I'm on day five of my seven day retreat. And it's been a trip, even though I've barely left this tiny condo. I've climbed the mountain and reached the highest peak. I've flung myself right off that peak into the dark jaws of the abyss. I've dusted myself off and climbed right back up. And so on and so forth. It's been exhausting. It's been exhilarating. It's been transformative. But, I'm guessing you probably don't care too much about all that, so I will proceed to the topic at hand. Reading. Or the lack thereof. As I've mentioned, I decided to explore Julia Cameron's suggested week of reading deprivation to prime the pump of my creativity. According to her theory, words, for creatives like myself (and like you and everyone else in the world), are anesthetizing little pills that we consume to quash our own creativity as we internalize someone else's. When I first read about this almost four years ago, I thought NFW. No way I'm giving up my books. I love them too much.
Then, last year, in another effort to find myself (I know that Tolkien said that not all who wander are lost, but I'm beginning to wonder about myself), I had decided to give the whole reading deprivation thing a try. I didn't end up doing it and, in fact, the act of NOT giving up my books last year is what led me to the realization that they were so much more for me than just the vehicles of my escape from reality.
What I realized last year was that I love my smut, and I wanted to share that love with anyone who cared to join me. So I did. My blog, Truth in Fantasy, was born, and all the words in my brain and my heart and my soul were able to spill out onto the page and travel through the ether to your computer or smart phone screen. And it was a glorious thing.
I'd found a way to incorporate my reading of paranormal and urban fantasy into my intellectual life. I realized, with tremendous joy, that I had discovered a method by which I could make my favorite activity meaningful and purposeful for me, and hopefully others as well, so that I could indulge and know that I was doing more than just whiling away a few minutes or a few hours. I had alchemized my fantasy fiction habit into a productive, constructive pursuit and therefore justified the inordinate amount of time I spent with my beloved books. This felt like heaven on Earth to me. And writing my blog has been a gift of the creative gods; and it was good.
But, apparently, I still needed to inflict this week of reading deprivation on myself to see what it was all about. And it made some amount of sense, as I didn't want my retreat to turn into a vacation--it was supposed to be, and has been, something much more sacred, where I spend totally unstructured time completely alone to see what comes up. Plenty, let me tell you. I recommend this exercise to anyone whose life is busy and full (so pretty much all of us), particularly around a major life milestone or event (I'm hitting the half-century mark shortly). But, again, let me limit myself to talking about what I've learned by taking a fiction reading hiatus for five days now.
The first thing is that I miss my books. I truly do love them. There aren't any books in this condo, besides the ones I brought (I decided to interpret Julia Cameron's exhortation to put down the reading material as meaning only my beloved fiction, news, TV, movies, stuff that "distracts". I have been reading inspirational and motivational books, including Ms. Cameron's The Right to Write, which has been revelatory). I love the way books feel surrounding me on bookshelves, on coffee tables and desks, in piles on the floor (can you imagine what my house looks like?!). I love the way books smell and feel. I love knowing that they are there for me to pick up and hold and read and touch. But I also love my Kindle. I'm on my third, maybe fourth, actually. And while I have the Kindle app on my phone and iPad, I love having an e-reader, dedicated to my books. I love knowing that I have hundreds of books at my fingertips to read whenever I want to. And when I travel, I just need to bring my Kindle with me to ensure I have access to all of my treasure trove of words, sentences, paragraphs and pages.
I love the fictional characters in my books. I think about them. I worry about them and hope they will get their HEA. I wonder what they would do, and sometimes I adjust my behavior accordingly. I strive to be more like Pia, Anita, Mac, Jane, Kat, Merry, Sookie, Elena, Rose, Bluebell, Jade, Mercy, Myst, Nix, Dev, Amy and even Betsy sometimes. These women inspire me. Their creators inspire me. They are my Muses and they are the source of my creativity. What I've learned is that I didn't need to put these books down to ignite my creative spark, I need to pick them up. What I've come to realize is that these books, these characters and these stories are the foil for my own imaginative ramblings. They are the mainspring of my thoughtful patter; the foundation on which I've been able to articulate my philosophy and therefore share it with the world.
I thought my blog would be a good excuse to read my smut. But I've come to find out that my smut has been the vehicle of my self expression, the path by which my ideas can become embodied so they have form and shape and dimension. These books have given me the ability to explore my interior world and mine for gold inside my own headspace.
What a gift this is. And I'm actually so grateful that I've also been given the ability to see with such clarity my own truths. Many thanks to Ms. Cameron for helping to get to this point. It has been painful and wonderful by turns. And it has been worth every emotion it's pulled forth from me.
I recommend a week of reading deprivation. I'm imagining the homecoming will be very sweet indeed. I'll return to my beloved books with even more appreciation than I had before. Almost hard to believe that could be, but there you have it. I guess, absence makes the heart grow fonder after all.