Every Saturday, I read the next chapter of The Artist's Way and do the week's exercises. Last Saturday, as I was reading merrily along, these words struck my brain like blunt force trauma: "Reading deprivation."
As in, don't read for a whole week.
Seriously, that was the assignment: don't read for a whole week.
What the hell, Julia?
She said things like, "For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own."
And she said this: "Sooner or later, if you are not reading, you will run out of work and be forced to play."
I will freely admit to a reading addiction.
But what happened for me when I stopped reading for a week was not play.
What happened for me when I stopped reading for a week was anxiety.
This whole reading deprivation thing happened to happen on a week when apparently all my clients were on vacation or something, leaving my calendar with big chunks of white space.
And no reading allowed.
Normally I'd be excited about more free time, and I wouldn't even want to read in every minute of my white space, but because I wasn't allowed to read, it just made me upset to have white space in my schedule on exactly the wrong week for white space.
As "Sally and I" said in The Cat In The Hat, "We did not like it, not one little bit."
I had to have a plan for those big chunks of white space, it's gotten just too hot for fence painting, and I just didn't know what else to do, so I went to the Dollar Store and bought two bags of rocks, and painted rainbows on rocks.
But I did not like painting rocks.
So what, painted rocks.
I was happily painting my fence until you said I couldn't read. Now I'm mad.
What the hell, Julia.
I cleaned out the laundry room, and repainted the shelving which was seriously nasty. It needed doing, but it wasn't fun. My arm hurt from holding the paint brush funny inside the shelves. There were no dots. It was just plain yellow. What the hell, Julia.
In the process of cleaning out the laundry room, I found some old throw rugs and I used those to soften up the little covered patio outside the guest room. I found some old fabric and tacked it up on the patio fence. I went to IKEA and bought 3 purple lanterns to hang on the patio. I wasn't happy about any of it, though, because I couldn't read, and what the hell, Julia.
I wrote some extra angry pages in my morning pages that basically said, "What the hell, Julia."
I knew that my upset was all about fear. I knew it, and I couldn't stop it. It's so deep and visceral, it has nothing to do with rational thought, my fear of doing things wrong, my fear of making mistakes, my belief that reading is necessary to stop the fear.
Here's what reading is to me: reading is SAFETY.
Reading is a safe activity: you're very unlikely to be punished for sitting silently and reading. If you make mistakes, no one knows, and you can't be punished if nobody knows.
"It's not safe to take too many risks, Julia," I wrote. "Do you get it now?"
I kept not reading, because it is safe now, even if my brain still doesn't get it, deep down. I just kept waiting it out, breathing. Accepting the fear, riding it out. Painting dots on rocks. Cleaning out closets. I found some old needlepoint Christmas ornaments that I should probably finish. I went to the store to buy yarn, and while I was there, I found canvas panels on sale. I bought a pack of them, just because you never know.
On Friday, I wrote: "It's Friday and I still haven't had this huge burst of play like I think I was supposed to. It's been more like a hard slog uphill. Even when I've done artsy things, there's been a sense of duty underlying it, not play. But. I've been forced to occupy and furnish physical spaces in my home that are otherwise ignored. Maybe that's the lesson of this week: living into all the neglected spaces of my life."
I wrote out my mantras at the end of my pages on Saturday:
Creation is holy.
I am enough.
Nothing confines my creative spirit.
I looked at the stack of canvases next to my desk. The Sharpies corralled in their tin cans. My question of the week: "What the hell, Julia?"
And finally, I felt able to play.
Enter sadness, with his rainboots in blue
Since I can remember I've been runnin' from you
But this time you sat your ass down with no intent to move
You ain't no Blue Healer
Well the longer that you sit here lookin' into my eyes
The shock of your arrival, it begins to subside
And as I drop my defenses you start to crack a smile
Are you a Blue Healer?
Well I've been proud and
Lookin' in a mirror that's clouded
With smoke keeping me shrouded
Believing I'm fine
But you wipe clean
All of these illusions that ain't me
Now you've got me lookin' and I hate me
Where is my spine?
Peace, you told me, I'm only here to reveal
Where you've been stuck and where you're going if you're lookin' to heal
But you've gotta drop these vain addictions and hang on to what's real
I want to welcome every shadow
Instead of taking every one to battle
I'm climbing back up into the saddle
And now I stand tall
Used to think my sorrow was a brick wall
Made me want to curl up in a tight ball
But there's a gate here
You can only find it if you wait here
Now I'm walkin' through it with my gaze clear
Me and the Blue Healer