Sunday, September 7, 2014

Quietly Writing

"Solitude" (Flickr: vonderauvisuals)

In this loud culture of "all talk, all the time," where even taciturn writers like myself are asked to "create a web presence," network like high-powered corporate types, and "market yourself relentlessly," I'm learning to pull back and enjoy a nice long steep in solitude.

This summer, I spent a lot of time reading, joined a critique group, bought a one-person fishing kayak, edited like mad, and sometimes wrote new material. It was nice to give myself permission to enjoy what we in our house call "alone time." That's where we all go when we get overstimulated, stressed, and in need of a recharge. Maybe you have your own version of alone time. Maybe you golf or go for a jog. My version often involves reading or writing quietly in a chair.

It occurs to me that one cannot read or write loudly, or in a vivacious and extroverted manner. A writer, alone in a room, with the implements of his trade--laptop or paper--before him, all distractions tuned out. The door closed. This, as we all know who write, is how you get things written. There is, as the old proverb has it, a time for everything under the sun. A time to speak boldly in front of others, a time to be gregarious and delight new acquaintances. Even a time to promote oneself. But of course the quiet labor of writing belongs to a different time from all of that, and can only happen where that separate time is set aside and the outside world is shut out.

Or, actually, not the outside world per se. The world of nature, the colors and sights and sounds, all enter into the thing. And even the world of human society, from which I will have retreated for the sake of doing the actual writing, nonetheless leaves its echo on my mind. In fact, I think of this tendency to become overstimulated as a gift, because it makes human society vivid in my memory. The brilliant impression of being around others helps me see human interaction clearly when I'm alone in my study, like a well exposed photograph. And that in turn helps me be true to it when I'm writing in solitude. It's a gift, because, again, I can't write except in solitude. And it usually happens that there are going to be people in whatever I'm writing--people I'd like to get down on paper, now that I've taken their measure out there in the real world.

When I'm out in the world, if I've had time to recharge quietly--like I did this summer--I'm more alive to what I'm seeing. I take all this human flux into me, and all the texture of nature, or city streets, or the thick air of a summer afternoon. When I can get it like that, I can distill it within, until I'm full and it's time to retreat again.

I wonder what it must be like to ride on the surface of all that sensory input? I'm so deep in its throes that I get overwhelmed. But again, that's a gift, because from where I am down in the pounding pulse of that cacophony of noise and color, I might get lucky and see what drives it.

Of such good summers are rich autumns made. I expect to be more fully alive to the people and things around me, and so all the richer in my interior life. And that can only go to improve the quality of what I write, or think, when I'm in that solitary place. Quietly writing.

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