Ten Thousand Nights I Spent Alone

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

“My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone.” – Leonard Cohen

There are some things you have to do alone — and writing is one of them. In a writer’s life it’s difficult to know what came first: Was it an outstreatched period of alone time that sparked creative juices, or was it the creative spark that necessitated a prolonged period of solitude?

Whatever the path, one thing is certain: For every paragraph on the page, there has been at least an hour spent alone.  This is one of many reasons why it has been difficult, historically, for women to write.  With a bunch of children in tow and a family to feed day in and day out, the kind of solitude that is required in the writing process wasn’t always possible.  And it’s not as though you can just turn the creativity on and off.  I find that I am most creative after, not just one or two hours spent alone, but after many many hours spent alone.  At other times, a simple walk alone on the beach can turn the creativity switch on, and then suddenly there they are, all the words you ever needed.

I just read a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell who notes that for every great success a person has in her life, an average of 10,000 hours has been devoted in service to her craft.  This works out to about 3 hours a day for 10 years.  Excellence is built by doing one thing for many hours over many years.  And this is where destiny comes in.  We don’t get good at something always of our own accord.  Some people, for example, spend more time alone because of fate than because of choice.  Take Sharon Butala, for example, an academic, who at the age of 36 fell in love with a rancher in southern Saskatchewan, leaving her job and city life to live with him on the farm.  She spent many many hours alone, wandering through prairie fields, watching a canopy of stars, writing down her dreams. Eventually, she became one of our country’s greatest writers.  Life brought her to nature, life brought her to solitude, and then, the words started to come.  There are so many circumstances that can bring you to solitude in life, growing up  an only child in a beautiful landscape, in my own case, and other life events like the end of a relationship, a depression, or travelling by yourself.

One of the “problems” — if you can call it that — of being a writer, is that once you’ve touched that creative source, you’ll do almost anything to not have to give it up again. Suddenly, the idea of a partner and children carry with them a conflicting set of emotions (even more so when electric guitars are involved), because they appear to have the potential to collide with what you are born to do, and most long to accomplish.  Family commitment can almost feel like the terrifying death of that illusive Self that is touched, on rare occasions, through writing and art.  Butala summarizes this with stunning beauty:

“Through that struggle to fit– to become congruent–I became […] a writer, and I discovered that the writer I’ve become is the Self I’ve been in search of for so many years. But at the same time it has been the act of writing that created and continues to create that Self I’ve at last found, and that acts as the instrument of integration between myself and my environment, chiefly my home in the landscape.” 

When you’ve gone so deep with art, and discovered yourself through it like recovering a lost body part, you have to admit at a certain point that this isn’t just a passing fling; this is a marriage, an entanglement, a relationship, until the end of your days.

And so, for people who are conflicted by a desire to “have it all” (family, work, and art), I say that this conflict actually arises out of the lack of commitment you yourself have made to your original love, which is to write and to take yourself seriously.   It means you’ve put your Self on the back burner because you didn’t recognize its value.  And then,  you wondered why you were dissatisfied and/or your life completely fell apart.

So, for me, as I prepare myself to one day have it all when before I thought I would have to choose one or the other– by the way,  I’ve always, my whole life, chosen solitude, the utter sweetness of a moment that is all mine, over the complexities of a relationship that was not supportive.  Female writers since the beginning of time have done the same (and many went on to live pretty sad lives) Why? Because I was, without knowing it, already married to something that I am not willing to live without.   And that is my creative source.

Sometimes I’ve even chosen relationships because of their incredible plotlines, characters, emotion, and drama. These have given me so much to write about!   So much depth of insight into the human condition! But at the end of the day they’ve been a huge distraction and drain.  I got some great writing material along the way, and the inevitable solitude that ensued always found me running to my closest journal — where I wrote down the tragedies.

People will make time for their job at the Pharmaprix, but they won’t make time for service to Self, their art, which is the main problem that needs to be solved, really. You can have it all if you commit to setting up your life to honour who you actually are.

I picture what all writers have always needed, nothing less than a room of one’s own (in my case, this could turn out to be a bowler trailer, which would be just fine). My grandfather, a writer himself, had just such a room. It was tiniest room in the house, with a small window and no view. I always found this puzzling, but now I see that  what he was after was not to be found in the shape or size of the space, it was in the solitude that belonged all to him, where the creative spirit spoke into his heart and wended its way down to the typewriter.   One floor below, he had three daughters and a wife who adored him.  Perhaps one could say he had it all, but only he should be the judge of that.

Today, I see that what matters just as much as solitude to any artist who wants health,  happiness, and a whole life, is what she finds waiting for her outside of the door: Love, harmony, affection, respect, curiosity, consideration, connection, a warm pot of soup and someone special to share it with…simple.

xoxo Huge LOVE to you for reading this!

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