I have always liked small dark places where I could hide: closets mainly, but when I was little I didn’t mind under the bed or in a cardboard box with the lid slightly shut. I even had a secret hiding place behind a long drawer in my bathroom when I was nine or ten where I would take a flashlight and sit to get away from all the ruckus of growing up in a family with six kids, four of whom were pesky brothers. I also had a penchant for playing far back in the bushes all by myself. Right back by the fence so I could lean against it while I sat and played with doodle bugs. You might say all of my life I have had a need to spend some part of every day completely alone.
I didn’t actually recognize that need of mine when I married a man who preferred having people around all day and night long. Someone who loved to laugh and talk louder and louder as he got excited and who enjoyed nothing better than a roomful of people who were doing the same. No wonder we had so many arguments. Add three kids to the mix and I don’t think I had one moment of solitude for about fifteen years. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy many of the people who were our friends, or many of the non-stop activities that my energetic and extroverted husband thought we needed to engage in, it was just there was no down-time, no silence, no time to think.
After chasing the poor man around the yard one day with a crowbar with the intent to scare him to death – which I did – I started getting to live life a bit more in a way that suited me. Which only meant that I realized and asked for time to go into a room and write for a while everyday. My husband, who recognized that he was living with a woman on the brink, helped me set up a guest bedroom so that I had a desk and chair and a door that closed. Our marriage tension began to ease after that, and over the years has gotten less and less since I have remembered my need for a little space apart every day.
What did I do when I was alone as a kid? I daydreamed. I made up characters with names (I had a Dictionary of Proper Names to help) and I constructed elaborate stories in my mind of these people and their situations. Alas, I now know that I was simply doing what all fiction writers do – creating imaginary worlds. In addition, I made up plans for our house. We could make our big 2-story house into a camp where kids could come for fun. Three or four triple bunks in every bedroom would ensure a proper number of campers and we could do arts and crafts downstairs in the big family room, eat in the dining room, have singalongs in front of the fireplace in the living room and have races and playtime out under our big oak tree in the back yard. I even drew up a floor plan and showed my mother, who, bless her soul, was quite enthusiastic about how it would all work.
I am an odd duck in some ways; perfectly normal in many others. But when it comes to solitude, I am clear. I function best if I have time every day to sit and be quiet so that I can think or write. Not to read, however, though, I would love more time for that. But I don’t consider reading “alone time” since reading involves at least one other person – the author – and probably many more – the characters – and that starts feeling crowded.
A friend told me last night about a new finding related to introverts and extroverts. Apparently, there is a chemical that is generated in the brain when extroverts are around other people; that same chemical is depleted when introverts are around people. Now, the truth is that I love people – I have a genuine interest in hearing their stories – and most people who know me would automatically categorize me as an extrovert. But there is a moment when all that talking and laughing shifts and I feel as if someone has pulled the plug to my energy source. That’s when I need to excuse myself, and head upstairs to be alone.
My husband and I, over these thirty-two years together, have moved from our personal extremes to a life closer to the center, and the amount of time we spend with other people is reflected in that shift. Now we both agree that while company is great, alone time can be equally as pleasant. I still don’t get quite as much solitude as I would like, but enough so the crow bar hasn’t re-emerged. And here in our Texas house, we even have a sliding bookcase with a secret compartment behind it just for me. And I am happy to know it’s there.