One Hundred Minutes of Solitude

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Loneliness is simply a misunderstanding of Solitude.

I’m not sure where I first heard that phrase…I think it might have been from a woman who was once a nun. In the past few days, I’ve grown to realize that many people don’t have a grasp on the meaning and importance of solitude.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines solitude as:

Pronunciation: 'sä-l&-"tüd, -"tyüd
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French, from Latin solitudin-, solitudo, from solus
1 : the quality or state of being alone or remote from society.

Also – solitude, may imply a condition of being apart from all human beings or of being cut off by wish or circumstances from one’s usual associates.

Let me start by saying this – I love my readers! I love that so many of you feel connected to Dora’s tale and to The Birth House. And, I have loved giving readings in so many amazing places and have loved getting the chance to meet so many of you. Just ask my publicists – they often have to drag me away after readings…I’d chat away for hours if they’d let me.

But here’s the thing…
By the end of last summer, the drop-in visits to the house got to be a little crazy. On sunny weekends, we’d have several carloads a day. Well, it seems that the by-chance knocks on the door are ramping up even more-so this year, and they are coming right as I’m trying my best to pull myself away from the world to write the next novel and my first stage play. So, while I wish you well as you happily wander around Nova Scotia on holiday, I’m afraid that I must retreat into a summer of solitude.

To be honest, I knew this about myself going into the summer, and I even painted a sign to put by my door.

When several visits happened back-to-back, with no attention paid to the sign, I asked my husband – “Isn’t it clear?”

He hugged me and said, “People don’t get solitude these days. Maybe you should have put, Author at Work.”

“I have a problem with the word, work. It’s a dirty word. It’s ugly sounding. It’s not really what I do. I let things flow, I mull, I ponder on paper, I consider, I weep, I gnash my teeth, I sigh, I scheme, I cheer for the underdog, I follow my characters to the ends of the earth.”

“But if you don’t put work, then they think you’re available. By using the word solitude, you’re just feeding into the perception that writers don’t work.”

Let the gnashing of teeth begin.

The other morning began like this:

I put the solitude sign outside the door in a visible location.

I begin to rock out to some ABBA while doing the dishes.

A knock on the door.

I realize I can’t get out of it, because the visitor has looked in the kitchen window and seen me doing the dishes.

I go to the door.

A woman in her 60’s has her hand on the doorknob, ready to open the door and come on in. She gruffly asks – “Are you the woman who wrote that book?”

“Umm, yes.”

“Well, my daughter’s read it.”

(She doesn’t have a book in her hands, or I would have offered to sign it for her.)

“That’s nice. Tell her thanks for me.”

“I haven’t read it yet – I’ll wait to get it from her, (pause) I guess.”- another pause. (Was I supposed to have a book ready for her unexpected visit?)

“I hope you enjoy it when you read it. Give your daughter my best.”

She then goes on for quite a while about how far she’s come, how her daughter would never forgive her if she didn’t stop and so on, and somehow, by they end of it, she leaves me feeling like I let her down, like I wasn’t what she expected.

I tried my best to be gracious while the dog was crazy-barking and my six-year-old was hollering out that he “needs his lunch, now.” I smiled, I extended my dish-pan hand, I waved good-bye. Then I spiralled into an afternoon of sputtering, “what did she want from me?”

Last October at a fancy cocktail party in Toronto an editor for my Canadian publisher came up to me and exclaimed – “you’re so giving for a writer, it’s incredible. You really make yourself available.” I took it as the compliment it was meant to be, but her words also made me pause. I knew what she meant, but I also realized that I hadn’t really taken the time to figure out what “being available” would mean to my writing.

During long, anxious pre-publication days, writers dream of holding their first novel in their hands, of giving readings, and of meeting readers and exchanging meaningful conversation about story, process and craft. In all my daydreaming, I never imagined I’d have people hanging out car windows snapping photos, or knocking on the door. Wow.

I hate disappointing people. More than that, I’m really squeamish when it comes to being mean. (Mean people suck.) While, I’m not going into complete hiding (there’s the website, email, the blog, facebook, etc.), I desperately need some solitude. Short of hanging a sign that says: Go AWAY! I sat down today and chalked up a new sign. I’m hoping this one will take.

By the way – I’m wondering what would you do?

Any advice?

What would your sign say?

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