Molly Fisk: Not Reading

Photo by jeff_golden via Flickr. (Creative Commons License)

This week I’m doing something truly impossible. I’m trying not to read. According to the teacher of a class I’m taking, one week of reading deprivation will teach me more about my own habits of avoidance than any other method. No one has asked me if I want to know about these habits, it’s just assumed I would want to be as productive as possible. And of course, up to a point, I do. I’m just a little worried about where that point is. Anyway, I agreed: for one whole week — 7 days, 168 hours — no reading. No San Francisco Chronicle or Sacramento Bee, no Grass Valley Union letters to the editor over breakfast, no New Yorker profiles in the bathtub, no mysteries, biographies, novels, short stories, creative non-fiction, poetry, or criticism. No CD liner notes. And no e-mails that aren’t work-related.

Whenever I’m given a barrier, my first impulse is to figure out a way around it. My mind has already begun thinking of where I could go to read something if I needed a fix: the care instructions stitched into the seams of my jackets and dresses. Ingredient lists on my spice jars. The disclaimer attached to the cat’s worm medicine. I am starting to fantasize about renting foreign films just so I can read the sub-titles.

My teacher has asked us to keep track of the things we do instead of reading, both what we substitute as distractions, and what else we turn to when our time is freed up. In a dead heat with reading, my top choice for avoiding work is computer solitaire. I shudder to think of all the poems I could have written if this game had not been invented. This week, I’ve decided not to play it, and have arranged for a friend to come erase the darn thing from my hard drive if I get too tempted.

RELATED: Molly Fisk — Pick a Word for the Year

Today I looked out several windows. I decided what to plant in my garden if it ever stops raining. I did the dishes and made the bed, put old sheets in a bag for the Goodwill, bought groceries, had coffee with a friend, and went window shopping all over town. This is in addition to my day job. I can’t tell which of these are distractions and which revelations because I feel so agitated about all of them. I feel as though my skin is trying to lift itself off the rest of me and run away.

For me, reading is not just a distraction. It’s also my primary form of self-soothing. When I start to come unglued, a book is the most reliable way for me to settle down again. This is not inconsequential when you have a background like mine and sometimes get so massively freaked out that you can’t walk into the grocery store. Post traumatic stress is not for sissies.

I did do something interesting today that I haven’t done in 20 years: while driving around, I started singing the English folk songs my mother taught me when I was a kid. We always used to sing them in the car. O, weel may the keel row, the keel row, the keel row, weel may the keel row that my laddie’s in.

I’ll keep you posted. 12 hours down, only 156 more to go.    

RELATED: Molly Fisk — Home-Made Cookbook

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Mardi May 19, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Molly, how did it work for that week? Not sure i could do it but I know it is a huge time devourer – that I love.

  • julia Spring February 29, 2016 at 7:58 am

    Reading is a huge anxiety-reliever and escape for me (better than anything ingested through the mouth) and it has helped me many times in my life. Sometimes I do it in an addictive way but it is not life-threatening.

    But that is not all it is–it continually enriches my knowledge and my inner life and is integral to my interaction with others and perspective on others and the world. It is central to my being and I treasure it.

  • Mickey February 27, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way program does that, too, for a week! Augh! I share your agitation! I read, I make my bed, I read a novel, I do some dishes, I read some non-fiction, I put some things away, and I read the blogs on the Bad Girl Chats or Molly Fisk (!!), then, maybe but probably not, I’ll declutter an area. Thank you, Molly. We love you. If only I was rich instead of beautiful, I take the Poetry Boot Camp program. Hugs and kisses from sunny today Tucson.

  • hillsmom February 27, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Someone once asked me what was the happiest day of my life. They probably thought to get an answer like, the birth of my kids, or the day I got married, or something along those lines. No I answered that it was the day I learned to read. Are you sure this teacher is right? Good Luck anyway.

  • Sally Bahner February 27, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Well, Molly, try coloring! Adult coloring is hugely popular. Libraries are holding classes (I’ve led several). Social media is full of info, there have been numerous articles, and people are embracing it whole heartedly as a way of de-stressing and quieting the mind. Plus, it’s just plain fun! I highly recommend it!