February 28, 2008

The Alone Experiment

I've been working really hard on the book of essays that comes out in the fall, a book like this one, and it takes some alone time for me to do it. I've mentioned before that I'm a solitary writer. I think best when I'm undisturbed, and I write best when I am entirely lonely and bored. That sort of situation is hard to come by in my house, since my objective of being alone in the house is constantly in competition with the goals of the rest of the family, who don't ever want to leave it (or me). Joe working from home for the last year has added a new dimension to the challenge, and I've come to really appreciate whatever time alone might come my way. At best, I could have a four or five hour workday at home, and that's only when the stars align and everything comes together. Most often I've got two or three hours, and when it's like that I I have trouble jumping to work, since it's not long enough to achieve lonely and bored, just a sense of relief. (Imagine a small house with two adults, three teenaged girls, one phone and one bathroom and ask yourself if two hours would even begin to be enough. I'm surprised I don't just go sit on the bathroom floor because I can.)

Enter my clever husband, who had a client who's sort of broke. Dude wants to make a record, but he's a little short on the traditional wherewithal. Joe happened to know that the guy's family has a place in the woods, far from everywhere, a place where a writer could really get lonely and bored, and he worked out a trade. The guy is getting the start of his record made, and I am spending six days here:


Here is pretty far from my home. Here is a place in the woods where I have never been so alone. Here is a place you could really get some writing done. As a matter of fact, I feel like that's what this place was built for.


I've been here almost 24 hours now, and I have never, ever been alone like this in my life. This isn't like being alone in the city. This is Alone. If I wanted to see another person, I would need to hike a kilometre to the road, then about 6k to the store, which is one of those crazy little stores that are liquor store, beer store, coffee shop, grocery store, post office and gas station all in one small building. (The population of this entire township, if you add together all 48 towns, is just over 9000) Then I'd need to turn around and come back. That's about 14k (or 8.6 miles) to go if I run out of anything or want to see somebody. About 14k and it's about -30 out there, and I think I'd be a fool to try it without my snowshoes.

I do have a phone, and a woodstove, 20 000 books, and internet access, but other than that it's me and the woods. No music, no tv, no neighbours....


This was pretty charming for the first several hours. I looked out the windows. I made tea. I looked out at the river and listened to the ice. I knit a little bit. I puttered around. I wrote, I made my dinner. I thought about how great it was to be alone. That there is something really compelling about spending time with yourself. It really lets you think. I wrote more. I realized that this is just what I had been needing.


This experiment in Alone was really going to be exceptional for the writing. I knit, I wrote, I ate.

Then, something happened that I hadn't really considered. It got dark. Really dark. It doesn't get dark like that in the city. It got crazy dark out there, and suddenly the house felt like it was on an island. I began to feel vulnerable. I began to feel nervous. I stared out the windows. (A deer's eyes glowed back at me and just about finished the experiment.) I began to feel a little bit panicky. it started to remind me of when you're a little kid and you're going up the ladder to the top bunk of a bunk bed. As you put your foot on the first rung, it occurs to you that there might be something under the bed. At the second rung, you're pretty sure there's something under the bed. Third rung, your heart beats faster and adrenaline pumps because you KNOW there's something under the bed and it might grab your feet. Fourth rung and it's all over. You leap the rest of the way so that the thing that's definitely grabbing for your feet right now with it's long fingers and yellow nails can't get you and once you're safe up there you turn to look back.... and of course, there's nothing there. Nothing but your sister leaning out of her own bunk and saying "You freak."

It was like that. Only you know. With knitting and some deer. By midnight I was almost beside myself. I triple checked the doors. I thought about sleeping in the bathtub. (I don't think you're supposed to to that for axe murderer protection though. I think maybe that's about something else.) I wondered why I'm more afraid of the empty woods than the full city, and why I at least once a week I walk through an alley in the dark, but am having an entire crisis about being alone in the woods. By 12:30 I'd poured myself a glass of wine and I was starting to think about how many horror movies start with a cabin in the woods and end in disaster. (How about The Evil Dead? I'll never get over that one. If you want to be afraid of trees for the rest of your life, start right there.) I made it through the night, and nothing bad happened. (Double checked this morning. Both chainsaws and the axe are still in the shed.) This alone thing though? It might have a learning curve.

Do you like to be alone? Would you like to be this alone?

Five more nights.

Posted by Stephanie at February 28, 2008 2:46 PM