During my trip to the West Coast, we visited this used book store. My heart beat a little faster as I moved up the walk and anticipated the treasures that I might find inside.
I was not disappointed. This place is huge, several rooms and extensions on rooms and rows and rows of books stacked on books and shelves bulging out and more books in the aisles.
A writer in a bookstore is as happy as a kid in a candy store! Look, here's one called Cooking and Improvisation! From the cover, musical score paper and food, I thought the book might be about blending music with new recipes, or some kind of new song/veggie medley.
The irony of loading my arms up with new-found treasures during this trip was that I was on a Reading Deprivation assignment from The Artist's Way that I'm working through. During week four, we are told to shut the books, put down the newspapers, unplug from our computers, and deprive ourselves of the written word. The intent is that it creates a void that you fill with other creative energy and get you to observe life. I wasn't sure if I could do this. I mean, I was traveling. I like to read. When I find myself in places where I have to be patient and wait, or am feeling closed in by too many people, I bury my face in a book, shut them all out and escape into the lovely words and images of a talented author.
I didn't do that on this trip. Instead, I told myself I would play by the rules, keep an open mind, and talk to people and observe life as it moved around me.
This was actually a good thing. I asked people about themselves, "Are you coming or going? Where are you from? Were you visiting relatives?" One woman had been in my area visiting an old friend. A bunch of military guys were going home one last time before they're deployed again. My travel companion/cousin Angie and I had some great conversations. I watched Invictus on the flight (thanks for you headphones, Ang!).
But, the rules weren't really defined. Even if they were, could I really cut myself off completely from the printed word? When I thought of not reading at all during this trip, the experiment took on a new perspective for me. What if I couldn't read? I mean, all I had to do was look up and see exit, Delta, baggage claim, etc. I thought of how cut-off I'd be from a major form of communication. I looked for other clues in signs and menus and travel directions that didn't require reading. I knew that if I truly could not read, I'd have to ask for help, follow the crowd and hope they were leading me in the right direction, and I'd develop other coping skills. I thought of people who can't read and are ashamed of it. What lengths do they go to in order to cover up their secret?
At a restaurant they could ask the waitress what she recommends, look at the pictures and point or describe what they want. They could wait until others have ordered and say, "I'll have what she's having." We ate at a Moroccan restaurant. I wanted to lean over to the next table and ask them what was on their plates. It looked good. Plus, that menu was really hard to read with it's tiny print in poor light. I needed my reading glasses!
I think the only way I could truly experience being cut-off from the written word is to travel in a country where I didn't speak the language and they didn't have English readily available. Not an easy thing. We Americans have it easy that way.
I have always had compassion for people who can't read. When I watch A League of Their Own, I get weepy every time during a scene where a player is standing at the roster. She's swaying back and forth, her brow is furrowed. She's breathing in and out wondering if her name is up there. The manager says, "If you don't see your name, you have to go home." But, she can't even read her own name. Finally, another player steps up.
Can you read, honey?
She shakes her head.
What's your name?
The helpful player runs her finger down the roster and stops.
Here it is. She looks at Shirley. That's your name, Shirley Baker. You're a Peach. You're with me.
And, the tears flow down from Shirley's eyes and my eyes, and I feel her pain and shame and relief at knowing what she can't read for herself.
Later in the movie, May (played by Madonna) is teaching her to read. The line they have her saying, her milky white breasts.
A look from another player.
May: Just turn around, she's reading, isn't she?
During my journey home, I was done being deprived. I pulled out a great find from that bookstore, Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou, first published in 1976, but new to me. I nearly wept when I read the opening sentence, Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the spaces between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. And, I curled up in those words and images by the gifted Ms. Angelou and all was again right with the world.
Journaling Prompt: Try going for a given amount of time without the written word. What does that do to your interactions with the world?