It’s true. This girl took a break from reading.
This book loving girl who would trace the lines of words before she could even read them.
This girl who was ashamed to stand and read the first word in her Reading class while everyone looked on. She would always have that one bold three letter word which was centered in the middle of the white page blazed into her memory.
And when she scooted her chair back, stood by her desk, and read that one word, she cringed a bit inside. How was it considered reading to stand up and repeat one word with all seven of the other students in her class? How was it considered a milestone to utter one syllable and that meant you were reading?
She wanted to devour whole books. Sniff their freshly printed pages and bask in the black print, clear and clean.
Reading became her life line. Her escape from reality. Her search of one more thing. She read in bed and while she worked and in the bathroom. Shampoo bottles and cereal boxes and chip bags. Children’s books and flyers and encyclopedias.
She was 8 years old when she got her first journal and it was the best birthday gift ever. She wrote about rollerskating and the strange man they saw beside the road and about who was dating and who was engaged and who was pregnant in her church. She wrote poetry in magnolia trees and dreamed of rescuing abandoned babies and working in an orphanage.
And she read.
I’m this girl and I’m doing a course by Julia Cameron on recovering your creative self. Last Sunday when I read the assignment, I nearly quit breathing.
“No reading for a week.”
Now back when the course was written, there was no social media, and no blogs. My reading challenge just got harder.
I never count the pages I read a day. In fact, some days, I don’t pick up an actual book, I dare say. But you can be sure that if I read shampoo bottles in the bathroom as a kid, I read Pinterest quotes now.
The only way I could see this working was to totally go off my regular online sites for the week. Plus leave my pile of current reading books untouched.
No one was forcing me to do this. I had made no commitment to anyone that I would do EXACTLY what the course suggested but something in the challenge stirred me. Often when you feel extreme opposition that borders on anger about something like this, it’s hit a tender spot and you may need the challenge more then you think.
I decided to jump in and try giving up this good thing of reading to see what would shake out of my life or my mind or subconscious. I wasn’t expecting much. I hated the thought. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. But I had to try.
The first two days weren’t too bad. I found myself connecting with friends I hadn’t connected with for awhile (granted it was through messaging, but that’s a bit like writing a letter in my mind). I drew doodles and made a few cards for friends while I waited in the car. I attended a conference with my husband and was more attentive then I would have been if I had been scrolling through my phone to fill in time.
And I did peak at Pinterest. But I tried to limit myself to inspiring pictures instead of wordy quotes.
Day three I woke up feeling angry. It felt like I had been wrestling my toddler all night. He was having a very hard time sleeping and I was exhausted when I woke in the morning. I felt off center, grouchy, and touchy.
This whole ‘not reading’ thing was really getting to me. I felt like I needed a brain reset. I felt like I needed to get outside my head. Think of something else. Find encouragement for my soul. I felt trapped in a corner with no escape.
I knew enough about detox or any kind of change to know that often Day Three is horrid and you think you are truly crazy. It’s also usually just before the break through that you feel the worst. So I stuck it out – this horrible ‘not reading’ thing.
Day four I woke, having slept better, but still feeling frustrated and irritated. I selfishly directed it toward my husband. We had a big discussion to put it mildly. I sat at one end of the table and he at the other and we volleyed words and feelings back and forth and at the end, we sat beside each other and agreed to a plan that worked for both of us. As the old saying goes, ‘we kissed and made up’.
Turned out we were both feeling misunderstood. Turned out we both needed to move toward each other instead of away. Turned out at 1:30 PM he went to work when he had planned to go at 8:30AM.
Day five, I woke refreshed. It wasn’t just that my toddler had slept most of the night; it was also that we were starting a new chapter and that felt good. Would we get stuck on repeat? Most likely, but that was all part of growing and learning.
I drove to our fixer upper that morning and didn’t want to stop driving. After doing a quick coat of sealer on the countertops, I jumped in my car again, notified my husband, and set off on a little road trip. Just to clarify here…I go on drives to relax but never miles and miles out of town. This time, I felt like it was something I really needed to do for myself.
I drove over 160 miles and enjoyed the scenery and listened to music and a podcast, drank coffee and saw gorgeous mountains and wildlife. My toddler rode along and actually did amazing. I stocked up on groceries, found a mirror at a thrift shop for our fixer upper, and got back by 3 PM. It was exactly what my heart needed to recharge and relax.
Day Six, I felt satisfied. Like my experiment had been successful and like I was ready to break the NO Reading spell.
So what did I learn by taking a break from reading?
I learned that not reading makes me feel angry.
I read for inspiration.
I read to get out of my head.
I read to learn and I read to grow.
I read to distract myself or when I don’t want to talk.
I read to fill in moments.
I read to heal and to feel.
What did I do instead of reading?
I made more contact with friends.
Drew small sketches.
Took a drive.
Organized the kitchen cupboards.
Went to a seminar for one reason and came home with a different reason.
Watched my child exclaim over Christmas decorations in a store.
Had a long conversation with my husband.
Made goals with my husband and with myself.
Was it worth it?
Hard and uncomfortable.
But worth it.
I may devote a day a week to No Reading so I’m forced to get other things done. Then again, maybe I’ll just try to be more intentional with my time.
A brain that reads can grow and become. That’s what I am reaching for. That’s what I am grateful for.