I’ve long understood that I need to spend a certain number of hours a day alone. If I’m not by myself, in a quiet room, reading, writing, thinking, doing yoga, staring into space, taking baths, for the better part of each day, I start to feel all jumbled up. Uncomfortable. Awkward and irritated, as if something is chafing me from the inside. I am almost always running a monologue in my head–something I’ve learned, in my meditation practice, is often nothing more than detritus and noise. But in order to move past the running dialogue, I require a great deal of solitude. I’ve learned, over the years, to be able to move in and out of isolation, into family life, social life, community life, and then back out of it, back to the cave where I do my work.
But. (You knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?) I had the recent realization that inwardness doesn’t always serve me well. It’s necessary, crucial for a writer to be inward-looking (and by this I don’t mean navel-gazing, but rather, the capacity for intense, interior contemplation). But it’s equally important for a writer to look outside herself. Lately I have noticed myself trapped in my interior life when, in fact, what was going on all around me was interesting, possibly even useful and important. When I am thinking, rather than using all five senses–seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, touching–I am not really using my whole instrument. We are observers, aren’t we? We carefully watch and listen to what is swirling all around us, and that in combination with our interior lives is what ends up making something rich happen on the page. If a writer is entirely trapped inside herself, the result can be stultifying. If a writer is entirely outward-looking, the result can be superficial and thin. The goal, I think, is to balance oneself in the fulcrum between thinking about life and actually living it.