Musings of a recluse....
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
The word ‘hermit’ is a verb.
I ‘hermit’ a lot. It has become my favourite activity, my preferred state of being, long before the pandemic forced the entire world indoors. Self-isolating doesn’t feel out of the ordinary to me; I have been choosing it for most of my life.
My father once told me that growing up on the prairies of Saskatchewan planted a seed of quiet in him. That such landscapes—an immensity of sky pressing the earth flat—were fertile soil for growing wheat, growing artists. What else could one do in such desolate places, but make art? His insistence on silence—in the car, at the dinner table, when a friend came to play—was something I resisted as a child. But underneath, I understood. I felt that same tiny seed sprouting inside me, too.
When I think back to childhood, I don’t remember having many friends. My summer days were filled with solo pursuits: reading fairy tales to myself, throwing tea parties for stuffed animals inside my closet, making paper dolls and lining them up along the window sill. Playing librarian was particularly enjoyable; each doll had an exit card with a stamped return date (for some reason, there was always one doll who was chronically late with her books and had to be charged a fine). I wrote poetry and doodled on scrap paper—dressed in ballet slippers and leotard—whilst my parents’ record player rang out David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, CCR, Bach and Mozart. I played therapist, pad and pen in hand, taking notes on pretend clients, analyzing mushy inkblot paintings (how I knew what a Rorschach test was at such a young age, will forever be a mystery to me).
When I needed some human interaction, I would beg my brother to play with me. He would rally all the neighbourhood kids for a game of hide-and-seek (he was always much better at making friends). I was only comfortable in such crowds when I was hiding from them. Usually, it was just the two of us playing the game inside the house, running from basement to bedroom; he developed quite a habit of ‘forgetting’ to find me. Out of necessity, I became quite good at waiting to be found, contorting my body into small and awkward shapes for several minutes at a time. I remember getting stuck for over an hour in the bottom shelf of the linen closet when I was six; I didn’t realize he had left the house until I tried to climb out. I panicked, screaming at the top of my lungs for my mother. (Needless to say, I’m still a little claustrophobic). But up to that moment, I was perfectly content, alone in the dark, just waiting.
The act of writing requires such waiting in the dark. There is a pressing quiet when a story is taking shape; somehow I disappear under the enormity, the contorted fragments. I feel the need to be in absolute solitude, for hours and hours, days upon days. I retreat into the woods, my dogs beside me. No need for language, just feet / paws padding along, surrounded by birdsong and the rustle of leaves. The earth absorbing my weight, the wind on my face, the hum of invisible things, whispering. Though I am listening, I am not actively searching; sometimes, 'forgetting' is necessary.
Story hides in such places; it wants to be found. Character and metaphor are buried under flower and root. Sorrow, joy, love—so many branches, twisted and tangled on the damp and rotted wood—beg for the lone steward of the game to stumble upon them.
The hermit that isn’t afraid to dig her fingers into the soft, black ground, and wait and wait and wait.