As part of my time away, I’m working through a book-based course to encourage in myself more ‘right-brained thinking’ – that is, to increase my ability to be creative, whether that’s around writing a blog, cooking, or problem-solving (and many thanks go to the valued friend who recommended it to me, braving my potential, let’s say, ‘natural disinterested response’ to something which is called ‘The Artist’s Way” given I don’t – didn’t? – associate myself with creativity…). I do love learning and self-improvement though!
Week 4 of the 12 week course involves a ‘Reading Deprivation week’. This is a week without books, fiction or non-fiction. Given by the time I hit this section I had read over 50 books during my time away (all tracked if you want to look me up on Goodreads – I can’t speak for quality, only quantity!), this week met with some immediate resistance from me. Reading is a huge part of my life, always has been. My mother was pulled into the head’s office for a talking to at my primary school when I was a child because I ‘read too much’. I read all the time. Everywhere. And all around me – literature, crime, science-fiction, fantasy, young adult, biography, romance, historical, modern, and all the combinations in-between. So I wasn’t super keen on the idea of no reading for a whole week. I think if there’s been more than a 48 hour period in the last 20 years without me reading at least a few pages, I’d be surprised.
And I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t impressed by the idea of a week without books. When I put it out on my social media, I got a few surprised/unimpressed comments. Surely books only *inspire* creativity, I was told. And of course, in the long run, they’d be right. Reading is a critical aspect of the way in which our imaginations can be fed by stories from cultures, civilisations, peoples who we would (or could) never meet in real life. A hairdresser in New Orleans can be a burlesque dancer in Wales. An Asian woman in Japan can be a black man in prison during apartheid in South Africa. A 15 year old girl can be a middle-aged hobbit in middle-earth. And so on.
The author of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron, is well used to resistance from her students – “In my teaching, the week that I assign reading deprivation is always a tough one. I go to the podium knowing that I will be the enemy. I break the news that we wont be reading and then I brace myself for the waves of antagonism and sarcasm that follow.”
The week is designed to focus attention on different things, and leave more ‘space’. I found the week tough, and was happy to go back to reading being a big part of my life, but perhaps it came at the right time for me, as reading had become a real focus (addiction?) of my time away, perhaps not leaving as much time as I would like for other things. My world had become more internal than external, which given I’m travelling, is probably a wasted opportunity. The ‘space’ not reading provided meant, for example, I wrote three full posts during the week, and had ideas for four more. I’m currently considering the idea of one day a week without reading in the future to see if it continues (for me) to create this kind of ‘space’.
An evening in(spired)
During one of the evenings, where in the past I would have chilled out in my room and read, I decided to spend some time watching TED talks. If you’re not already aware of TED, they are an nonprofit whose strapline is ‘ideas worth spreading’. Starting originally in the world of Technology, Entertainment and Design, they now have an even broader scope, two international conferences, and many many offshoots and partnerships. For you and I, the upshot is an internet site with videos of short talks by everyone you’ve ever heard of (as we say in my family). For free.
But to push myself a bit, I thought I’d watch some talks which normally wouldn’t immediately appeal to me. So I plugged in the keyword ‘inspiring’ and watched the following through the evening. Whilst there were a couple I wasn’t so keen on, I got something out of every single one, and my favourite of the evening was one I would never have chosen to watch if I wasn’t ‘experimenting’. My list is below, with a couple of notes on each. I’ve put my favourite last to encourage you to at least pass your eyes over each one – you never know what you might find inspiring where you least expect it.
Steve Jobs: How to live before you die
At first I went for the easy pick. Though top of the TED list for ‘inspiring’, I wouldn’t normally have watched it as I read his biography last year (and was blown away by both the writing and his story). The talk is full of pathos as when giving the speech Steve Jobs thought he was clear of cancer, when in fact, he eventually died of the disease a number of years later.
If link not working google: ‘Steve Jobs Ted How to live before you die’
Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days
I picked this short (3mins) talk next because it was by a google employee, and looked like it might be psychology related. It was fun.
If link not working, google ‘matt cutts 30 days’
JK Rowling: The fringe benefits of failure
Then I went for something safer again, though I might not have picked something normally with such a downbeat title (even knowing it was likely to be uplifting). And I was really drawn in by the quality of the language that JK Rowling uses, and her passion – and I was surprised at her links and engagement with Amnesty, a charity close to my heart (via Youtube again).
If link not working, google ‘JK Rowling Ted failure’
Mark Bezos: A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter
Firefighters don’t do it for me, so my eyes would usually have drifted over this one. But it was funny, short, and well-told.
If link not working, google ‘mark bezos firefighter ted’
Giles Duley: When a reporter becomes the story
I read about this speaker recently in a newspaper article, but decided to hear more about his story. His bravery and normality made for an uplifting story.
If link not working, google ‘giles duley ted reporter’
John Bohannon: Dance vs powerpoint – a modest proposal
The title of this one intrigued me, but usually I would have been put off by dance in a TED talk. As it were. Mainly because I like to multi-task, and I can’t do other things if I have to watch rather than just listen. But it was worth the time and kept my attention. And was somewhat beautiful, as well as educational.
If link not working, google ‘John Bohannon dance powerpoint ted’
Candy Chang: Before I die I want to
Now, I’ve got to admit being a bit shallow – normally I wouldn’t have chosen this because of the name Candy Chang, which just sounds a bit girly for me. Which I appreciate when thinking about it, is pretty prejudiced. So, I put it on, and watched a woman really be prepared to expose her emotions in front of a large audience, and work hard to connect communities.
If link not working, google ‘candy chang before I die ted
Elizabeth Gilbert: On genius
This is the one I least connected with from a topic point of view, but I thought that the way she spoke, her impact, passion and language, were worth watching it for.
If link not working, google ‘elizabeth gilbert on genius ted’
Colin Stokes: How movies teach manhood
This one would usually have put me off as I would have normally (subconsciously – remember there are hundreds of TED talks and I’d be scanning through them for something that jumped out) felt it was less relevant to me. In fact, it was focused on how we create a society where we have more “movies that send positive messages to boys: that cooperation is heroic, and respecting women is as manly as defeating the villain”, and couldn’t be more relevant.
If link not working, google ‘colin stokes ted manhood’
Sarah Kay: If I should have a daughter
And the ‘winner’, something I would have previously put in the ‘poetry’ box (I’m not that keen on poetry…), and avoided, was the following. The speaker is transfixing, and her impact and delivery of the talk is mesmerising. If you just watch one, watch this one.
If link not working, google ‘sarah kay daughter ted’
Have you any TED talk favourites? Share them in the comments so others can experience them too.