Tag Archives: books

A Reading Fast

For a variety of reasons, I have an uncommonly high stack of books and magazines waiting to be read. All recent acquisitions, all personal choices I look forward to savoring. And it’s the perfect time of year to spend days in a good book. Weather is iffy, garden is sleeping, and holidays are for kicking back.

What timing, then, to be assigned a week of no reading! No books, no magazines, no morning paper. No NPR. No books on tape or listening to the news.

“If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation.” So says Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. I had been following her program for a few weeks, and came onto this assignment just as Christmas preparation was settling down enough for me to tackle my book pile.

Why reading deprivation? “The nasty bottom line is this: sooner or later, if you are not reading, you will run out of work and be forced to play.” Or, I would add, you will run out of excuses not to write and be forced to “show up at the page.” Play, dream, refill the creative well from which you draw. And then show up at the page, or the canvas, or the forge.

Reading deprivation is a form of fasting. I recall that Lauren Winner (Girl Meets God) describes a reading fast assigned to her one Lent. Six weeks is a long time; surely I can do a week.

On Sunday, Deacon John came down from the pulpit during his sermon on gratitude and wandered the aisle to give parishioners the opportunity to express their gratitudes. Grandchildren, children, spouses, the church community or particular members of it. As I listened to, and seconded, these and others, I was trying to articulate another thought. Only later did I get the words in place. One of the post-eucharistic prayers has the clause, “send us out to do the work you have given us to do.” I am grateful for that work, in all its many forms.

I will not try to explain the “how” of The Artist’s Way (TAW). I must try, however, to explain the “why.” Because if you go to the website, you will come away with the mistaken impression that TAW is another self-help program—a formula for pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps of will and determination. But if you read the book carefully, you will see that the program and its disciplines are founded not on will but on submission; on a belief that creativity is an ongoing act by the Creator, and that we are, once the blocks are cleared away, participants in this creative process. The disciplines—morning pages and artist dates and reading deprivation—like any spiritual disciplines, help to place us in the way of grace so that we can recognize and respond to it. They open us up so that we become channels for God’s creativity to flow through us.

And with that understanding of creativity, we see that it is not limited to “the creative arts.” This creative energy flows through all “the work you have given us to do.” Through my gardening and singing and child care. Through playing with my grandchildren, selecting Christmas gifts for my children, caring for an elderly parent. Through attending to the needs of my family and myself. Through housework and the work of being in relationship. Through improving this website and writing this blog.

So, how was my week of reading deprivation? I am happy to report that I only cheated a tiny bit; I took a few brief internet research excursions and glanced at a few headlines, but left my reading pile untouched and my news feeds unread. I did play; discovering some lovely music by local singer-songwriter, Jennifer Niceley. And I did “show up at the page” more often.  One prayer in the book goes, Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity, you take care of the quality.

Ordinary Time

In addition to our travels outlined in that last post, we’ve had separate trips involving our parents. But we’re home for a while now; back in ordinary time. Ordinary time in the conventional sense, and somewhat in the liturgical sense as well.

The calendar of the Christian church is dominated by the two great feasts, Christmas and Easter. Advent (four weeks) precedes—and prepares one for—Christmastide (12 days). Later, Lent (six weeks) precedes—and prepares one for—Eastertide (50 days). [Note that Christmas and Easter are not single days in the church calendar. After spending four—or six—weeks in preparation for a feast, we make that feast last. Only in the secular world do we sweep out the Easter grass and go back to work the next day.]

That still leaves three-fifths of the year. The season between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, and the longer season between Pentecost and Advent, are in some traditions called Ordinary Time.

Liturgical Calendar
Liturgical Calendar

In the children’s program of instruction called The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the church year is simplified as a circle of six segments; two triplets labeled Before the Feast, During the Feast, and After the Feast. Their liturgical colors are purple (before), white (during), and green (after). One triplet represents the Christmas cycle (Advent, Christmastide, and the season after Epiphany); the other, the Easter cycle (Lent, Eastertide, and the season after Pentecost). Ordinary time comes after the feast.

In the popular conception, Mondays and other post-holidays are depressing days. We dread the end of the weekend, the end of the holiday. We dread going back to work or school, and we apply a pejorative label: back to the rat race, back to the salt mine. The end of the feast is the end of all that is good. I’ve had some of those days.

And yet, a serious post-feast let-down would not be an indictment of post-feast time itself, but a symptom of a pathology in my life. Ordinary Time is not boring time, not drudgery time. Its liturgical color is green, not gray. Ordinary Time is the season in which we engage productively with the world. Ordinary Time is when we live our lives in gratitude for the feast.

How am I spending my Ordinary Time? Here is a sample:

  • A trip to the going-out-of-business sale at the local used bookstore, through which I discovered the fiction of Richard Marius (definitely worth further reading), and picked up the books on which two favorite movies were based (Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate)
  • Fall gardening tasks: digging, dividing, reshaping, mulching, and adding some hardscaping
  • Simple shop tasks for Nancy to support her painting and music
  • Almost daily long walks with the dog
  • Naps

I have been especially attentive to autumn leaves this fall, not through any virtue of mine but because Nancy has been collecting and pressing/preserving them for her art work. In past years, the fall leaf show was mostly observed from a moving car at highway speed. Peak color season lasted just a few days. How different when collecting on daily walks! I am newly aware that the season lasts months, not weeks or days. Even within a species, leaves may turn color weeks apart, depending on sun exposure and other factors. This past weekend, I was treated to views of still brilliant reds and yellows while, in the background, the Black Mountains northeast of Asheville were covered in hoarfrost. Ordinary time indeed!

Our trip to grandkids and to Berkeley Springs was a feast, grace on grace, blessing on blessing. Weeks later, I still savor the feast even while going about my day-to-day. But, frankly, too much feast is too much. I am glad to be home. Yes, some things are not so much fun. There are dishes to wash, floors to mop, toilets to clean. But there are also books to read, gardens to tend, music to make, paintings to paint, autumn leaves in their astonishing variety and glory to enjoy even while raking. And photos of grandchildren to savor.

Views from Other Ridges

If you are a repeat visitor to this site, you may have noticed that the “header” at the top of the page (the wide photo) changes each time you navigate here or reload. The software randomly serves you one of the images we have designated for this space. And, if you have read our “ABOUT …” page, you know that the “view” of our title is a metaphorical one. We do live in a place of wonders, but we cannot see the ocean from East Tennessee, nor do we have horses in our neighborhood. Those headers are mementos of travels off our ridge.

So it is not cheating that the latest addition to our header images is a famous panoramic view some 400 miles northeast of us. In that view, we are standing in West Virginia. In the valley below, the Potomac River flows toward us and (out of sight below the photo) curves to the right below our overlook. Maryland is on the right side of the river. The distant mountains just visible on the right are in Pennsylvania. The view is famous; the photo is Nancy’s—one of those marvels of digital photography in which you slowly pan from left to right while the camera shoots rapid-fire stills and then stitches them together to form the panoramic image.

Potomac River from Cacapon Mountain, WV
Potomac River from Cacapon Mountain, WV

From that overlook off WV 9, west of Berkeley Springs, on the west slope of Cacapon Mountain, the diligent observer might catch glimpses of history. We are told that colonial partakers of the waters at Berkeley Springs, including George Washington, rode out to this same vista. And in the valley below, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad competed to link the Ohio Valley with the Atlantic ports. (Both began construction on Independence Day of 1828.) While we were standing at the overlook, a train of the B&O’s modern day successor (CSX) ran below us on the near side, on original right-of-way. Remnants of the C&O Canal (in commercial operation until 1924) still exist on the Maryland side of the river.

I knew nothing of this history when we set out that day. Arrested by the visual view, we stopped, read the roadside plaques, and stumbled onto another view—of history and geography and technology—of which I had been barely aware. That happens to me often. I have written earlier about the joy of filling in my terra incognita. But my incognita are not limited to terra. On a good day, and there are many, I am blessed with some new view, some new knowledge, some new insight. Travel is good for opening vistas. As are books.

It has been a good reading year. Favorite authors Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Isabel Allende, and Charles Frazier, through books new to me and others read for the third time, have taken me to Haiti, Chile, Mexico, the Amazon, Napoleonic Spain, Colonial California, Congo, New Orleans, the Cherokee Nation, and the southern Appalachians, to the world of opera and the showmanship of magicians, to transcontinental migrations of species and the tortured home fronts of the American Civil War. Ken Follett took me to medieval Europe and on a breathtaking tour of the Twentieth Century’s follies; Robert Hicks back to the Civil War and New Orleans.

As I think about the vistas that I’ve encountered, I realize that newness is only part of the thrill—in fact, the lesser part. What most excites me and draws me farther in is the interconnectedness, the sense of unity.  What I see anew or afresh is part of a whole I’d perceived, and still perceive, only dimly. Other books, news stories, magazine articles, roadside plaques, random conversations, and other sources connect and re-connect to places and times and themes that are somewhat familiar and yet made more complete by the connection. The blank places on my map get filled in. And yet, in every case, new blanks appear. It turns out that not only is what I don’t know limitless, but what I don’t know about what I don’t know is also limitless. That is strangely exciting. There is still so much more to see!