The Wasteland

Not by T S Eliot – I refer to the reading deprivation of last week.

Barren Wasteland

I made it about 158 hours without reading anything (apart from my exceptions, as mentioned earlier). The mathematically acute among you (or those of you who have read this post or this one) will realise that this is ten hours short of a full week.

On The Seventh Day I Rested. (There’s good precedent for that, although history is silent on whether or not God was reading at the time.)

Putting my feet up after a two-mile hike up to the top of Stonewall Peak

You may also have noticed that this post is a few days subsequent to the actual end of the Wasteland – I’ve been making up for lost time, like a camel just back from the Sahara and stopping by the pub for a drink.


So, in the absence of any faintly humming enlightenment, what have I learned?

1) Reading is very, very important to me. Next time I need to go without something for a week, I think I will make it something easier, like talking, or food.
To whip out the ultimate cliche, reading to me is not a hobby, it’s a way of life. I may not eat sleep and breathe reading, but I can do most of those things reading. (Not so good at reading while I sleep – that’s when I do my talking.) I can cook while reading, and walk while reading (although the average standard of driving in New Zealand makes this a hazardous practice).

Reading While Walking

2) You can do lots of other things when you aren’t reading. Most of these are not perhaps as enjoyable as reading is, but there is a place for productivity. You may have noticed the increase in blog posts, for example.
Also under this heading: finishing off a project I started months ago. Six hours on ANZAC Day resulted in 6,002 words under the OTHER heading in my spreadsheet (minus those parts which were direct quotes – about a thousand words). It wasn’t quite what I had planned for my day, but on the plus side, I’ve already met my writing quota up to the middle of May.

3) I get grumpy when I can’t read. Withdrawal? Maybe. Reading is my mood-balancing mechanism. Commendations to the Caped Gooseberry for bravery and compassion in the face of danger. There may be a medal.

Medal Sholokhov

So thank you very much for the insight, Ms Cameron, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.


I have decided to put a license on my blog.

To be precise, a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 New Zealand licence.

This means that you can copy, reuse or even alter my works, providing that you give attribution and share yourself. (Sharing is good. Unless you have a cold.) You can even make money from them.

There are several reasons why I am doing this.

The first (at least chronologically) is that I have actually heard of CC licensing, thanks to the Caped Gooseberry.

Cape gooseberry

Many people haven’t, particularly writers. Most advice for writers on the subject of licences is how to protect yourself from having your ideas ripped off.

Except the advice I received as a student in writing for theatre: don’t bother trying to protect your writing: theatre does not make enough money to be worth pirating.

Clearly, times have changed since actors made a handy side-income in reciting the latest Shakespeare to a printer. (Fascinatingly, you can actually tell which role they were playing – those lines are perfect, the other lines in their scenes are pretty accurate, and the scenes where they are offstage are complete rubbish.)

Bad quarto, good quarto, first folio

The biggest reason is that a lot of what writers do these days is publicity – book signings, library visits, blog tours and what have you. And these are the writers with publishing houses behind them.

Frankly, that isn’t my cup of tea, as much as I love the sound of my own voice. I’d rather be holed up in a rather cozy garret somewhere, writing.

Carl Spitzweg - Der arme Poet (Germanisches Nationalmuseum)

A CC license allows me to allow others to spread my works far and wide (should they find it worth their while) while I stay curled up in afore-mentioned garret.

Ah, I hear you say, but what about the money?
There isn’t any.

Well, that’s not entirely true.
There are those who do quite well out of their writing – everyone knows about the fabulous wealth of J K Rowling, and as for no money in theatre, well, Yasmina Reza doesn’t do too badly.

But – and this is the point I would stress – there is not a lot of money in it either way. Unless you are JKR, you would, as one writer on writing I read said, be making a better living as a professional knitter.

Fair-Trade Knit Toys

Even if you can get a publishing contract – and they’re harder than ever to come by – there’s still a lot to be done for relatively little reward, considering the hours put in.

I remember meeting a bloke in a pub once who told of his best friend admitting how guilty he felt at not buying a copy of the bloke’s recently published book.
“That’s ok,” he said, “give me a dollar twenty and we’re even.”

Somewhat counter-intuitively, you can still make money by giving your work away. Exhibit A: Nina Paley.


But even if there isn’t any money in it, there’s still the joy of telling stories. And knowing that they won’t be restricted to those who can fork out forty bucks for a copy. Stories for everybody.

The world has changed. Reciting Shakespeare to a printer is no longer good money. Books don’t sell like they used to (although I would be the last to announce the death of the book).
As Curly says in Oklahoma, “Country a-changin’, got to change with it!”

Myself, I long for the old old days, when rich people would display their wealth and taste by having a writer on the payroll. Bed, board, mansion garret and possibly access to the library, in return for writing all day? Where do I apply?

So, if you see something you like, take it. Use it. Pass it on. Feel free.

The world is changing, and “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”.

Reading Deprivation

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this week I am trying to take Elle MacPherson’s advice on reading: “I don’t think you should read what you haven’t written.”

Elle Macpherson at Myer 17 Sept 2011

Julia Cameron often includes an exercise in the body of the chapter, in addition to the Tasks enumerated at the end. Usually they’re mildly interesting and you glide over them without too much time or effort required. Remembering your favourite things as a child, for example. That sort of thing.
This month: go a week without reading.

Er – what?


Admittedly, I am presently nearing 19 hours into the reading deprivation, which may account for the edge of hysteria in my tone, but really!

Those close to me may wish to verify this, but I don’t believe I’ve gone that long without reading since I was three. And couldn’t read.


In the years since, I have gone to quite some lengths to avoid running out of reading material.
I would read the encyclopedia, or failing that, the dictionary. (The telephone directory was one A4 sheet, so not worth the trouble.)
At the age of six and a half, I ran through all my books on a family holiday and embarked upon my mother’s Agatha Christie.

This is a little more complicated than just not reading, though.
There are nuances.

The idea is to minimise input – especially in the form of words – so as to hear what is actually going on in our inner silence. Or something like that. I was too busy panicking to take in the delicate details.

Cameron makes an exception for her own book (gotta do those exercises!), and I intend to make an exception for reading Scripture – a girl’s gotta eat, after all.

However, since the aim is to drain out the words rushing in, that means no being read to (one of my favourite pastimes), no movies, no television, no radio. Silence.
I make another exception for conversation, since a) I am not a Trappist, and b) I have to talk at the Dreaded Day Job and if I don’t get to talk at home as well I Will Go Mad. Ditto for emails.

Madeleine L’Engle says “It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.”

The Ruined Castle

I think I am coming to realise just how much of a prop reading is to me.

When I’m stressed, I read. When I’m curious, I read. When I want to relax, I read. When I find a fascinating little morsel on the library catalogue, I READ IT!
Take away reading and being read to, and you have most of my week’s leisure time accounted for. Take away television as well, and you have the half hour that was left.

So what am I going to do this week?

Lots of sewing, knitting and mending – although I will miss being able to do this while listening to the Caped Gooseberry read. Say what you like, re-elasticising old jammie trousers is not sufficiently mentally taxing to hold the mind in thrall.

(Plus the CG has a really nice reading voice. He starts reading aloud, and catweasel #2 will appear out of nowhere to curl up on his lap and gaze at him adoringly. I find this annoying, possibly on the grounds that we despise most in others the weaknesses we see in ourselves.)

120301 Day 255 adoring

Sleeping – not much point staying up late to finish the book you aren’t reading. Ditto TV, although I don’t bother staying up late for that anyway.

And hopefully writing. These are the only words that are not only permitted, but encouraged. I shall write blog posts. I shall write journal entries. I shall write morning pages. I shall try to write as much as possible on my Work In Progress.

The clock stops at midnight next Sunday.
There are two possible scenarios at that point:
One, I am so thoroughly purged of the babbling detritus of modern existence that I glide serenely through life, possibly emitting a faint humming noise, and not even noticing that the reading ban is over, so enlightened am I.

holy glow

Two, I stay up late in order to feast my starved eyes on the fat deliciousness that is The Book. (Touch the book. Smell the book. Kiss the book. Read the book Read The Book READ THE BOOK!)
Brand me a pessimist if you must, but I believe the second scenario to be somewhat more likely.

Did I mention that due to the national commemoration of the war dead (i.e. ANZAC Day) I will have a whole extra day at home this week?

Did I mention how many books I have at home? (Hundreds. Over a thousand, I think. I haven’t had time to count them in the last few years. Possibly something else that can be done while Not Reading, if you’ve always wondered what it would be like to be Tantalus.)

Tantalus Gioacchino Assereto circa1640s

Did I mention that I bought an 878-page book online last week, and it arrived today?

My timing is impeccable.
All inquiries care of the Nut House.