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Springtime, Implausible Praise, and Reading Deprivation

In northern California, by the time the first week of February sweeps in, spring has the land firmly in its grassy grip. The days have grown warmer, fruit trees explode into popcorn blooms, and by mid-morning, determined sunlight drives away all but the last hairs of the night's chill. 

It is strange recalling that, two years ago this time, the part of the country I was in was bitter and dead and I didn't want to step foot outside my home. 

Now I'm only that way on the inside. 

I spent an afternoon this weekend lounging in the open hatchback of my Prius in a mall parking lot while a beautiful and talented friend experimented with finger picking chords on their guitar and the sky was blue and my jacket had been long since discarded in the front seat. I wish I were musically talented so I could capture Sonoma County in February in a song. No wonder people are so mellow here. 

Or perhaps it's just all the pot. 

We completed the first round of my first big project this week and my boss told me she appreciated my work on it, in a fervently sincere tone. I am always thrown by that kind of feedback in the workplace. Getting one's work acknowledged and being appreciated is, of course, wonderful, but it wasn't as if my work was above the bar or beyond wildest dreams. It was nice and my coworkers said it looked good but all I really did was my job. I experienced this phenomenon even at Whole Foods, when after a day of printing and laminating lackluster signs, my boss would thank me for my work that day. I have never understood this practice -- as I was at work, I don't see what else I would have been doing. Is this part of participation award culture? It leaves me floundering for a response, and additionally, not sure how to be sure of when I'm truly being praised for genuine hard work that didn't go unnoticed, and when it is merely an acknowledgement that I arrived at work at the specified time and did the work to which I had been assigned in a fashion that was not destructive to the company, and also made it another day without setting any literal fires. 

I still love my job. I'm just musing. 

I drew a lot this week.

I may or may not have mentioned and am far too lazy to go back and check, but shortly after the start of the year I restarted the abandoned 'Artist's Way'. Week 4 consists of a ban on recreational reading, in order to...hear our inner selves or something.The first time I went through week 4, I was livid at the very idea...and then I found it annoyingly effective.It forced me to take a week away from distracting the buzzing corners of my mind when the silence in my brain grew too loud.

As the author encourages following the course in a way that is as faithful as it can be, but that still works for the participants, I set my own set of guidelines. Work related reading I would do as I needed to because regardless of the author's opinion, I usually DID do my school assigned reading and did not just breeze through on a hope and a prayer when I felt like it. But I stayed off of social media and did not read on my breaks from work, and did not listen to audio books. I also did not watch any of the shows or movies waiting for me on netflix. I was allowed to read during the last cigarette before bed, and I could watch tv while I fell asleep. If I needed something to focus while drawing, I could listen to music. And I would not go on Tumblr when I got home before I got around to eventually motivating myself to work on some art perhaps in the last half hour before bed because I had allowed myself to become distracted while looking at pictures of kittens. 

And I found that I forced myself to break some habits in ways that actually carried over past the end of the week. 

This time around I haven't seen quite as dramatic of a change, but I haven't been quite as faithful either. I haven't ignored the reading moratorium, but I have browsed social media now and then's possible that on Saturday the second book in a series I had started the week previous arrived and my willpower was not the equal of it's seductive lure. 

But there were also other reasons for the change being less dramatic. Specifically, because the self-knowledge I gained the first time I went through reading deprivation didn't just disappear after the week was over. ...Though I'm not sure that self-knowledge is the appropriate term here. I was fully aware that I would often waste evenings I planned on working with vegging on the internet because my brain was tired and it was easier. I think that pattern change might be more accurate. I was given a tool to help me find a way to move out of a deeply grooved pattern of behavior. 

I am not saying I deleted my tumblr, shut down my facebook, and walked away from instagram. I honestly love social media. I think it has wonderful aspects and applications. However, it does have undeniable detriments as well, and one of those is that it can be, just as watching tv or reading can be, a way to lose a lot of time which you had intended to spend elsewhere. 

I also didn't stop reading or watching tv. Because I also love those things. 

What I did was relearn how to prioritize my free time in a way I knew I had been needing to. 

I also relearned how nice it can be to draw while listening to good music. I love to draw while watching a show or listening to an audio book and I will definitely continue to do those things. But there is a certain peace and focus for me in drawing to a playlist full of songs that I love. 

And of course, after all that boasting about my time spent drawing, this weekend was mostly a wash in that regard -- half an hour in a diner waiting for a friend to meet me for breakfast, and a short time today while watching anything other than the Super Bowl at another friend's house, and tonight my time was absolutely squandered on the internet before I recalled that I had next week's chapter to read and a journal post to write. The weekend slipped past on buttered paws and now it is time for bed.

I leave you with a sketch: 

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