Finding space to be alone

Finding space to be alone
Photo by Ulrich Knoll / Unsplash

Dear Literati,

The important things are easy to define when you're alone, with yourself in your head. What's hard is getting alone. 

I imagine that a long time ago before our ancestors built towns and traveled lightly, there were these long silences together as we walked and listened to the world around us in the woods. There were also these periods as we scattered in search of one thing or another, where we were essentially alone but within calling distance of another, and we'd be with our thoughts for long periods, thinking on this and that by ourselves, for ourselves. 

Today, we're afraid of boredom. We pull out our phones, put on our headphones, and consume more and more of other people's thoughts without the time to stop and be alone. In the early part of Walden, in the chapter "Economy," Thoreau writes that:

 "Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." Thoreau

For me, this is especially important as a writer when it comes to what I most want to do with my own time: write. 

When I make the time alone to be with my thoughts, usually my walks, and I'm trying to figure out how to tackle my life, it's the thing that keeps coming back as the thing I want to push myself to get better, do more of, and learn more about. 

Carving out time for oneself in this world is a challenge (even, it seems, in Thoreau's time). The fear of boredom drives us to constantly seek distractions, like our phones. And amidst the never-ending work at our jobs, finding a moment of solitude seems impossible. 

It's a thing I think about often, and I am not entirely sure how I can sit with it. 

A couple of weekends ago, I walked to work, feeling the groove of what I wanted to write. But I was fighting a cold or maybe simply fatigue. And I had hours and hours of grading ahead that I needed to get done. It was a Saturday. My wife had carted off the kids to enjoy the day with friends while I worked, fiddled with the house heater like I knew what I was doing, and ached in the back of my head about the scene I was writing. 

So I got in and said, "Writing is the engine of my professional life. And the single thing that always makes me happier, why the hell would I say no to that and yes to grading?"

On the other side, cue little whispering angel perched on a shoulder, there are all those people, students, and co-workers, who need that stuff you said you'd grade, graded. Then there's the haunting shadow of morality (my mom) in the back of my mind, hollering that how dare I even consider not doing my job, not doing a great job, because how dare I take money from someone and not do my utmost to earn it!

I wonder if Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Coleson Whitehead, or all those writers who have made it to a level where they can support themselves with their writing have to grapple with themselves or others about their time? Of course, my writing time doesn't pay well enough for me to not have another job. I've shaken the Magic Eightball, and the best answer I got was *Concentrate and ask again* regarding my chances of making a living purely out of writing. 

Besides, that would be pretty lonely. 

So, instead of working on my novel, I wrote this little thing to blow off steam. I'll have to grade. Get that done. Then, maybe tonight, I can get back into the novel.