The words that changed (one week of) my life

I knit a whole hat!

I knit a whole hat!

As soon as I read the words, I wanted to slam the book shut, take it into the backyard, and burn it.

The book was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, the cult classic about how to commune with your “Creator” and unblock your inner artist. I’m still not entirely convinced I have an inner artist, but the book was only 10 bucks on Amazon. Who knows, I thought, maybe it will finally inspire me to write my great American novel.

The words that nearly put me over the edge were “reading deprivation.” The author was asking me to go on a fast: One week of no reading (no social media, news, magazines, books), no radio (my podcasts!), and no TV (my evening Netflix hour, gone).

Julia writes:

For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers … We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.

I knew immediately that she was right. I also knew I was going to have to try this little experiment of giving up my tranquilizers for a week — even though I really, really didn’t want to.

First, I gave myself a week to prepare. (Actually, I was just putting it off.)

I compiled a long list of activities I could do instead of my usual diet of internet-scrolling, newspaper-reading, podcast-listening and Netflix-watching. It’s amazing how, without those habits, my busy life suddenly seemed like a vast empty desert. So much time to fill.

Here are a few of the things that happened during my week of reading deprivation:

I started knitting again, my first stitches in years.

I opened a college savings account for my daughter, something I’ve been meaning to do since she was born and not gotten around to.

I sent some emails to people, just to catch up.

I took a lot of walks.

I cleaned out my overflowing junk drawer for the first time ever.

I spent some time just sitting. Drinking my coffee on the porch without staring at a screen or a newspaper. Sitting at the table with my daughter while she ate her breakfast. Observing the trees outside my windows.

I cheated a little. (I mean, who wouldn’t?)

Nothing earth shattering happened. I didn’t start my Great American Novel. The blank page still scares me. But I did work on a few small writing projects, which is more than I had been doing. I started this blog post.

More than anything, the experiment made me realize just how addicted I am to other people’s words, how often I use them as crutches to avoid tackling projects that feel hard or figuring out what I truly want to be doing with my life. It showed me that blocking out the hard stuff also blocks opportunities for spontaneity, connection and inspiration.

But that was all last week. This week I am back to numbing my brain with a constant stream of random information. I’ve barely even been able to force myself to finish this blog post. It’s just so much easier to read the latest Trump news on Facebook.

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