Contemplating the Life of a Recluse

Photo: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul,

Photo: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul,

This morning, I ran across this article in Psychology Today about the deliberate reclusive life. In it, the author discusses the merits of such an extreme choice. It’s not satire, but I had to read it twice to make sure. I couldn’t help but notice how many similarities such a life has to the freelance life and what that implies about the life of a writer.

In the piece, the author discusses some of the merits of working for yourself (a hallmark, according to the author, of an authentically reclusive existence). These include waking when you want to, working and breaking when you choose to, not having to answer to pesky bosses or co-workers, etc. These merits are also things that many freelancers put in the positives column when contemplating their chosen profession. I do.

Some of the most famous writers in history were recluses. Emilies Dickinson and Bronte come to mind. I  like this list, which names several writers among other artist / entertainer types like Dave Chappelle (Who knew?!) for their hermit-like tendencies.

I’m especially interested in this connection right now because I’ve been living the life of a shut-in for the last five days. It seems as if a nasty virus has made me into an experimental recluse, relying on my dogs, the amusement of way too many BBC / PBS miniseries, and the steady gurgle of my Vicks Vapo Steam for company. I actually lost my voice last Saturday, which means I’ve not only put off leaving the house (I left once a couple of days ago — I think it was Tuesday? — to buy dog food) but I’ve also been unable to talk to anyone; a fact that has made me avoid eye contact so as to not invite conversations of any kind.

As another famous recluse, Art Garfunkel, once said, “I am a rock. I am an island.” At least for right now.

The experience hasn’t been so bad for me, or my work. Here are a few of the more subtle reasons why:

I’ve traded my speaking voice for my writing voice.

Because I haven’t been able to utter words, I haven’t been able to just say whatever came to mind right away. Also, I haven’t felt up to much, so communicating has taken effort. Therefore, I’m saving my energy for words and thoughts that seem most important and writing and editing those, and those only. Like this post I’m writing for you. Hope you like it.

I’ve been thinking and listing more.

Listing is one of the ways I make sense of my life, and because I’ve been more prone to introspection this week, I’ve been doing more list-writing, too. I’ve been addressing life-quaking decisions that have characterized this past year (husband’s new job, our move West, my impending jump to academia, the decision to start looking for a house and more) and those that will continue to change the course of my writing life in the next few years. I’ve collected books I want to read on the topic of career and life change but haven’t cracked any of them yet. So I’ve listed all of that stuff in an attempt to make it real and hold myself to making the changes and reading the books. It’s a writerly response to upheaval, I suppose. We’ll see how it all goes.

I’ve refined my own identity as a writer, just a little bit.

There are merits to this lifestyle, sure, but at the end of the day, I’m a social animal. Having to cancel an important work trip this week as well as social and volunteer engagements have made me realize how much I miss being around people, and how much energy and inspiration I draw on for writing by interacting with others. Sure, the freelance life often looks a lot like the reclusive life. But for me, the best thing about freelancing choice. I can go underground when I want to, taking a full day to write without interruption and planning conference calls, meetings and interviews only when it’s most convenient for me. Yet, I can also resurface for networking events and social opportunities when I feel it’s time to get back into the business of being in the world. I can straddle the line.

I’ve done squat to my hair.

Because nobody cares about your hair when you’re a recluse. (See: Art Garfunkel.)