I have been working through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a 12-week program to re-discover your inner creative. The program consists of lots of journalling prompts and weekly “tasks” to get in touch with your playful side in an effort to un-block the spiritual flow of creativity. One of the mainstays of the program is Morning Pages, or a daily commitment to write 3 pages of free-flowing thoughts every morning before doing anything else. It’s essentially a therapeutic brain dump to clear our minds of the incessant chatter we inexplicably, somehow, wake up with.
Tasks might include things like pretending you have a different profession for a week (I chose baker one week and baked a cake from scratch; another, I was a barista and attended a coffee cupping class), doing something you know you enjoy but never “have time” for (swinging on a playground for me) or buying yourself your favorite childhood snack or treat.
Week 4 is known for the big one: reading deprivation. The book was written in the 90s, before the advent of e-mails, text messaging, social media, kindles, on-demand audio books, news, e-books and all around constant bombardment of words and letters and sentences and things to read, read, read. Simply cutting out reading, sure, but what about the rest of the noise not addressed in her book? Surely this is detrimental too. Ever the masochist, in preparation for this week I googled Julia Cameron’s current stance on reading deprivation. She now terms it “media deprivation” and yes – it includes e-mails, text messaging, social media and more. Someone in the comments questioned music, and she replied with a trite “music without lyrics is just fine during Media Deprivation!” This lady is serious.
But, as she says, “I teach adults.” We know what we can get away with NOT looking at – you know the e-mails you can skip. You know the texts you don’t have to read. She implores us to use our creativity to find ways NOT to read, which is exactly what I intended to do to the fullest this week.
A few hours into Day One, I quickly realized my complete resistance to all things related to reading wouldn’t work for me for an entire week. So, instead of falling victim to the black and white thinking and saying “oh fuck it,” I made myself a Do and Don’ts list. It was as follows:
Meditation, music/bells/bowls only
Editing my podcast (audio, writing a description)
12-step meetings & any accompanied readings, looking up meeting times/places
Work: texts and e-mails directed to me only (no CC’s or faxes), our charting system
School: imminent projects only (ie the one I have due next week), e-mail/texts from my group re: this project
Daily relationship reminders (a thing Steve and I do)
Reading “for fun” (magazines, books, news)
Texting: non-work, non-school related
E-mail: Non-work, non-school related
Meditation, guided or spoken word
Facebook, instagram, reddit, linkedIn, Meetup, all of it
Puzzle Books, crosswords
Googling, online shopping, yelping, recipe searches
Job hunt/applications/resume work
GPS/navigation (when possible)
Half-way things/things I can ask for help with:
Duolingo for German lessons
Entering our daily relationship reminders
Other preparation (AKA Temptation Management):
Moved my texting and e-mail apps to the second page of my iphone, not in plain sight.
De-activated all notification on my iPhone except for phone calls and my work-related secure messaging app.
Un-subscribed from a ton of spam and e-mail lists I don’t need.
Got familiar with my phone’s capabilities:
Set my phone to “Do Not Disturb” for most of the day, which hides all notifications.
Set a custom “Driving- Do Not Disturb” away message (“Hi! I’m taking a break from my phone right now. If this is time sensitive, please call me @ xxx-xxxx.” My phone also gives the option for the sender to text “urgent” and the text WILL come through”). This message appears when I manually set it to “Driving,” which I did after hours (5pm – 7am).
Day 1: Figuring it all out and trying not to give in
This first day started off weird because I have been very sick, and I took the morning off from school and went to work later in the day. So the day started off easy enough – I didn’t feel the need to check e-mails or texts or anything. I saw my text auto-reply had bounced back to 2 or 3 people overnight and I wondered why I hadn’t set up this boundary long ago. I went to make oatmeal, glimpsed instructions for “the long way” (stovetop) and was like “why not.” So I made oatmeal The Long Way. I then did my Morning Pages, the longest yet (4 pages). I meditated to music and had a pretty nice morning. For the first time probably ever, Steve asked me to proof-read something for him. I did, then immediately realized I wasn’t supposed to be reading. I made amends with this by arguing that it was editing, a part of my craft and a passion of mine.
I contemplated going into work since I was pretty sick, but honestly by noon I was ready to check an e-mail or twenty. I came in and checked only the e-mails that weren’t spam and which were directed right toward me (not the incoming faxes, which get sent to all staff in the office). I felt alot more productive not being distracted by social media, texting people out of boredom or surfing the internet for non-work related things.
Since I am not texting anyone except work-related people right now, this means even Steve has to put up with this. We called one another three times in my thirty minute drive home: once to catch up, once for me to ask him to google what time the post office closes, and once more for him to call me back and tell me they close at 5 and to not bother going. So I went to a 12-step meeting right from work, because if the post office was closed then, really, what else was I going to do all night? I found this new meeting with the address only, as in I did my best not to use Apple Maps or any kind of navigation. I know where Lemon Ave is, and I understand how house numbers work, so I was pretty confident I could find the address. I (of course) was asked to read a passage at the end of meeting, to which I obliged. Afterward, I called my mom and caught up, then right when we hung up coincidentally my friend Lauren called to also catch up. I found this so much nicer than texting.
While in the car at anytime I felt a little antsy; I have a long-ish trafficky commute, so podcasts are normally my BFF. After 3 minutes of unacceptable silence, I listened instead to a Spotify playlist called “Writing Music: Focus, Work. (no lyrics)” which is a nice combination of house, classical and other random genres without words. It was actually a little soothing. It was also really nice to have the Driving- Do Not Disturb feature on.. Again, I wondered why I hadn’t set this up before? It was safer and I was much more focused on the road and my surroundings, no phone sitting in my lap.
Once I was home we made dinner and walked the dogs. Steve had basketball on in the living room but this may as well be lyric-less music to me. He played regular music during dinner but I didn’t make any attempt to make out the lyrics, just let it happen. Once in bed we did a Duolingo German lesson together. Aside from upholding the “no reading” rule, this was nice because it forced me to listen rather than read what the app was wanting me to translate, so I could translate by sound which is something I worried I might not be able to do once I put the language into real-life practice since the app is largely text-based. It was also fun to figure out the translations together with Steve, since I have been using the app for 3 months and Steve (who is not studying it/claims to have forgotten most of his German) is just as proficient as I am. Curious. After that, I journalled briefly, then meditated to soothing music until I was sleepy enough to drift off, and I turned it off.
Day 2: Catharsis, AKA Sometimes you just need to cry in your car to classical music
I awoke early feeling better than I have in almost a week. My first thought: “oh fuck, I’m doing that no-media thing.” My second thought: “maybe I should push it to the week before our trip, when I won’t have school or work.” Third thought: “you’re trying to cop out.”
I made oatmeal The Long Way again, and then decided to try my hand at overnight oats. I didn’t look up a recipe (as I am not googling or reading), just kind of did some volumetrics in my head and mixed oats and almond milk and some other flavors. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow how this went.
Without checking my phone first thing, I find that I am a lot more prolific in my Morning Pages so far. This morning I wrote SIX – including a two-page letter I will never send. I would walk away, then return to the pages once more came up in my mind. Without the phone or texts or whatever to distract me, I had a lot more going through my mind but also a lot more time to keep on writing and still be on time for work.
This week is also all about restoring a sense of integrity, and this time alone with my thoughts has sort of sent me into a tailspin of “who am I?” and “what do I want?” It’s emotional, to say the least. I cried most of my way to work, this felt half like a mourning of what was (literally, who I was a week ago) and a relief that I finally get to become who I am meant to be. Then I got to work, and all was right in the world again. Like my mini mental breakdown never happened.
I broke my no-texting rule when I saw a text come through from my neighbor, which is rare and I was concerned it might be related to our dogs. She was just looking for a missing package, so I quickly replied so I didn’t look rude/exactly like a package thief by remaining silent. Then, my mom broke through my Do Not Disturb by texting “Urgent” so of course I checked it, and it was an image of a giraffe sick in bed and “get well soon” written over it. I decided to forgive this.
I had my first class since starting this adventure, and since it’s finals time class was really three group presentations. At first I tried real hard not to read their slides and focus instead on the person talking but quickly felt like I was making everyone uncomfortable with my direct, unapologetic eye contact. After class I had a really nice date with Steve for Taco tuesday (yes, I read the menu – but only to choose what I wanted, not to mindlessly scan it – particularly the mixed drinks – as I so often do). We then made a quick Target run where he laughed at me because I wanted him to use Cartwheel app but made him scan everything. Hey, every word counts! Keeping it up as best I can sends my brain the message that this thing matters to me.
Day 3: Is it working yet?
Kind of a tantrum-y day. Anxious, frustrated, restless. A lot like a fad or crash diet on day three but feels like you’ve been doing it an eternity but somehow you feel fatter than ever. I am more confused and muddled than when I started.
I started out with only half a page for morning pages, which I wanted to skip altogether but did it anyway lest I be named a tantrum-er per the book. I finished them up later in the morning when I had some free time. I navigated to my clinical site with GPS, sadly, although I’ve been there dozens of times before. I turned it off once I knew where I was though, and made a point to memorize the route for tomorrow’s commute.
While at clinical I called a real friend on a real phone in the hospital (I am there for school, she works there) and made plans for lunch. She had apparently texted me just around the same time but I explained I didn’t get it because I am currently working on being insane. She supported this fully. I tried to navigate home without GPS and missed my freeway, ending up on one that worked but was much more congested. I memorized this route again for tomorrow.
Part of the little thing Steve and I do required us to surprise each other with a little gift
tonight. I felt dull and un-creative (tantrummy), until I was home and free and relaxed and walking the dogs. They were sniffing around some gorgeous flowers, so I snapped a few photos and (semi-breaking the rules here, but it was in the name of art!) used the CVS app to order a few prints. I picked them up after the walk and framed a couple for him/us to hang in the house.
After that I just made dinner, edited our podcast and finished up a school project. Again Steve had basketball on in the background, but the commercials were almost overstimulating and I wanted to ask him to mute it between the game. I also felt stressed that he was watching TV and on his phone at the same time, and commented (not annoying at all, I am sure) as such when he was brushing his teeth and on his phone. I notice his – and really, everyone’s – habits a lot more now.. I mean, once I looked up from my own phone for more than a couple hours.
I found a new playlist on Spotify today, “No words, just music” which is largely piano covers of famous songs, and I wonder if this is cheating.
Day 4: This is stupid and I hate everything.
Hardest day yet! I had a second day of clinical for a Process Improvement fair presentation day. An entire three hours of standing in the blazing sun surrounded by over 100 project posters from all around the hospital, with nothing to do but present my own and read everyone else’s, but not allowed to do the latter.
However, this opened up lots of time to have a conversation with the nurse I was presenting with and I got to experience some pretty amazing synchronicity: this week’s journalling prompted me to write a list of “5 hobbies that seem fun but that I would NEVER do,” and #1 on my list was SCUBA. I even wrote it out like that, all caps. SCUBA. Well this nurse (who I have known for sometime, but did not know this part) was a master instructor and randomly said to me “you know what I think you would like? SCUBA.” He then answered every anxiety-ridden question I have ever had about SCUBA and recommended a great place for me to take classes. By the end of the day, I was excited to learn how to SCUBA. Amazing things happen when you open your mind up and free it from constant text-e-mail-instagram-reddit-checking, man.
I tried to call a friend to discuss camping plans this weekend, but was met with a text saying “sorry, at work so can’t talk, but can text!” Story of my life. I finally texted her back because dangit, we needed to know if we had enough coolers.
After clinical I got home a few hours before Steve, and started to get panicky as to what I would do with my time. I laid in bed for a good hour which felt nice but shameful somehow (even though I am still fighing a bit of sickness). I then literally paced around the house, sat in front of the TV (unable to turn it on!), listened to (word-less) music on my phone…my skin was crawling. At this point, literally everything I “felt” like doing entailed words or reading: puzzle books, school work, straight-up reading, TV, online yoga class, guided meditation, a podcast.
I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and randomly went to Wal-mart under the guise of needing hooks to hang up the new photos of the dogs and some cold medicine. While there, I remembered World Market was next door and headed there afterward. I decided to check their art section for something I have been looking for for months: when we first saw our house, it was staged with this gorgeous mandala in the window and we haven’t been able to find anything like it. Well, lo and behold, thanks to my second synchronicity-moment of the week, today I found the exact thing I wanted. The elusive metal mandala: not too big, not too small, not painted a weird color, and within our budget. I went across the street to Hobby Lobby (sign out front should say: TRIGGER WARNING CRAFTS) and found (what I now know is called) an “easel” upon which to stand the mandala, and decided to pick up another pot and some succulent/floral arrangement supplies.
Steve had something big going on for work, but i didn’t want to call and potentially interrupt so I recorded a voice message and texted it telling him good luck. I got home and set up the mandala and practiced serious impulse control: I fought every instinct to throw together the floral arrangements and/or to text photos of my great mandala find to Steve. I decided to go to a 12-step meeting and save the floral stuff for afterward, when I could work on it slowly and intently. I didn’t text Steve about the mandala.. instead I got to spend the next hour excited for his excitement when he got home and saw it all set up and pretty. I realized then that I deprive myself of life’s little excitements (like surprising your partner with something vs. texting/sending photos all day) and of taking my time doing things rather than giving in to the immediate-gratification of well, everything in life.
The meeting turned out to be a book study meeting, and publicly reading a paragraph out loud never felt so good. All-around this was a great night, punctuated by a random and annoying crying spell just before bedtime. Sounds about right at this point.
Day 5: This is my life now and also I don’t know who I am anymore.
I woke up feeling bad bad bad. I wanted to do my regular meditation and couldn’t. I trudged through my morning and texted Steve, because I felt bad/crazy re: my crying bout the night before and didn’t want to call him at work (he always thinks it’s an emergency, which is what it took for me to actually call someone before this week). I realized after texting him I could’ve written it out and taken a photo, which might have been ridiculous but awful clever.
Today was a full day at work, which entailed alot of reading and training and my brain wanted to explode. It felt like alot. I did use my phone to text a friend about lunch plans out of necessity. I was running late and asked her to “text me a pic of the menu” and I felt really millennial and guilty about that.
I am at a point where I feel a little lost, sad and bored. I am bored with my own thoughts and this is compounded by shame about that. What the fuck do I normally do with my brain? I would kill for a good murder podcast or even a single top 40 song.
I got home from work and took a depression nap, which seems to be a thing when you don’t read or listen to word-music anymore. Once Steve was home I dragged myself out of bed, packed up and we headed out for our camping trip at Mt. Laguna. I was almost relieved to be going somewhere where I wouldn’t have any service so I could (1) mask the weird thing I was doing and (2) not feel compelled to check my phone at all. Plus no one else would be incessantly on their phones either. Ah, normalcy.
We set up camp and headed to dinner in town (because camping, right?) and I tried my best not to check my phone, even though at this point I am pretty over the whole deprivation thing. I am dead set on finishing it out as strongly as I can, and I’ll be damned if I facebook-relapse in the middle of Julian, CA at an old-timey diner.
Day 6: Camping, a small reprieve
I woke up and went nearly 4 hours before I realized I had a phone, and didn’t even know where it was. Normally, even camping without any service I have my phone attached to me for photo purposes, randomly taking it off airplane mode to check if some miraculous service bars will appear, whatever. But I felt completely detached this time.. and this was weirdly empowering.
I also almost forgot to do my morning pages, which I did do eventually and then took another – you guessed it – nap. We spent the day hiking and went into town again, where I did use my phone to send my mom a photo and respond to another package text from my neighbor. But again, I was oddly unattached to my phone.
Day 7: Back to life, back to reality!
We got home from camping pretty early afternoon. I was too exhausted to use my phone or read anything so I – I mean, this is getting embarrassing now – took a nap. I did use a guided meditation for this, because I really needed to sleep. I can tell I am slowly easing my way back into this “media” thing.
When I awoke, we went for a ride for some groceries and to get pizza and I had my
THIRD synchronicity this week: we have been on the hunt for a patio set and someone was selling one by the road – for $50! And he drove it up the hill to our house for another $10. Not only does this serve a place to sit outside, it’s also my next crafty/furniture re-finishing project: the table top could use some serious love.
I finally broke all deprivation in the best possible way: watching the latest two Game of Thrones episodes and reading The Artist’s Way chapter for the week to come.
Day 8 and beyond: so what did I learn from this week?
I learned that I am strong, and determined, and that I can defeat black-and-white thinking and feelings of shame if I just keep my eye on the prize! I also learned that I am/we are all capital-A Addicted to our phone, social media, distraction, noise. I had so much more time for other activities (like floral design and writing and crying and sleeping) when I wasn’t distracted by my phone.
Constantly checking our phones is not just a time suck, it actually fragments our focus, turning a several hour-long well-intentioned study or writing period into a series of 5- or 10- (if you’re lucky) minute blips of false, wasted “focus.” I think of it like getting awoken every few minutes during sleep, or actually being allowed an interrupted stretch of the recommended 6-8 hours: which produces the more high quality end result? This idea is not my own – it is from the intro to Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, given to me by Steve to start after this week off. This week was the perfect segue to this book (or maybe the book is the perfect segue between my week of “deprivation” and the rest of my life?). I was quite proud of myself for leaving notifications turned off, not re-downloading Facebook and other small efforts like a “digital sabbath,” as Newport puts it. However this was almost immediately rebutted by his assertion that our attempts at moderation are almost impossible, thanks to the purposely addictive nature of social media and the huge societal pressure to partake (sounds alot like alcohol, doesn’t it?). He, instead, offers a “philosophy” of “digital de-clutter” in the second part of his book, which I am super excited to get to. Rather than constant failed attempts at “moderation” punctuated by violent relapse and binging, we need to change our whole concept of what we actually need and what we can de-clutter from our lives, again – alot like quitting alcohol.
I also plan to do the week of deprivation again, the week before our Europe trip. I will be off from school and work and the pressure to read or use my phone/be connected will be greatly lessened. It’ll will also be perfect timing to separate myself from the constant connection to my screen so that “unplugging” in Europe won’t be so much of a shock to my system.
Would you ever try a week of media deprivation? Have you ever done it before? What was or would be on YOUR do and don’t list?