I’ve recently joined Kamsin Kaneko‘s Artist’s Way Facebook group, although I’m not doing planning on doing the whole course. I’ve done it a couple of times before, and although it was an amazing experience, I don’t want to commit to the whole shebang again at the moment.
My motivation for joining Kamsin was to make myself to commit to something quite specific – a media deprivation week.
In week 4 of the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron prescribes for a week of ‘reading deprivation’.
Her theory is that for artists – in which she includes writers, film-makers, musicians, visual artists, makers – other people’s words can function like ‘tiny tranquilizers’. Without the distractions of telly, books, newspapers we are forced to be more fully in the world, and notice what’s going on around us.
We cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, above the static…. Reading deprivation can be a very powerful tool – and a very frightening one. Even thinking about it can bring up enormous rage. 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.
When I did the Artist’s Way last year, it struck me that simple reading deprivation would be much too easy. The book was written in 1988 after all, and the world was a different place then. Nowadays there are so many other ways to distract ourselves, from our thoughts, our needs, our creativity.
So I decided to do a full media deprivation – no reading, no radio or TV, no internet browsing, no social media. In the days leading up to the week, I found bloggers talking about similar experiences, and watched a young American woman’s vlog: Day 2, and she’d cleaned her apartment, cleared out a couple of closets. She’d done some sketches, written a to do list. Not tucking into that new magazine was challenging, but she seemed chipper enough.
I thought it would be fun: I’d get out that adult colouring book my husband bought me for Christmas. Maybe I’d write a short story, a couple of poems.
All right then, I thought. Let’s do this.
What actually happened was way more intense than I’d been expecting.
I was bombarded by an rush of thoughts and feelings. I found it difficult to fall asleep, and when I did sleep I had weird dreams. Sometimes I felt like my mind was about to burst out of my body.
I cried a lot.
During the hours I’d normally have been watching TV, listening to podcasts, or pootling about on social media, I wrote in notebooks: obsessively, violently, compulsively.
It wasn’t the kind of writing I usually do: I didn’t work on a novel, or come up with new short stories or poems or anything like that. Rather it was an outpouring of raw, unprocessed thoughts and feelings, fears, memories of my childhood, fragments and impressions.
It was a bit scary, to be honest. It occurred to me that perhaps I was inducing some sort of mental breakdown in myself. But at the same time I knew I wasn’t going crazy. Rather this seemed to be an emotional purge, draining but not actually dangerous.
Eventually I realised I actually recognised this state of mind – it had happened before, I remembered, several times, and each time had led to new insights (although in the past, these periods had frightened me – but perhaps I’ll write about those another time).
Throughout my media deprivation week, I didn’t feel depressed (despite all the crying). I never felt confused, or unstable, or overwhelmed beyond what I knew I could handle. I functioned okay: I went to work, I chatted with folks I bumped into in the village. I was fine taking care of myself and the children, and I wasn’t short-tempered or distant with them. In fact, I remember us having a lot of fun together. Still, it was an intense and emotional experience.
Reading this, you might be thinking, WTF why would she want to put herself through that again? The fact is, several positives came out it.
One was that I became much more aware of the volume of thoughts in my head. I’d heard people talk about meditation as an antidote to this, so I decided to start meditating.
As a result, I have kept up – with the odd exception – a daily meditation practice for almost a year now. I believe this has had a massive impact on my life – for example, on my ability to deal with day-to-day stress and anxiety. I am more grounded, more present, more grateful. I judge others less. I’m less inclined to black and white thinking. I’m not sure I’d put all this down to the meditation, but I think it helps.
Secondly, when I read back over my notebooks and listened to my voice recordings in the days and weeks that followed my media deprivation week, there were several unexpected discoveries, new insights, different ways of looking at certain events and past experiences.
I believe the new awareness I gained that week has changed my life for the better – there are challenges I’m more likely to jump at, knots I’m less likely to tie myself up in. It was like I’d done a year of therapy in a week.
So, at the end of the 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way I made a promise to myself to repeat the exercise. And when Kamsin suggested doing the Artist’s Way in a group, it was all the nudge I needed.
My rules of media deprivation
These are based on Julia Cameron’s book, but adapted for me and my circumstances…
- No books, obviously
- No radio, ie no turning on Radio 4 first thing in the morning when I’m making breakfast, no radio when I’m driving
- Also: no podcasts. If anything I’ve become even more obsessive in my podcast listening since last year – my list of subscribed podcasts is longer, I spend more of my life with earphones in: driving on my own, running, pretty much anything I do alone that doesn’t involve writing or editing has a background soundtrack of someone else talking
- No TV, and of course, no Netflix, no iPlayer, no You Tube. None of that
- No DVDs
- No blogs, articles, on or offline magazines or newspapers
- No Facebook
- No Twitter
So what can I do with my time?
Those evenings, I seem to remember, can be long! So it’s good to have some ideas up my sleeve.
- Sketch, doodle, colour
- Brain dump into a notebook
- Write lists, scenes, ideas, fiction…
- Listen to music
- Dance around the living room
- Hang out with my kids
- Talk to my husband
- Make voice recordings on my phone
- Phone friends, or write them letters
- Clean the house
- Draft blog posts
- Cook. Sew. Mend stuff
- Do DIY
- Just be… (easier said than done, clearly!)
A couple of caveats
I can’t afford to take a week off work to do this (and I’m not sure I’d even want to). So I’ll need to check work emails while I’m working, and may need to access specific items of information on the Internet to do my job. But the point is, I won’t be browsing, or reading around, or losing myself in other people’s words.
I’m also responsible for other things I won’t be able to neglect for the week – family admin, kids’ activities. So, I’m going to set myself specific periods when I can check and deal with things that need to be dealt with.
You might be thinking, it’s hardly a week offline if I’m allowed to check emails. But the thing is, this experiment isn’t about me neglecting my family or my work, and it’s not about cutting off communication with the outside world. It’s about committing to time with my thoughts to see what happens. It’s a spring clean, not a retreat.
There’s one exception to the communication-okay, reading-not-okay rule and it’s this: no social media. It’s just too easy to get sucked into that world, and to spend hours reading comments, posts, tweets, messages, replying to threads, following links.
The thing is, at the moment, I am CONSTANTLY online. Since the last time I did this, and despite other changes in my life, I’m even more connected to the Internet and social media.
All my notifications come into my iPhone – Facebook, mail, text messages, podcasts, Twitter and the rest. Checking my notifications (and then following those threads to wherever they lead) is often the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to sleep at night.
This post is part of my preparation – I’m setting my intention, announcing my plans.
Then, the day before I start, I’m going to:
- Turn off all the notifications that currently come into my phone
- Schedule essential email checking time to deal with family admin
- Decide in advance when I am and am not working (otherwise, my ‘work-time’ can bleed all over my weekly schedule)
- Get out my emergency supplies: colouring book, pens, a stack of notebooks
I can’t decided if I’m scared or excited (mainly excited, I think).
I’d love to hear what you think about this. Am I bonkers for attempting it after last time? Do you think I’m over-stating how hard it is?
Are you tempted to join me?
If you’d like to play along at home: my media deprivation week runs from Friday 22 April till Thursday 28th. Given the limits I’m setting myself, I won’t be able to chat online with anyone throughout – but maybe we could talk about it afterwards?