and subtle that in some ways I hardly notice a difference.  (I can’t recommend it highly enough – for everyone, not just artists!)  So, given how much I’d enjoyed the work she’d given me so far, I was willing to take a chance and try going for a week without reading.

Would you believe that it was one of the most relaxing, uplifting, and productive weeks of my life?  I felt refreshed.  (Well, our beach vacation may have helped.)  I felt uncluttered.  My mind had focus and clarity once again.  And I found myself writing enthusiastically.

So what happened?  Well, my guess is that, despite how much I love reading, I’d started to feel something like an addiction.  I couldn’t get enough, and I was vaguely unsatisfied when I finished something.  30 seconds of free time?  I’d try to find something to read, on Facebook or in my bag.  Not to mention, there was a huge sense of pressure on me to stay current on everything; I never wanted to miss a post!

Plus, as Ms. Cameron points out, when you’re constantly consuming other people’s words, you lose that inner quiet in which you can hear the ones coming to you.  My brother actually mentioned something similar a few months ago.  He said he had realized it was important, now that he was out of school, to contribute something creative to the world on a daily basis, not just consume it.

And boy are we a consumer culture today – even as we lose our desire for more physical stuff, our appetite for entertainment or news continues to rise.  How many YouTube videos do you consume in a day?  How many articles on Facebook?  How many celebrity gossip pieces on your email homepage?  I’m embarrassed to admit how much time I waste on the Internet everyday.

Granted, it is hard to counter my inner voice that says that I’m being productive and a good person by reading so much.  Because, yes, my reading time is predominantly self-improving or expanding my understanding of political and social events.  (I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to fluff articles, largely steering clear of celebrity news except those with an academic discussion.)  So why on earth would that reading be bad for me?

Again, I have to remember that the addictive element is incredibly subtle but highly damaging, and that the obfuscation of my inner voice is more destructive to my long-term goals than short-term gains in my understanding of some issue.  I did go back to reading once my Deprivation week was up.  Yet I’m sitting here, a couple months later, longing for that detox once again.

So I guess it’s time to jump into another week of Reading Deprivation.  Want to join me?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ozyman/443545349/”>Ozyman</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

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