#11 Harnessing solitude in order to create
There are too many distractions between me and my work. It seems like each day there is something: someone is sick at work, leaving drinks for a good friend, birthday parties, holidays peppered throughout the year, and on and on. Not long ago, I watched a few interviews with Dr. Ken Atchity on YouTube. I like his story: he was employed at a university, a professor I think, and one of the things he said is that creative people need to be selfish to get things done. They need to retreat, to have a space to develop an idea, basically to create the right conditions to bring something forth into this world. (Note: he quit his academic day job to become a full-time writer.) I feel the pressure. I have a deadline to finish the current book I’m working on by later this year, but it’s a bit much at the moment. I’m reminded of my annual dry month away from alcohol, usually in January. No matter which month I choose to give my liver a break, it seems there is something always on, and in the context of a dry month, these going ons always seem to involve alcohol. I don’t cave in, I’m strong willed, however, there is social pressure to drink, to join the festivities, to be as merry or merrier than your friends. The dry month is a microcosm example of the macrocosm of life proper. The same could be said if we speak of life in general: there is always something going on with or without alcohol, some event, some dinner, something always happening. It’s not that I hate social interaction, rather it’s that I’ve got some big projects that should demand most of my attention. My current research wouldn’t be impossible had I a wife, kids, and other important life stuff at the fore, but it would be improbable. I need solitude, more time for pondering, daydreaming, notetaking, and writing, such as this post. You might think it’s a bit weird to want to be anti-social to ride and then write out the current stream of consciousness I’m on. I disagree; as I say in the “What is Stream of Consciousness” tab on this website, SOC is a form of meditation. I must have at least one meditation daily, and I usually do, even if that meditation is a 20-minute scribble into my smartphone’s notepad while on the bus. I don’t choose when the ideas hit me, come to me; it’s more like having a question constantly in the back of your mind, like a refrigerator hum, and you only notice the hum when it’s absent. I notice the answers to my humming question when the question is replaced by the answer, and then I write it down, simple as.
What’s the point of the above diatribe? I decided to take a year off. Yes, starting in late April 2020 I will crawl into a dark hole, far away from all loved ones, with only my books to read and my computer on which to transcribe the ideas sparked from making connections between my raw ideas and other authors’ arguments I need to either back up my ideas or refute other people’s ideas, modifying the current discourse in the direction I think it should be going (and I hope you agree with my views once my books are published). I just paused this stream to find a quote from Michel Foucault’s Technologies of the Self (1988, p. 9) that I really like:
“The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know what will be the end.”
I definitely don’t know what lies ahead and toward the end of my life. Likewise, I have a very good idea how my current book will end, the conclusions I’ll make, etc., but do I really know? No, I do not. I have a very good plan, tens of thousands of words of notes, I know which books and articles to read, but I do not know for certain what I’ll discover about my topic or myself.
I’m fascinated by the voluntary solitude of hermits and monks. Buddhist and Christian monks, for example, have fled from many of life’s distractions to find themselves, to find their God, to better understand something about something. Each person and religious faith has their motive.
What is it that I aim to accomplish by taking this time off? I will finish my first book on psychedelic science around early Autumn 2020. I’ll start drafting the 140,000 words of notes (to date) I have for my second book (the first in a three-volume series), begin reading the texts I need, and continue blogging and podcasting.
I haven’t done it yet, so I don’t know what to expect and don’t know what to tell you about the experience. What I do know is that if you have something to work on that is important to you and others, take that time for your projects, make a move to create, to jumpstart the process. I feel like an unfunctional car battery: I got the battery juice, the energy, the ideas, the passion, the work ethic; I just need that bolt of energy to get my car rolling again (think jump starting your car with cables connected to another car). The amount of work I can get done in a year of 10-hour days will be enormous and will be the push I need.
Foucault, M., & Martin, R. (1988). Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault. In L. H. Martin, H. Gutman, & P. H. Hutton (Eds.), Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, (p. 9-15). University of Massachusetts Press.
Addendum: March 22, 2020: Thank you coronavirus! I, as well as the rest of society, is self-isolating. Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true. Even though I do not wish harm upon others as many people will undoubtedly die during this pandemic, I am happily inside reading, writing, podcasting, and producing original content, and by the looks of it, will be for a very long time.