Week 4 of the Artist’s Way is about recovering a sense of integrity. At the end of this week’s chapter of her book, Julia Cameron somewhat ironically challenges the reader to stop reading for one week. The idea is to stop filling our heads with other people’s ideas and to instead be still and quiet long enough to realize that we have plenty of our own. Reading is not inherently bad, of course. But if we do it as a default time filler, we might be gumming up our creative juices.
If I was going to have any integrity while tackling this challenge, I knew I had to cut out more than reading. I am guilty of letting hours slip away in front of a screen. I almost always have my phone with me when I’m nursing my baby. I always turn the radio on when I’m in the car. I have come to rely on watching Netflix to make doing dishes tolerable. And when I want to procrastinate, I skim Facebook or peruse Pinterest for new recipes until I’ve run out of time to do the thing I was supposed to be doing. Considering my post from Week 2 about being a good example for my daughter, I was brutally aware that I am not exactly modeling the healthiest relationship with screens and distractions.
So a week of no reading turned into a week of media deprivation. No Netflix, YouTube, TV, movies, texting, Pinterest, Facebook, email or reading for a whole week. Impossible? Kind of.
I wanted to rise to this challenge, but I also wanted to be reasonable. Our world is inundated with media and instant gratification. People expect us to communicate in certain ways and within a certain time frame. Besides, I didn’t want to go completely off the grid from my friends and family, so I came up with some compromises.
I decided that I wouldn’t initiate text conversations (email, texts or Facebook messages), but that I would respond to any time sensitive material sent to me by checking my email once a day and checking Facebook for 10 minutes twice in the whole week. I also felt that listening to music was fine, since I actually wished that I did more of that instead of watching TV. But I did declare a single “no noise” day where I added music to the blackout list. Phone and video calls were okay. Calling people requires me to be more intentional with my communication and that seemed to honor the spirit of the media deprivation challenge.
So, how did it go?
It was quiet. Productive. Illuminating. And humbling. Oh so deeply humbling.
Searching for babysitters without texts or Facebook meant I had to make phone calls. And leave voicemails. And wait, actually WAIT for responses. When I nursed my daughter, I just sat there and fed her. When I did the dishes, I only did the dishes. On my special “no noise” day, I rolled the windows down and listened to the wind instead of my radio. I noticed some shops around my neighborhood that I had missed until then. Instead of my usual lunch dates with Netflix, I sat on the porch and enjoyed my food and watched the kids play at the park across the street. And I finally cleaned our fans and vacuumed. Instead of watching a movie with my husband after putting the baby to bed, we played games together. He played mad scientist experimenting with a new cocktail in the kitchen. I played my ukulele. And went to bed early.
Just reading over that paragraph leaves me feeling simultaneously jubilant and aghast. Is my normal routine really that laden with distractions? How is it that I’ve actually accomplished more in the last week doing just one thing at a time than I do with my usual multi-tasking? Everything I did was deeply intentional. I didn’t accidentally find myself watching an old episode of Once Upon A Time instead of scrubbing the bathtub. When I accomplished a task, I really gave some thought to what I wanted to do next. I didn’t hop on my computer and go into mind-numbing browse mode.
Nothing particularly phenomenal happened during my media blackout. I didn’t write a novel. I didn’t suddenly overcome my deep-seated insecurities about my musical abilities. I didn’t single-handedly start a theatre company or master crocheting. But I did pay attention. I really paid attention to everything I did and didn’t do during this past week. I accomplished an extraordinary number of chores. I played with my husband and daughter. I helped with the school play. I spent significant amounts of time just thinking my thoughts. And nothing remarkable happened. But nothing terrible happened either. It was simply and truly okay to be still. And I went to bed every night wondering where the time went, not because bits of my time got eaten my distractions, but because practically every moment was time well spent.
In short, this week has been utterly refreshing. I wish I could hold onto this lifestyle, but this level of media deprivation isn’t sustainable. If I tried to keep going indefinitely, I know that my resolve would crumble. And anyway, watching movies isn’t terrible. Neither is reading. In fact, this week made me realize that I would love to spend more of my time reading instead of in front of a screen. But I don’t want books to become the new Netflix either. So what can I carry with me from this experience?
Well, I have a new trick in my kit. When I’m feeling bogged down with life’s stuff, when every day feels breathless and I haven’t felt deeply creative or productive in too long, then I always have the option to commit to another media deprivation period. Maybe I’ll try it for just one day a week. Or maybe one week a month. Or one week in a blue moon. It doesn’t really matter. It’s just good to know that the option is there. I’ve done it once and I can do it again. I can take back the pieces of my life that I give up to multi-tasking and distraction. I can be honest with myself and really evaluate which habits I’ve indulged too much and which I can safely enjoy in moderation. Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I will, but it’s a start. And that’s all creativity is really–a beginning.