In our hyper-connected society, the art of being alone seems almost scandalous.
And yet, there are studies which show people are even more isolated than ever before.
Paradoxes—our world is built on them.
For writers, isolation can be a serious issue. At the same time that you’re struggling with the emotional demands of writing well, the solitary nature of the writing act can make you feel isolated in the universe. No one quite understands what it took to resolve that plot issue, wring out the emotion from your characters, or the daring leap required to keep writing or just start the damn thing in the first place.
Except another writer.
So we come together in community for support and stay for the cookies of business tips and publishing insights. But because writers are like herds of very opinionated cats—with indie authors being the prickly calicos of the bunch—drama can ensue. We have things to say! (We are writers after all.) Or we just are so enamored with our tribe—these people are like me! With nobbed tails and ruffled coats and well-formed opinions!—and we become immersed in a virtual world oh-so-more attractive than our work-in-progress. The addiction of community sets in, and we find ourselves spending more time online than is really healthy or advisable. (And by “we” I mean “this is so ME.”)
It seems like finding balance is the elusive goal of everyone in the 21st Century—the natural outcome of a world that’s exploded with possibility and opportunity but also conflict and chaos. My recent pulling back from social media hasn’t been absolute—although I think that might be easier. It’s like dieting—if you didn’t have to eat food at all, it would be easier to stay away from the tempting treats. But you do have to eat, and so you have to develop a healthy pattern of doing so, something that’s increasingly difficult in our stressed-out world (as evidenced by obesity rates in the US at least). Likewise, zeroing out social media means cutting off all connection with community and that can quickly lead right back to isolation… which is not good for the human soul.
For me, there are two keys to getting the balance right:
- Connection—a deeper one-on-one connection that elucidates the best, most life-giving part of connecting with my gorgeously smart writer friends online. So I sip instead of gulp. I step into the fracas on occasion, carefully choosing where I engage and how. There’s an intentionality to my interactions now that was missing before–and it comes directly from knowing the purpose of such interactions. To connect. To reverberate ideas. To bring joy. To help.
- Time Alone With One’s Thoughts—I didn’t realize how much I missed this. How thirsty my brain was for the time alone that allows an expansion of ideas, the frothy fermentation of the subconscious bubbling up through reading and pondering and writing (such as these blog posts). I’ve always been the kind who valued taking time to Think Big Thoughts… I just didn’t realize how that needed to be a daily occurrence, not a semi-annual one.
DEFINING YOUR OWN SPACE
I have three teenage boys, each going through very different transitions in their lives—one newly off to college, one getting ready to apply, and the youngest fresh into the Big World of High School. But my message to each of them is the same mantra: Now is the time to discover who you are.
The secret I’ll tell them later: that discovery never stops.
You have to define for yourself how you interact with the world. What you bring to it and take from it. How much space you need to allow for external silence so your inner thoughts can be heard. How much you need the soul-feeding contact that other humans bring. I hope you’ll value both of those enough to seek the balance that’s right for you.
I can tell you this: my life has never been richer since I started giving myself space to live it.
Today, I dipped into the social realm long enough to see my friend Deborah Graham had tagged me on an article. One of the most gratifying parts of putting yourself whole-heartedly out in the world is that people begin to know the person you actually are. Then they bring you little gifts like this article that Deborah said reminded her of me:
“Not everything is weighed in cash. What were humans like before they started exchanging their life for work and their work for money and their money for things to distract them from the remaining 5% of life they still had?”
Go out and discover that life, my friends. Your art will blossom under it because that’s what art is—our attempts to have a life well-lived.