Depending on how you count it, it’s week two of my sabbatical and I’m currently sitting in my writing chair, trying to fend off the cat who feels she is much more worthy of my lap than this computer. Some days, I think she’s probably right.
During the first week of my sabbatical, many of the days I was supposed to have alone in the house didn’t turn out that way. My husband and/or daughter were right here with me due to snow days and e-learning days and every possible excuse you can imagine not to go to work or school. This was a tiny bit disappointing.
It’s not that I don’t love my husband and my daughter (and even the annoying cat). Hours after they leave the house, I miss them pretty, which is good. Missing people is good. You can’t miss people when they’re with you all the time. Really. I’ve tried, but it’s very difficult to miss someone when they’re in the next room.
I certainly do a lot of writing with everyone in the house. I do a lot of writing in a coffee shop, with people who talk loudly and listen to youtube videos with the volume turned all the way up (what is that about?). There was a period in my writing life where I yearned for the proverbial “room of my own.” I aspired at times to an entire house of my own, like George R.R. Martin, who owns a house right across the street from his own home and goes there every day to write. Though, on second thought, that doesn’t seem to be working out so well for him.
I’ve applied to writing retreats in the past with no success. Eventually, I stopped trying. Not because I was hopeless, but I began to wonder whether I really wanted to be away from my family and my house and my town for that long? Maybe the annoying cat is actually integral to my writing?
Here’s what I do know—I’m likely to do a different sort of writing when I have long stretches of time alone. That’s because I do a different sort of thinking. It’s just me and the cats and my thoughts and nowhere else for them to go. This is both amazing and terrifying. Perhaps all things that are amazing are also terrifying.
If you can get past the loneliness, or the mean reds, that paralyzing, deep-body fear that there’s really no point. If you can stare into that abyss and come out the other side, there’s something so satisfying about being alone with the quiet and your thoughts. Given the way we’ve attached ourselves to our phones, being alone with your thoughts might be the most radical thing you can do in today’s world.
I have a lot of practice at being alone and thinking, thankfully. I had siblings and friends to play with when I was little, but what I craved most of all was to be able to play by myself. I wanted to go out in the woods and disappear into a different world, one all of my own making. Or sit in my room and stare out the window and imagine. That’s still what I’m doing a lot of the time when I’m alone, even as a grown-up.
When I’m really alone in the house, I can’t walk downstairs and tell my husband all about this weird train of thought I just had, like why don’t you meet more people with Russian surnames in the U.S.? Are there that few Russian immigrants or did they all just Anglicize their names? And if so, why? What is it about being Russian that makes you want to ditch your last name?
Anyway, I can’t go ask my husband questions like that when I’m alone. I can’t distract myself by seeing what my daughter’s up to. I have to wait for someone to get home and sometimes that’s too long. So I start writing instead. Those thoughts get transformed from conversations into written words.
I wish I could say that this isn’t just about being alone and that there’s a way to re-create that feeling even when I’m not alone. Certainly, sometimes conversations also get turned into written words. But there’s a space that opens up when you have time alone. More things seem interesting. More paths appear worthy of a good linger. The ticking of the clock slows down a bit. There’s a wonder in it, the magic place where so many good stories begin.
P.S. Hey, also, have I mentioned I have a real, live book coming out in March of 2019? I know that seems really far away, but books take a long time to make. Much longer than you think. Stay tuned for updates, though.