The hardest part of any participant's journey through the Artist's Way.
Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity. Challenge: reading deprivation.
Week 4 of the Artists' Way focuses on removing the blinders we place on ourselves and the power our shame has over us. When we read for the purpose of escapism, or binge on Netflix, or drown ourselves in Instagram for hours, when we read fun articles at work instead of following up on SEMA Show sales leads, we lose track of the words in our minds, the unspoken words of our artist child who is constantly being ignored while we wallow in remaining stuck. "When you run out of work," the text says, "You will eventually play." The idea is that in avoiding all the static, we can listen to ourselves. My artist child was excited to begin. I was terrified.
I did not skip reading deprivation week. Gods I wanted to. I said, "I can't this week. Too much to do. Blogs to read for; work to do; books to finish; people need me to be connected so I can't quit social media for the week. Gotham. I haven't even finished watching Gotham. Or Star Trek: Voyager; or Hannibal. I haven't started "Hoshruba"."
Well, let me tell you, resistance is futile.
It took me two days of mental preparation to make the decision that I would not listen or read other people's words, unless it was for work, for a whole week. For the most part, I did it.
I've been reading Barb and J.C. Hendee's novels of the Noble Dead, so putting down books was difficult, especially considering I owed Lee Aarons and Gail Martin book reviews (less so Ms. Martin, but I do a book review for her without her asking me every year--it's a tradition for The Squealing Nerd.). I hadn't been watching Gotham. I'd given up trying to keep up with a regular television show. I never started Hannibal. I'm even watching Ripper Street on Hulu. I had been ignoring my re-play of Kingdom Hearts. I needed a break from social, and I knew it. I've been burying myself in it, even at work, to avoid boredom and challenging co-workers, and other things, like cleaning out our closet and bedroom from our move. So pretty much every piece of resistance I offered was simply that, resistance. I had no good reason to skip the reading deprivation week, so I committed to it.
It's one of the hardest weeks of the Artist's Way.I remember the first time I did it when I was a housewife with nothing to do. I spent a lot of time working on my Nicolades drawing exercises and writing my novel Once Burned. I baked a lot. That was the month I won NaNoWriMo. That was the month I gave up Reddit for good. That was the month I woke up and realized what I was missing in my life. It was when I woke up and realized how cruelly I was being smothered, and how my own hands where pushing the pillow. And then, somehow, after my divorce, I started falling back on my old habits. I stayed on social media pretty much constantly despite blogging very little (my Twitter and Instagram accounts were intended to increase the reach of my blog). I used it to avoid cleaning up and unpacking after our move. I used it to take my mind off of the slow success of my projects at work, or to comfort myself from the rise and fall of my new duties. I read to keep myself from feeling guilty that I had all but stopped working on Once Burned. I played nostalgic video games to keep myself from feeling that same guilt. I started bingeing on Voyager and Law and Order: SVU to keep from feeling inadequate or afraid of failing at the several start-up companies I became involved with, and I became involved with those in a futile attempt to make myself solvent so I could write my novels (despite the fact that I know I can do both and become solvent). None of them came to fruition, and thank goodness no one was left holding the bill for any of it. Then I began using all of these practices to avoid another attempt at starting my own business. I had the model and the marketing all laid out. All I lacked was the market research, which was well within my power to conduct without help. I put it off, and put it off. And I am still in debt, and I am still stuck, and I am still not writing.
The payoff of these escapist practices, for me, is avoiding the fear that I've failed, when in truth I had not even allowed myself to start. Am I half way through Once Burned? Yes, and finishing it will be no difficult task if I ever sit down it, but I will never know its a failure if I don't finish it. Of course, I will never know whether or not it would ever achieve success. How can I have failed at a business when I have not even started? In putting it down, I don't have to fear that I will fail and I will be no better off than I am now.
When you think about, it in the quiet apartment while you write your morning pages, the payoff of staying stuck is asinine, while the very real possibility of success lays just outside my grasp. If I stand on my tippy-toes, I can reach it. In light of this, bingeing on Netflix and social media makes no sense.
So I started depriving myself of these escapist practices all at once. There is no Nicorette gum for reading withdrawl. I put down my novels and my prior obligations. I quit social media entirely except for work, and there is so little of it that I found myself actually doing more work than socializing, and it felt incredible. I finished a project that should have gotten done when we came back from SEMA Show last November. I started email campaigns and have actually increased sales and social media interaction. At home I finished the closet and bedroom. I cooked Thai soup. I completed the first successful series of weighted and modeled drawings I had done in months. No fancy tools, no sophisticated techniques--just me and a number-two pencil and some of the paper I jacked from the kids. I wrote another eight thousand words on The Thaumaturge of Mircea. I paid our bills and almost made it to the gym.
When I sat down to listen, my artist child spoke, and she told me that if life is just waiting to die, then why don't I do something with that? All of my hope came back. In a moment of synchronicity, I found one of my old stories I thought long gone. It was terrible. I wrote it when I was sixteen, but it made me so stupidly happy to find it I almost woke my mom up to tell her about it.
Reading deprivation is not self punishment. You are allowed time to yourself to consume art. How can a painter paint if they don't consume the art they want to create? How can a person write for television if they never watch it? How can a novelist write a novel if they never read them? We need art, and we need to consume it, but we also need to know when we are consuming art and when we are hiding in it. Now that I am allowed on social media, I haven't been using it. Now that I'm allowed to read, I've decided to cook and write instead. I went cold turkey, and now I'll have to ease myself back in slowly.
If you are going through the Artist's Way, this week will be very important for you. Don't skip it. Embrace it. Will you fall of the wagon? Yes, I did three times this week. It's okay. You can get back on. Listen to your artist child this week. Play. Do something you wouldn't normally do. Pick up your husband's guitar and teach yourself chords. Pick up a cook book and make a meal. Get out a sketch pad and make stick figure cartoons (man I'm good at that). It won't be perfect and it won't make you rich, but it will be good art for all it's imperfections and false starts. Who knows, maybe a synchronous moment this week is all you need to kick start your recovery.
Note: The Artist's Way is a 12 week spiritual guide to artistic recovery for blocked artists. You can take the course alone or in a group--lots of people prefer the support network you get with a group, while some of us prefer to grieve our mistakes and creative u-turns in solitude. It is highly suggested for anyone feeling spiritually lost and in need of that voice in the endless dark that says, "You are not alone."