Talking to a friend this evening about writers and artists, and our natures, there came a moment in the conversation where he suggested that creative people in general are lonely. I argued that while I think there's an element of truth to that it's not actually that they're lonely. They're solitary.
Solitary is a choice. Lonely is not.
I am someone who most people who meet me would consider quite sociable. Gregarious even. The life of the party. Someone who loves being a hostess and being hosted. I talk a lot, I laugh loud and often and I enjoy the company of both people I know and people I don't. Strangers to me are just people I haven't met yet.
But at the same time I am a person who needs their alone time. Years ago as a member of a touring theatre company I would dream of and prize the 15 minutes of solitude I would get every few days. I craved it. I needed it. Achieving a quiet moment alone in my own space, albeit a hotel room, became almost an obsession. And without that solitude I became crabby and shrewish. Not a pretty sight.
|The Family with Uncle Tom and Grandma...1986ish. |
I'm in the back in my favorite red and white checked Esprit shirt
I wonder if that is a result of growing up in a loud, boisterous, exuberant household. It was a rare moment to come home from school and find the house empty, so those moments became greatly prized. Until my early teens I can think of maybe only two or three times where there was not someone else in the house with me. We were, and I think still are, a rambunctious family, full of laughter. Family dinners were held every night and still are some of the best memories of my childhood. Random evenings where we were all in tears of laughter as my dad explained to my middle sister that the best way to make sure her swimming goggles weren't stolen was to etch her initials into the lenses. Taking a break from the table saying "I'm going to take a walk" holds special meaning in our family...let's just say it's in regards to hated non-Oscar Meyer hot dogs, a wood pile and a really good throwing arm. Not mine.
But I need a place to retreat to. From the chaos. From the color. From the energy of other people...that they take, that they need, that I want to give them. To a quiet and a solitude where...yes...I like the sound of only my own voice. Lucky for me Otis seems to like it when I have long, philosophical, sometimes wine-induced conversations with him....he's a very good listener, though he occasionally does tend to fall asleep in the middle of a very good oration.
I've never been one for background noise. My hip and cool college roommate Julie used to like to turn the radio on the moment she got up until the moment we went to bed. But for me I needed quiet. Constant background noise is to me the same as the buzzing of a fly. Irritating, incessant and...did I say irritating?
I do have two theories on my lack of interest in background noise. Both of which sound bonkers.
First, I have a dog ear. One of my ears hears high pitched sounds. I've heard a computer monitor whining that others couldn't hear. People didn't believe me when I switched it off because it was too annoying....until the day it went up in smoke. Literally.
Second, when it's really loud I can't smell well. Again, seriously. It's not actually that uncommon, to have your sense of hearing be a more dominant sense than the sense of smell, but not something people general are able to put a finger on. Once, watching TV alone in my apartment in New York I smelled smoke. I muted the TV. Sniffed. Decided it was cigarette smoke. Then unmuted the TV.
And then realized what I had just done. I had muted the TV so that I could accurately determine what kind of smoke it was. True story.
I find myself now as an adult who's lived primarily on her own, other than my rarely-barking, non-English speaking dog, for a number of years and find there are times when specific amounts of vocal volume bother me. Something that would have been natural to me as a kid in that energetic family and childhood now is foreign. I can be overwhelmed by a person of loud pitch, overt vocal aggression or grating tone. To the point of wincing. To the point of snapping. Don't get me wrong....again, I talk loud, I laugh loud, and I can, at moments, gesticulate wildly, so the words calm, quiet and reserved do not even remotely apply to me. But those times, those people can be so overwhelming to me that sometimes I wonder if it's just, in essence, I'm out of practice.
But...I'm probably out of practice by choice.
There is a nearby bar that I jokingly refer to as my writing office. It's a place I go to escape from the carpet that needs vacuuming, the dishes that need cleaning, the work that actually pays me money to have a glass of wine and write. And I've had some people ask me how I can write with all the bar noise. How can I focus. But bar noise isn't personal noise. The sharp edges of the various accents and verbs and melodies blend into one constant white noise background. One shrilly harping shrewish voice can make my skin crawl, but 200 of them in one giant cacophony becomes a symphony of life around me that I can tune out.
I do wonder what it is about artists and writers that makes us...different. Through history we're often jokingly referred to as drunks or lunatics or eccentrics. The best, truthfully, are often all three. We live our lives by our own choices, not by what society dictates. We may like a little too much wine. Or dress in alternate clothing. Or cut off our own ears. But if that's what is necessary to open the floodgates to the creative process, is that really too much?
Okay, I'll give you the thing about the ear. That's a little weird.
I suppose in the end as a writer I need to be able to hear the voices in my head. In the quiet of my solitary living room or in the loud din of society. Perhaps that's why people think we're nuts...we listen to those voices, we feed off them, we are obsessed with them.
But the funny thing is.... the moment those voices are down on "paper," suddenly they're considered sane. They're still the voices in my head.....
...but, because you've read them, they're now a voice in your head as well.