Sometimes a Little Deprivation is a Good Thing

Week 4 of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of integrity”. It mostly speaks about listening to your gut feelings about what is and isn’t good for you. Cameron urges you to look to your morning pages for clues – things you’ve been complaining about or getting angry about every time you empty your mind – of things that you can change. This chapter urges you to consider making the big scary changes that you know you need to make but that you can’t bring yourself to make for whatever reason. (For example, leaving an abusive lover, or ditching a friend who is an emotional vampire.)

This week I’m not going to share an exercise, because instead I want to talk about something else that pops up in chapter 4: something that is surprisingly difficult but totally worth it.

At the end of chapter 4 Cameron suggests a week of “reading deprivation”, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. She suggests that artists, by nature, tend to spend great quantities of time reading (whether it be books, magazines, newspapers, websites, etc) and other like-activities (watching TV and movies, playing video games, etc). She suggests a week of cutting yourself off from these activities. The reasoning is that they are distractions, that artists have a way of doing everything but what they really should be doing. Cameron goes on to talk about how whenever she brings up this idea of “reading deprivation” to her classes, she is inevitably met with anger and disbelief. People insist that this is impossible, that they can’t just cut all forms of reading out of their life for a week, and besides that, “what will I do with the time?”

Even before Cameron went on to explain just exactly what you can do with that time, I found this a little funny. “What will I do with the time?” REALLY?

Not many people know this about me, but I have a very addictive personality – not when it comes to drugs or alcohol or anything like that, no. I have an addictive personality when it comes to casual gaming and internet use. Several years back now I discovered a site called Gaia Online. For all intents and purposes it’s a multifaceted online community where you play games, follow storylines, and interact with other players in order to…well to be honest, the point is pretty much to keep earning money so that you can keep buying pretty outfits for your character. There’s not much more to it than that. I hooked on to this site when I was first working at the paper mill. I had moved away from home, and my husband (then boyfriend) hadn’t yet followed me because he was finishing school. So I was up in this new town, all alone, with only my new job to fill the day…and my new obsession. I can’t really convey to you how much time I spent on this game. It was day in and day out. Sometimes I’d be up until 1 in the morning playing it. It was the greatest time vampire of my existence, and it took a surprising amount of effort to quit it.

For me, this crap is worse than crack.
For me, this crap is worse than crack.

These days I’m more wary of this kind of thing, but my little addictions pop up in other ways – binging on other peoples’ blog posts, reading countless Cracked.com posts on my iPhone, playing Angry Birds with the baby on my tablet – and I have to be wary of them because time just vanishes when I allow them into my life. But here’s the thing…when I am able to abstain, to keep myself from wasting time on one of these little habits of mine, the absolute last thought in my head is “what will I do with the time”?

I will fully admit that I am failing the reading deprivation suggestion, mostly out of good old fashioned stubbornness, but in the past couple of days since I read about it I’ve been very mindful. I’ve been working my “reading” into little pockets of the day when I’m able to multitask (reading a Cracked.com article while stirring a pot for supper). As a result I’ve been squeezing more time out of the day, and do you know what I’ve been doing with it? I’ve been writing. I’ve been cleaning. I’ve been organizing. I’ve been doing all the things that I constantly avoid doing by way of these little time vampires that weasel their way into my head and make me feel like I should be focusing on them instead.

And that’s the key, I think. If you are able to inject more time into the day, and your reaction to that is to ask, “what do I do with it?”, you’re in denial. If you take half a moment to look inside and think about all the things you need to get done – or even all the things you want to get done – I’m sure you’ll come up with a million things that you can do with that extra time.

So get to work, people. Check Facebook a few dozen times less today. Put down that mobile game that just goes on and on and doesn’t really have a purpose. Turn off that TV show that you don’t even really like. A little leisure time is good (important, even), but our time is also too precious and too short to waste so much of it on everything but what we really need (or want) to get done.

Have you ever tried something like “reading deprivation”? How did it go? Do you have any little addictions (reading, mobile games, TV) that take up way too much of your time and keep you from getting anything done? Why do you continue to give in to those addictions? Please share!

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