Mother & Child Reading in the Garden
© Joyce Abbé
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be –
I had a mother who read to me.
— Strickland Gillilan
Many traditions use this period between Imbolc and Ostara for fasting, special health regimens, and various forms of sacred physical renunciation. This might also include non-physical forms of fasting, especially withdrawing from the media noise that surrounds us. A media fast can be done in a number of ways, including eliminating all TV one night a week (or more), or choosing a news fast for a period of time, or even the Reading Deprivation week that Julia Cameron includes in her brilliant classic, “The Artist’s Way.”
If you decide to eliminate a habit or change your routine, it is helpful to replace it with something positive or sustaining. So when I first attempted the week-long reading deprivation, it was extremely important for me to have a back-up plan (or two) to ease the withdrawal pains.
In making the choice to actually follow Ms. Cameron’s program, I was shocked at just how integral books, magazines, newspapers and the Internet were in my life, both to my sense of my identity, and how I spent my time. Just the thought of deliberately removing this habitual source of comfort, inspiration, distraction, and entertainment was truly painful.
So what did I do instead? I did a lot of soul-searching. In particular, I thought about why books were so important to me. Where did I get the message that I always had to be surrounded with books? Why am I so acquisitive (as the overflowing bookshelves in nearly every room will attest) and why am I so deeply reluctant to part with any but the worst?
The way that I did this soul-searching was that over the week’s time, I pulled out every single one of the books in my house, dusted them off, and rearranged them. No, I did not give in to the temptation to peek inside. No, I didn’t even allow myself to read the dust covers – only the spines, and only to sort them.
But I did allow myself to quietly turn over in my mind what that particular book meant to me. Did I even remember what it was about? (This may seem ridiculous, unless you could see my stacks of Agatha Christie, Ayn Rand and Robert Jordan that have a tendency, eventually, to all run together).
As the week progressed, I found that my inner dialogue became quieter and quieter, and I could hear a voice that was much more authentic than any I had heard in a very, very long time. As I continued my project (which I only did in small portions), I could hear my own narrative in such clarity that at first I didn’t even know who she was.
“Oh look,” this new, but infinitely old voice would observe. “This was the textbook we used in 9th grade history. That class changed your whole perspective about the world, do you remember?” “I remember this one. I was sick with the flu and it was so cozy to curl up with it in that apartment, where the sun poured in every afternoon.” “Oh, great stars! Can you believe I really plowed through all this Nietzsche for fun? Who was that woman!”
As difficult as it was at first, after only three days, the reading deprivation week began to yield staggering treasures. I discovered so much about who I have become, because of what I have read. But when all those other voices in my head were finally quieted, I could hear, for the first time since I was small, my own alone. It changed me forever, both as a reader, but more importantly, as a writer myself.
Which is exactly what Ms. Cameron intended all along!