I’m sure you know someone whose idea of getting away from it all is putting her smart phone on silent for an hour straight. We all have our own idea of solitude. I tend to be on the other end of the spectrum. I don’t even own a TV (although I do watch a few programs online). I do my best work in a place without a phone, or internet, or even electricity. The more I can pretend like modernity doesn’t even exist the more I can relax and create.
As a writer, I don’t necessarily need a publisher. I can reach the world on my own, for free, with a single blog post. But the tradeoff is the world can reach me even easier. My inbox never closes. My phone is never off. I dare not avoid friends for fear of missing work. I dare not avoid work for fear of missing friends. And thus, I go insane. The cure: a hermitage.
I’m writing this from a house in the Catskills three hours’ drive from NYC. I see no other homes from the property, and I see no other people unless I go out looking for them. It’s even out of mobile phone range. There is a wood stove and plenty of firewood. I can be as alone as I want. There is a cat by the name of Rio Negro who prefers to be outdoors in single-digit temperatures, but he comes in for food and company most evenings. This is as close to perfect as I could ask for.
But knowing the depth of the isolation thing isn’t really the hard part. Knowing when you need it, and then breaking away from the grip of whatever is gripping is the hard part. For me the grip is the gaping door to the universe known as my inbox. Through it flow social obligations I’d never even think of if it weren’t for email. They’re not even really obligations, in fact, but they are diabolically good at hijacking my priorities. I like people, and I want them to like me, so if I really want to get some good writing done, or some good thinking done, I need to put up a curtain and pretend they aren’t there. A technological curtain works just fine.
What’s the big distraction for you? What are the signs that it’s time to unplug, or head to the hills for a while?