For the Week of July 9, 2017: The Need for Solitude

The effects of moving are experienced in the body, in the imagination, in the realm of desire. What the eye sees, what the body feels, what the heart yearns for, what remains and what has been lost — these are difficult at first to describe.”
― Louise DeSalvoOn Moving: A Writer’s Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again, 2009.

We’re still camping out in our new apartment in Toronto, waiting for our belongings to arrive at customs, then, once the paperwork is completed, delivered to us.  That’s only the beginning of re-settling.  There are numerous boxes to unpack, their contents organized and placed in different rooms, closets, drawers, shelves or hung on walls.  This transition, which began many weeks ago, is wearing on me in multiple ways, and this weekend, it was my back that finally spoke the loudest: “Enough!”  After much packing, bending, lifting, and, here in Toronto, assembling a few piece of Ikea furniture and sleeping on a queen sized airbed, the toll on my body is clear.  I’m hobbling about the apartment, sitting as little as possible, and lying on the floor for respite in frequent intervals.  But the effects of our move are not just disrupting my physical self.  I’m also hungry for that little corner called “my space” that allows me solitude and time for writing and reflection.  At the moment, my new desk is being shared with my husband, who is waiting for his to arrive with the moving trucks.  As the days without my usual solitude increase, so does my impatience and irritation.

“I am here alone for the first time in weeks,” May Sarton wrote at the beginning of A Journal of Solitude, “to take up my ‘real’ life again at last.”  Her words resonate with me this week.  As much as I love Toronto, whatever city we live in at the moment is less important that the space we shape for ourselves, one that offers that “room of one’s own,” whether a corner of the kitchen or a bedroom turned into office.  Remember Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own?  Written at a time when women were not allowed into particular universities nor recognized in a literary world dominated by men.  Woolf famously said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Things have, happily, changed for women since Woolf’s time, but I find it amusing that I’m feeling “encroached” upon in my space by my spouse.  In fairness, we both need our space to work and create, and he’s trying to be as flexible as I am, although without a bad back!  I still think of Woolf’s words, however, important in making explicit how necessary it is to make space for our creative work—or simply a time for quiet and refueling ourselves.  When we can’t find time or space free of interruption or distractions, not only our creative work is compromised, but, I think, the kind of spiritual-fueling we all need.  After weeks of disruption in the process of selling our San Diego home and now re-settling in a new apartment, I am woefully in need of reclaiming my routine and the mental and emotional space needed to nurture my creative life.

In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us.—Virgina Woolf

In her delightful book of writing invitations, Room to Write (1996), Bonni Goldberg explains the choice of her book title as “creating room for your writing…  Making room in your life to write,” she adds, “generates even more room for your writing.”    Yes, I need the space and solitude for writing, but it’s much more than that.  Whatever feeds our inner lives, whether a hike through a canyon or forest, time sitting by a lake or stream, or simply finding time alone to do whatever we wish, we’re re-fueling ourselves and taking the time to pay attention to the things that matter most to us.  Quiet, solitude, even a space of one’s own:  these offer a different kind of nourishment and healing, no matter what change, turbulence or challenges life throws at us.

Writing Suggestions:

Do you value solitude?  How do you find it in the midst of a busy life?

Suppose you’ve been away for a time, in hospital or perhaps, taking care of an ill friend or family member.  What is it like to return to your own space after a busy day or time away?

Do you have a “room of your own” where you can engage in your creative work?  Describe it.  What do you like most about it?


About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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