Happy New Year everyone! This week, I have a special treat for you…. the very first guest post here on Lisa’s Liberation (yay)!! It is with nothing but pleasure that I allow the very lovely and talented Elise Stephens to take over my blog today…
Elise Stephens believes strongly in the healthful benefits of communities and friendships to keep her from going nuts. She received the Eugene Van Buren Prize for Fiction from the University of Washington in 2007. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys seeing live theater, swing dancing, eating tiramisu, singing, and painting. She lives in Seattle with her husband James. Her novel Moonlight and Oranges was a quarter-finalist for the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
I begin the “writing” part of my day in silence and solitude. My husband has left for work to spend most of his waking hours apart from me, and I sit with my paper, pen, and laptop ready to face myself, my thoughts, and whatever the amorphous world has to say about me and my writing.
No matter how many friends I have on Twitter or Facebook or the number of new emails my Gmail counter says are in my box, I can’t escape the loneliness that spreads quickly through the air in my house.
It’s a love/hate relationship when it comes to people and my work. In college and afterwards, I made a point of telling people that I don’t like to collaborate, that group projects suck, and that I work better alone. But when I got to test their theory, put me in a room by myself for a week and I’ll be begging you to bring someone, anyone, into the room with me. The visitor doesn’t even have to talk; he or she just needs to share the space, breathe the same air, live in the same sphere.
I wasn’t made to live 100% alone. I wasn’t made to work 100% alone. I know there are those who find peace and rejuvenation in solo time, and I respect that. But I don’t believe it’s a healthy lifestyle for long periods.
When I quit my job to pursue writing full-time, it was a gutsy risk on two levels. The first and obvious one was that I had no guarantees that anything I did with my writing would come to fruition or success. The second more subtle risk was that I was cutting myself off from my co-workers, a community who fed a lot of my social needs. I knew I couldn’t rely on my husband for all of my social interactions when he got home from work. He’s a soft-spoken engineer whose daily quota of words if much lower than mine, and it would be an unfair expectation.
My career change had transferred my need for people into my own court of responsibility, and I wasn’t sure if I was up to the task—that is, to keep myself from depression and mild insanity. Sure enough, I learned that if I spent a long amount of time by myself, no matter whether the task was creative or analytical, the depression would begin. I soon had a hard time pulling myself out of bed, I’d count off the hours until my husband came home, and I’d started dreaming of “better” more financially savvy things to do with my time. Now, keep in mind, being a novelist is a dream I’ve nurtured since early high school. This was a deep part of me that was now dying and growing dark.
Then I remembered that the days that spurred me toward the end of the week were the days I met with my friend in a coffee shop to write and visit for several hours. I’d often complete all of my “chore” writing tasks on the other days of my week so that I could really look forward to my time with her. My theme song (according to my mother) is “Part of Your World” from Disney’s Little Mermaid because she opens with the line: “I want to be where the people are.” This was what I needed. More time with people.
I asked to join a local writers’ group that wrote together in a café and read aloud their rough drafts. I swallowed my pride and asked my family, who lives near me, if I could come work at their kitchen table. No one had to talk to me. I just needed to feel the presence of people. I found a group that met Friday nights to drink tea, eat cookies, and host an informal open mic with gentle, encouraging feedback.
It worked. I don’t care how distracting other people are, or how much one chatty friend might interrupt me when I’m in the middle of revising—I wouldn’t give that companionship up for the world. And without these friends, I might have lost the dream that meant the world to me. I don’t know how many times I’ve turned to one of these friends after a disparaging review or a harsh critique or even just a directionless malaise, and been pulled upward by their encouragement and faith in me.
My community is fellow writers, family, and friends who support this (sometimes crazy) quest of mine. It’s not just about being a writer in a community. It’s about being a human needing other humans. Sometimes it’s just a kind note from someone, but what really keeps me going is the partnership of shared time in the presence of people I love, supporting each other by showing up to work, sometimes in silence, sometimes with words, but always together.
I hope I will never again be so arrogant as to think I don’t need other people’s help, even the help of just being in the same room with me, to remind me that I’m not alone, that we’re walking this path together. I hope we all can, in our unique styles and variations, celebrate the joys and complexities of belonging to one another in a life-giving community.
Until next time, Happy Living!