Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Working Alone, Together

Writers have a reputation for being solitary creatures.  It's part of the great nature tome of archetypes - the lone writer, like a lone wolf, majestic and proud.  Writers, it is said, need a still, silent, private place in which to get the work of writing done - time carved out late at night or in the predawn hours, supplemented with long walks alone through the fields and woodlands.  It's certainly a romantic notion.  Charles Dickens subscribed to it, as did William Wordsworth and Jane Austen, and many other great names. But even without long, solitary rambles, writers need, at the very least, a Virginia Woolfian room of their own in which to sequester themselves and get on with writing.

I've never bought into it for myself, honestly.  I hate like poison to be alone.  Being by myself is different - I can do that in a populated place - but being alone, being surrounded by the absence of other human beings, is deeply unsettling for me.

Granted, I am probably the most socially dependent introvert you're likely to meet.  I need people around me, and always have, to feel secure enough to go about my own business.  As a child, I needed to hear my family moving through the house, listening to television or radio, talking softly, in order to fall asleep.  Even now, I often resort to listening to podcasts to help me bridge the divide between wakefulness and slumber.  When  I'm working, that trend remains very much the same... I need to have people nearby in order to achieve the state of peace  I need in which to write.  That doesn't mean I need to be interacting with people, mind you.  That's entirely different; I can't be chatting away and writing at the same time.  I also can't get a darned thing done if the surroundings are too loud or chaotic.  I've tried many times working in Starbucks, for example, and depending on the background music and the clientele, I may or may not be able to focus.  But when it comes to my work, whether it's writing or doing the grunt paperwork of teaching, I generally find that I'm at my best when I have a steady "white noise" of people to ignore.

At the moment, I have fled my too-quiet home for the comparative bustle of our local library.  Even with the radio on and my dogs and cats to keep me company, home was too empty without the bodies of my husband and son filling their usual spaces.  Here, in the library atrium set aside for laptop use, I can hear the chatter of the librarians and the passing of patrons, the clatter and thump of books being returned, the steady tic-a-tic-tic of other laptop users in close proximity.  It's comforting, these lives surrounding me.  I have not said a word to the patrons nearest at hand - the girl playing video games on her laptop, the gentleman with a stack of career books perusing job sites.  I don't need to, and, in fact, feel any greeting would be an intrusion.  We have not come to this place to socialize.  We are aware of one another, alert to the presence or absence of someone close by, but have gathered here to be alone.

Alone, but together.

It's my favorite place to write.

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