吻胸口解内衣For six weeks during the late winter of 1989, I had a cabin in the woods to call my own. It stood in a small clearing just off a muddy road: one room that contained almost all a writer needed then—a scratched table in front of a window, a rocking chair beside a fireplace, a bookcase, a dictionary, a thesaurus, a teakettle. I’d arrived at the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ residency in Peterborough, New Hampshire, which had been supporting writers, composers, painters, and sculptors since 1906. That winter, there were about fifteen of us in cabins scattered through the woods. We could visit each other—the kettle came with two cups—but not without an expressed invitation. Solitude had its rules. Most days, I kept to myself.
吻胸口解内衣Each evening, I walked half a mile to our communal dinner, the quiet magnifying every sound: the door shutting behind me, my footfalls crunching on the frozen road. One of the things I loved was the sense of safety I felt in the darkening woods. I kept track of the moon. I scanned the sky for Venus and the first glimmerings of Orion. Often, my work still filled my head and, as I emerged from the pines into the open field and saw the bright lights of the dining room in the distance, I felt as if I had to break through a pane of glass to join in. Even so, I loved the intimacy of that meal with others. I’d quickly learned to identify one novelist’s laugh, and to expect a certain painter’s smell of woodsmoke. We gossiped and swapped stories, etching rumor into myth: the woman who had chained herself to her desk in a desperate attempt to stay, a man who fled the quiet—or maybe the trees? Looking back now, I marvel at how quickly a feeling of community took hold, abetted, I’m guessing, by our common purpose, our separateness from our usual lives, and the solitude of our days.
吻胸口解内衣Residencies like MacDowell are often described as “retreats,” which implies a welcome escape from life, or a withdrawal. But those six weeks meant far more to me. I was in my early thirties, and just beginning my serious attempts at writing, working in snatched time in the hours before my day jobs in bookstores and commercial kitchens. The quiet and solitude of my time at MacDowell was an inquiry into a life I wanted to lead, and a challenge. What was I going to do with all that time and space? Since then, in many ways, I’ve sought to build my life around the possibilities I discovered in that cabin, to carve out a world for thought, spending most of each day working in a quiet I built for myself. I came to feel at home in my solitude, having made peace with the way it isn’t predictably stable—with how I’d sometimes slip into it easily, at other times pacing in it, stalked by a restlessness that took effort to shake. I could anticipate its changing textures: the welcome intensity of it after coming home from a day of obligations, its starkness after the departure of a friend.
吻胸口解内衣I live in a modest-sized Maine town and, when our library closed, back in mid-March, I began to isolate myself in earnest. At first, daily life didn’t feel all that different to me. The outside world was just a little quieter, muffled as though it were a Sunday in deep winter. I settled into work as usual, and even welcomed the greater stillness, which seemed to enlarge the sense of spaciousness in my home. But as the pandemic unfolded, and the days became more and more freighted with the unknown, the solitude I’d worked so long to establish began to feel threatened by something I can’t quite name. I began to realize just how much my solitude had existed within a larger web that I could see and hear and feel. Now, as I go through the familiar motions of routine in an altered world, I find myself conscious of absences, especially of the sounds that filtered in behind me as I worked—morning traffic, neighbors walking their dogs, children chattering on their way to the school at the end of the street—which marked the patterns of other people’s days, and defined my life, too.
吻胸口解内衣This new solitude feels lean and hard. As I move deeper into it, I worry that it will replace all the subtle textures of the solitude into which I’ve grown over the last thirty years. And, hard as it is, I’m not sure where its borders lie. What is prudent and what is foolish. What must be endured, what can’t be endured. When it might end. Back in late March, once the snow melted away, I put out two lawn chairs, six feet apart, thinking that I’d have a friend over now and again; they could bring their own tea in a thermos, I thought, or a beer. But after a few weeks, as the daffodils began to show a little color, that didn’t seem like such a good idea. So, I closed up the gap in the chairs, just to look out on something resembling the normal spring in my yard. Several days ago, dreaming of change, I spaced them apart again.
吻胸口解内衣Before I went to MacDowell, my hopes about writing felt like a secret. I’d published a handful of poems in literary journals; if I’d stopped writing, few would have cared, and my parents would have been relieved. I was living outside of Boston with housemates, I was scrambling just to pay the rent. My dream of solitude was a simple one, naïve: I just wanted to be left alone to write. To have the time. In the quiet and space of that cabin in the woods, I got a glimpse of what a writing life would ask of me. As the days went on, I began feeling more ambitious for my work. I had time to try new ideas, to make mistakes and muddle things up. I spent untold hours nosing around, guessing, reading, trying to discern shape, making peace with waste and second thoughts. I’m not sure anymore how much I actually accomplished—it would take another four or five years for me to finish my first book—but I still remember the tenor of those hours, all my own. The spare space grew increasingly intimate and personal, even though I had brought so little with me: a bag of clothes, a box of books, a radio, my typewriter. I can still hear the tapping, and feel the pressure of my fingers on its keys. When I struggled with restlessness, I walked in the woods or turned on the radio and let unfamiliar voices in.
吻胸口解内衣That world quickly came to feel like my real life, and on the last day of my residency, as I slowly packed up my things, returning the studio to its blank possibility, I was stunned by how quickly all sense of my presence dissipated. Driving home, spring advanced as I made my way south. Winter trees reddened; moss was bright on the stone walls. It was as though, in less than two hours, I had travelled through an entire season, and the world I returned to seemed cluttered with what I’d left behind. I certainly wasn’t much good in the kitchen on my first days back at work, and I knew the few hours I had to write were no longer going to be enough.