Friday, March 09, 2007

Alone Time

I found a great quote from Charles Darwin yesterday regarding a visit he made in old age to his childhood home. The person who owned it when the elderly Darwin visited insisted on playing the host for Darwin, taking him from room to room at his (the host's pace) and talking non-stop about this and that and what had been done. Afterward, a weary Darwin remarked to his sister: "If I had been left alone in that greenhouse for five minutes, I know I should have been able to see my father in his wheel chair..."

This illustrated so perfectly to me the "unfortunate" state of life for many of us. I'm a teacher. Seldom during the course of my work day do I get a chance to string a few thoughts together without interruption, either from students or from co-workers, and if, perchance, I should find myself able to lean back in my chair for a moment and think, someone is sure to see me and ask, "are you OK? You look upset." I think I look happy inside my own head but most people have such little experience of that state that they can't help but judge it as something wrong.

Simply, our world does not allow much in the way of solitude. And many of us don't even seem to want it. I see students who are on the verge of a thought quickly getting on the cell phone to avoid it. I see people who walk in the door to their house, quiet finally after a long day, and immediately turn on the TV.

Solitude is not something to avoid. It is, rather, a place of sanity, a place of peace, a place quiet enough to hear your own self. And if you are a writer it is absolutely essential. I know this is why I take so many long walks, and why I don't mind at all having a few hours to myself. Solitude is a reward for the strain of living constantly among the noise of people. I don't want people to go away. I like quite a few people. I just want sometimes to go away myself. I want the human world to contract so that, in contrast, my own inner world can expand. Let's hear it for alone time.

12 comments:

RichardS said...

Ditto to your thoughts on this Charles. It's so hard to find quiet time these days. People are amazed if you drive around without the car stereo on, or if you want to just spend time alone. They assume you're depressed.

Oh for a wood in the middle of nowhere, with nothing human to disturb you!

Richard

Erik Donald France said...

Three cheers for this one, Charles. Amen. This is why I call my library office the "Work Bunker" and my apartment my real bunker. Solitude - thank God for it. And pity the frantic people who know it not.

Kate S said...

Yay, alone time. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks for stopping by Richards. I so enjoy the time I get to spend on my back deck looking out at the woods. Unfortunately, I'm still close enough to people to hear their music playing and the cars going past on the road.

Erik, I like that "work bunker." We call our place "the Hermitage".

Charles Gramlich said...

Kate, your post came right at the moment I was posting. And yes, alone time is nice.

cs harris said...

I've been a stay-at-home writer for so long that being around people for very long exhausts me. I'd be in trouble if I had to do it every day. Much as I love my family, I need a lot of time alone. But I know people who can't walk across campus with filling up the time by calling someone on the phone. It's sad.

JR's Thumbprints said...

If more people took the time to reflect and think, there'd be less trouble in the world. Most inmates I observe, believe it or not, are way too social. The few that aren't, are usually the other extreme--anti-social. Everyone deserves some alone time now and then.

Susan Miller said...

It does seem almost necessary for survival. I've always attributed it to being an introvert.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Reading this made me think of a poem by Poe, which doesn't fit, but it made me think of it. "ALONE".

"From childhood's hour I have not been/As others were; I have not seen/As others saw; I could not bring/My passions from a common spring./From the same source I have not taken/My sorrow; I could not awaken/My heart to joy at the same tone;/And all I loved, I loved alone."

I cherish the moments I have alone. I'm a pretty solitary figure. And after all, as writers, isn't "Alone" time something that is part and parcel of what we do?

Michelle's Spell said...

I love being alone, I have to admit! It's tough because we're in a world where there's a premium on achievement. But for a writer, there's a lot of time spent sitting at the computer, staring. That's work, but it doesn't look like it and people say, why aren't you finished? Let's go out and play . . .

Clifford said...

Beautiful piece. There's a fantastic book called "Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto" that deals with our personality type, assures us it's okay and delves into the reality that creative people are often pegged as "loners".

Eric Paul said...

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been a disciple of solitude since my early twenties [and it was much more difficult to pull off then than now]. It has always seemed completely natural to me, though friends and family seldom understood. As you said, they thought it odd or strange or that you’d have to be depressed. There’s the rub, eh? For them, solitude is the same as loneliness. To this day, I can’t understand how the masses can’t pull away from each other to take a pleasant stroll in their own heads. I live for it.

Once, my wife and daughter were leaving for an out of town trip that would last over a week [I love them, but I was rejoicing inside]. “Will you miss us?” my wife asked. “Eventually,” I replied.