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protective sequestration.

December 26, 2012

i guess i have all of you to thank, because sometimes one of you mentions something in passing and it becomes a mind-worm. this is why i love people – everyone’s brain works in a different way, and all i want to do is open up each of your heads and sort through the grey matter, be inspired by all of you and your weirdness and intelligence.

someone got me thinking about sequestering oneself – that is, the act of isolating yourself in order to be more creative.

this is actually a theme that has come up a lot in my so far short(ish) life as a writer. (it’s part of the reason that i’m also wary of dating another writer, but that’s another story for another day, maybe.) there seems to be some pervasive theory that artists (using this term as a blanket to refer to all people who endeavour to create) need to lock themselves away in order to create and make. it’s pervasive for writers, too. one of my friends once said:

“oh, writing. do you write naked and chained in an attic?”

which is, to be honest, weird on so many levels, because who would ever be naked in an attic? (1 – cold. 2 – splinters.) but i’m straying. the point is that people seem to think that i need to be alone in a garret somewhere in order to be a legitimate writer. which might be nice for the people around me who have to suffer through my periods of extreme creativity, but doesn’t speak very well to my personality, does it?

i think this idea stems, partly, from the virginia woolf ideal – that:

“… A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

in fact, the canadian lit mag Room magazine is named after this concept. and while this concept could be considered freeing, it simultaneously … isn’t. even though i’m a bit of a bellicose personality and tend to use absolutes in my normal day to day speak, i often challenge them when i see them in the written word. and anything with a “must” (or a “should”) makes me very wary, because if there’s one thing i’ve learned so far – in every regard of life – it’s that there aren’t any hard and fast rules. except for laws. maybe. it’s that the “shoulds” are dangerous and sticky. what if i don’t have a room to write in? what if i live with family or roommates or a partner who don’t knock and who need to know how to wash cotton shirts without shrinking them? what if i’m only working a few part-time jobs and can’t afford a room? what if i hate being alone?  what if i can write in a library carrel? also, what happens if i want to write non-fiction, ginny? what then??


"well, then you're screwed."

“well, then you’re screwed.”


i tweaked on the word “sequester.” sequestering is an interesting term to use, because it suggests that the idea of isolation is a two-way street, protective in more than one way. like us creative types are being kept away from other people in order not to spread our craziness, to prevent a psychotic epidemic. legitimate. i’ve gotten some flak and a half over the past few years for writing about the way i write – i’ve been told that i’m too airy-fairy, that i rely on the concept of the muse too much, that i should grow up, buck up, sit down and write. that what i deem to be writer’s block doesn’t “exist”, that my ideas about writing are too romantic and are wrong. but i do believe in the mania of creation. (and hopefully what is being created is something worthwhile, because it’s entirely possible to be maniacal about something that is worthless and useless, sadly.) i know plenty of writers – including myself – who have had those hideous, wild-eyed days – the days where we’ve never made it out of our sweatpants. there was a period during my thesis where i didn’t leave my vancouver apartment for just under three days. except for wine. (oops.) okay, and frozen yogurt. i’ve had people cancel lunch dates on me because they were “in the writing groove” or had got the writing bug but good. and i’ve always acquiesced, because it’s a legitimate excuse in my eyes. it’s like we’re being held hostage by this evil internal goblin who picks the worst times to strike. it’s why i started carrying a notebook, and why “writing in coffeeshops” as a set time and date NEVER works for me (sadly).

so i guess it makes sense to take the isolation ideal one step further. isn’t there something romantic about going to northern ontario and being fiercely alone and disconnected for a set period of time? (yes, as seen from my reflections about my summer of work at the fishing lodge up north. and also NO, because nothing is what it seems and cleaning a latrine isn’t particularly romantic.)

at the same time, it’s a limiting concept. what if i can’t afford to take months off work? what if i’m scared of the lonely nighttimes and the darkness outside the cabin windows? what if i don’t have someplace to go? what if i can work on my book just fine in a library thank you very much? what level of isolation is “acceptable”? writing retreats have been around for decades, and they’re a money machine. and they sound very appealing. who doesn’t want to write in an age-old monastery where you aren’t allowed to speak any words before dinner and have to ring a bell every time you write a dang paragraph? again – at the same time, that whole concept puts immense pressure on any artist. GO HERE AND WRITE, RIGHT NOW!!! AND THEN SHOW ME WHAT YOU’VE DONE. YOU BETTER HAVE DONE SOMETHING!

what if i rearrange my schedule and leave the city for weeks at at time, take a pay-cut because i take vacation time without remuneration? what if i try and face my demons head-on, yell out at the darkness outside the front door? and what if all i end up doing is watching all the seasons of 30 rock and eating buffalo-flavoured cheese doodles? unfortunate. but highly likely.



at the same time, the older i get and the more independent i become, the more i expand into this fantastic city, the busier i become. my weeks have become scheduled to the minute, and sometimes it’s all i can do to keep my mouth above water, stay a little bit buoyant. i understand why people come home from work and collapse onto the couch, but when you’re a part-time employee/young woman trying to have a semblance of a cultural and/or social life in the city/a boy scout leader/someone who tries to take care of their physical health/a carer, it’s not possible to do that. so maybe it’s good for people to force themselves out of routine. it feels indulgent to take a week of nothing, but maybe it’s harder than we think/most important/an ultimate challenge for the airy creative soul.

and yeah, i’d probably still spend a good chunk of it eating cheese-doodles and trying to split firewood. #romantic.

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