On being alone and being alone together.
I like it when I let myself rattle around in my writing room all alone, like a witch-artiste, scribbling my mysterious findings, arranging my significant talismans on a makeshift windowsill altar — stones from the beach, beads, silk flowers, glitter stars, cut-out pictures of tigers, a blind contour drawing of a woman’s face, a Japanese iron bell.
When I get like this, I don’t feel crazy, though I know I might look it. No, I feel something else — closer to the little kid I used to be, mixed with an imaginary grandmother I read about in a fairy tale.
When I write, I have to unfasten from the rigidity and ignorance of adulthood, play deeply as I did when I was seven years old, and be open to the wisdom of elders I only know from folklore.
It’s an enchanted mix of personas. Also, it’s a private one. Not many people have witnessed me in this state of mind. And only my writing friends really know what it feels like.
So much magic happens when a writer can be left alone. Alone is vastness, possibility, home. I love to be alone with my thoughts. I love to watch movies alone. I love to be alone on a hike in the woods.
I love to be alone eating a meal in a restaurant. I love to be alone on a train. I love to be alone in a library. I love being alone, period.
Sometimes I think if I was a famous person, the tabloids would probably write that I have issues in my marriage. Look at Oprah and Dolly Parton. What’s wrong with them? Our culture just can’t understand a woman who wants to be alone.
I am grateful that my husband understands this about me. After we moved in together, he learned that I wasn’t kidding about how much alone time I needed. Even though he doesn’t need it the way I do, he agreed to put it into our wedding vows ten years ago. He protects my solitude, just like Rilke advised.
The shadow side of solitude is that I walk around thinking “I don’t belong here” a lot.
I study people I know who have big families, people who play team sports, people who are happily involved in their churches, choirs, unions, cults — all kinds of group dynamics fascinate me, probably because I have never joined a group.
Well, I do join things — but whenever I do, I still feel myself hovering around the edges, as a writer, observing everyone else in the group.
I know that this is the wheelhouse of so many writers. I mean, I know that I’m not alone. Ha!
So when I find another writer who understands what it means to be alone together, that relationship becomes very important.
Needing to write alone doesn’t mean that I write in an echo chamber.
Finding a writing community can be difficult; a strong writing friendship requires a special kind of trust, generosity and respect. My Story Intensive teachers understand what it means to be alone together, and that’s one of the reasons I trust them to guide our writers.
One of the things that’s important to me about our school is allowing it to grow slowly. My intention is not to get the most writers in this program — I want to find the right people.
A writing relationship is so special. I spend a lot of time intuitively matching writers in this program, in the hopes that people who meet in a Story Intensive class stay in touch for years — maybe for the rest of their lives.
The Intensive is a great place for writers who want to join a group without joining a group, if you know what I mean. That’s what makes this writing school feel like a too-good-to-be-true place.
But it is true.
Yours in solitude,