Loynaz’s work expresses this outlook beautifully. “The world gave me many things, but the only thing I ever kept was absolute solitude,” she writes, in a one-line poem from her Poems Without Names series. I love the idea of solitude being a gift. I think we can be afraid of being lonely, but if you figure out a way to own it and see it as a treasure and a pleasure and a joy, then it can be quite comforting. I have a place to go in my head that’s just my place, and I value that alone time so much. I wouldn’t be able to be me without it.
Still, Loynaz also seems to recognize that too much solitude can be isolating, alienating, maybe even dangerous. In a subsequent poem, she writes: “Solitude! Ever dreamed of solitude! I love you so much I sometimes fear God will punish me by filling my life with you.” Be careful, she almost seems to say. The idea that solitude is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for thing is something I think about and write about all the time. Like, what if it was only you? What if a plane crashes and you’re on an island by yourself? I don’t know how happy I’d be that way. There’s a tension there. I do say, “All I want is to be left alone with my own thoughts”—but also, “Pick up the phone when I call.” Solitude is better as a block of time than as an entire existence.
My morning process is that I’ll take a walk in the morning, usually for about an hour. Then I’ll read for an hour. Then I’ll handwrite for a couple of hours. I spend the afternoons typing everything up. If I can do about 1,000 words a day, that’s a good day’s work.
For me, walks are such an important part of the process. From the outside, they might seem like a waste of time. But my brain is chewing on problems the entire time. It takes me about half an hour to get to that place. I have to get half an hour away from my house and my computer and my piles of books, just to clear a space. And then, it’s the most incredible thing: My brain starts working.
Brains will do wonderful things for you if you treat them right. They will offer you so many little gifts. It took four books for me to be able to make a living off writing. But once I got to a place where I could have a little more time to spend with my brain, I gave myself permission to indulge it, care for it, nurture it. There are ways to do this that are small, and not extravagant: I need exercise, I need good food, and I need people in my life who respect me and whom I respect.
Solitude is part of it too. Reading is a solitary experience, yet the way it works on your brain and your soul is that you feel comfort, and you feel like you’ve engaged and met with someone. It’s been like that for me as long as I remember. When I was a kid, I loved Greek mythology—especially D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, which is glorious for children because it’s illustrated. I was raised Jewish, but you’re not quite in the Judeo-Christian realm yet when you’re 4, and while part of you thinks the Greek myths are cool stories, another part is like, Is this real? I used to think the Greek gods lived in the sky, because they’re always depicted out there in the clouds somewhere. My mother tells a story where I would be walking home from school, and the neighbor would say, “Oh, I saw your daughter talking to herself again.” I was talking to the characters that I had read about, who were there in the sky.