Friday, July 3, 2009

Solitude vs. the beautiful, chaotic hum

I’ve just returned from being out of the country for two weeks. During that time, I didn’t write anything but a postcard to my mom, assuring her that I was still alive. I attempted to write a couple of short emails to business contacts, when I had a few stolen moments on someone’s computer, but the French keyboard was so frustrating to use that I gave up (or, rather, gqvé up) after a couple of sentences. [A blog post appeared here last week through the miracle of Blogger’s post-dating feature—I’d written it before I left on my trip and it automatically uploaded while I was gone.]

The weird thing was that I didn’t feel a desire or need to write. This is an unusual feeling for me. Since I have known how to use a pencil to shape letters and words, I’ve had a persistent urge to write my thoughts down, though in recent years that urge has been satisfied by writing weekly essays rather than the daily journal updates of my youth.

I wasn’t experiencing any kind of creative constipation, but felt like some other, more visual/experiential part of my brain had been activated. I only wanted to take photos and make short movies of Parisian scenes, and to walk and take it all in—to eat luxurious meals, feel the breeze on my face, listen to street music, smell the pastries and chocolates—without attempting to describe any of it.

Perhaps in order to write about something, a writer must step back, set herself apart from things in order to filter and describe them. But in France, especially on the streets of Paris, I wanted to be a part of the beautiful, chaotic hum. Maybe if I’d spent a few weeks there I would have grown tired of it, or would feel a need to step back and return to the deep solitude I seem to only achieve during the writing process.

Now I am back in my quieter neighborhood, looking out to a narrow forest of oak trees from my bedroom window. My cat purrs on my bed, birds are speaking urgently to their kin outside. It is calm and maybe a little dull, but somehow it is stimulating for me—or is stimulating another part of my brain that was inactive during my European adventure. Thoughts and ideas for essays I could write began pouring out of me the day after I got home, especially after this morning’s walk on the sleepy streets around my house. I am suddenly a homebody, wanting to hang around the house, eat simple salads, pull weeds in my yard, and write. I am no longer yearning for pastries and people-watching on the Metro. I want to belong right now to a large but invisible community that is quiet and shaped by words, to seek immersion in ideas not crowds. I need both things—noise/conversation and quiet/thoughts. Finding the balance is an ongoing event in this writer’s life.

(Photos by Beth Blevins)

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