Sweet Solitude

What good can come from comfort? It’s not gonna be art.

Jack White

After having spent three months of my six-month sabbatical visiting my friends across Germany, the contrast of living alone in a vacation rental in the middle of nowhere is stark. In a good way. The instant I set down my baggage, closed the door and sat down on my new bed, relief and realization came washing over me: I couldn’t have stood it any longer.

As I’ve let on in previous posts, my different stays – first Würzburg then Freiburg then Berlin – each came with their own mix of inspiration and productivity. But throughout, both were secondary. Writing was what I did when there were no other plans, and inspiration was something that I hoped to derive as a byproduct from these other, shared activities.

Here, productivity dominates. The undeniability of the half-time mark might have its part in that, but I think the big difference is that there is nothing here to distract me. Well, almost nothing. My mind still finds ways to escape work.

Which this is. Writing is hard work, and there is no way around it. And if nothing else comes of my experiment, I will remember this lesson. I still think it’s worth it but it’s hard work, and step one is always to do the hard work.

Inspiration still finds a way. I haven’t taken a lot of breaks nor have I managed to establish a particularly healthy rhythm in the ten days I’ve been here. But I’ve taken two long walks out into the nearby forest.

It’s a strange place, littered with the remnants of war; World War 2, that is. 76 years ago now, and there are still parts of equipment and building material scattered across that forest, between the ruins of bunkers and air defense towers. You can’t leave the roads to explore though, as there are still live bombs in the ground. It’s eerie out there, but fascinating.

The only place I’ve seen besides the forest is the local supermarket, just a few buildings over from the casino above which I’m staying. To my disappointment, I’ve managed to develop – no, development implies a process and there’s never a process in this – I’ve formulated out of thin air a generic, ready-to-use crush on the cashier. She’s probably the only person in this town anywhere near my age. That’s enough to get me interested, because my mind craves distraction. Also she has cool hair, and maybe I will indulge and go buy some more spinach, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that even though I’m on my own, it’s still as much of a struggle as ever. I still want to binge TV shows, and some nights I do. (Thankfully, the WiFi is spotty and stuttering. Sucks when I want to look something up, but it gets on my nerves in just the right way when I trail off on reddit, YouTube or the likes.) I simultaneously want to and don’t want to talk to the cashier. I want to have a snack or text my friends to avoid work but there’s only so much food in the fridge and there’s nothing to tell them other than that I’m dicking around and not working.

It’s still as much of a struggle as ever, but the struggle lies bare in front of me, and I’m not letting myself look away. I’m sick of telling people what I’m about to do. I want to show them what I’ve done. But as long as a project isn’t finished, there’s nothing really there to show, so that keeps me going. The desire to be that person that actually does things. And also the thing itself, because it deserves to be done and I’m the only one who gives a shit.

I’ve started listening to these hour-long compilations of motivational speeches again. They help to some extent, until they become background noise and I turn them off. I’ve started writing on my arms again, with a bold black marker. Mom always said that it’s bad for my skin, but sometimes a reminder is more important than that.

“HARD WORK” it says on there, “PURPOSE WINS” (meaning it should determine my choices), and “SO MUCH MORE TO COME” – that’s a good one. Because there is so much more to come. So much more that I want to do, beyond my list of things I wanna write, so many things I’m interested in. And there’s so much more to happen that I cannot anticipate; scenarios to be prepared for. Which sounds counterintuitive because “purpose wins”, right? Eggs. Basket. Who’s got time to prepare for eventualities? Well, I just have to finish my projects fast enough. I can’t take forever to write my first thing anyway. Might as well put in something extra.

“THE DOOR IS FOR YOU TO FIT THROUGH” – that one is from one of Lisa Nichols’s speeches, and it means that you have to be willing to let go of everyone and everything you’re holding onto to become the person you need to be in order to achieve what you want. Whiplash style. And I know that’s frowned upon but right now, I’m not frowning.

I’ve gone through some shifts in perspective lately. I might not only apply the door thing to the cashier situation. I might go through with it (pun intended) even in places where there’s actually something there. I might go full Dokkodo. It’s never sounded so logical.

Of course that doesn’t mean that all contact must go; that would be hard to do anyway. But it needs to be the right kind. The best call I’ve had while I was here was refining an article of my sister’s with her over the phone. She’s not a writerly type but she writes anyway because she thinks her topics matter. I’m just now realizing how much I dig that.

I’ve found another author over reddit that I’ve started doing writing exercises with via Discord. I might post on the topic once there’s more meat on them bones. For now, suffice it to say that it’s exciting and helpful to finally be building relationships with members of the craft. People on the other side of the door, so to say. Contacts that manage to get me excited about working on my paragraph structure are absolutely permitted.

Besides doing the next exercise and editing my sister’s article, I’ve managed to complete the draft for a guide to a homebrew D&D adventure I ran for Art and his friends in Würzburg. All in ten days. I mean, I’d been “working” on the draft since I came back from Freiburg, and I had some truly productive days in Berlin, but… this is the real shit. This is what I should be doing.

My weakest days here were the ones just after I extended my stay, from seven nights to eleven. Solitude is sweet, so long as it is scarce. Saturday morning I’m leaving for home.

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