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A man gets in a canoe and promptly lies down, bobbing along in the current. Then, he writes about his experience, one of solitude.
In my book club one Tuesday, we talk about it. Rousseau (who I was unfamiliar with) and Thoreau (who I have only read when I wanted to impress someone) both did this floating schtick.
Solitude, we said at book club, is best experienced when you are moving, or sitting by something moving: grass or water or an animal.
Solitude is letting things be. It’s existing, without anxiety or the need to do anything.
There are all kinds of tangents here, but right now I think about how writers are always going to write.
I worried, once, about categorizing my own writing (does writing about dating make me a corny relationships writer?!) But I’m simply a writer, writing about my life.
Wherever you land on the essential elements of solitude, writing about your experience of it is like being a little kid at a parade who runs into the street, grabs candy, and adds it to the communal bucket, grinning.
Look what I found for us!
A while ago, I went on a date at Good Earth State Park, among the mature oaks:
Sometimes you feel most alone right next to someone.
I return to the park, solo. The woods still feel like Narnia. I grin when I notice bluejays. Variation between prairie grasses stops me in my tracks.
I’ve brought family members since, but never dates. I recognize myself in Mary Oliver’s How I Go Into The Woods:
Ordinarily I go to the woods alone,
with not a single friend,
for they are all smilers and talkers
and therefore unsuitable.
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree.
I have my ways of praying,
as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone
I can become invisible.
I can sit on the top of a dune
as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned.
I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me,
I must love you very much.
Sometimes you feel most surrounded when you are by yourself.
I’ve been really into written, shared prayers lately.
I haven’t been actually praying from the Book of Common Prayer (things written for a community are confusing and not quite right when it’s just you), but I love the idea.
Mostly I love it because of Tish Harrison Warren.
Her honest, thoughtful book Prayer in the Night talks about moments in life where you can only hold on, only repeat the words of others. In praying, you are reminded that you are one in a great tradition, you are not alone, even in your alonest feelings.
Poems feel similar, words from others’ quiet moments.
My church shares two-minute teachings about past figures in church history. “These are your spiritual grandmothers and grandfathers! You should know their names, because we’ll meet in the resurrection!”
A non-denominational liturgy.
We share and it holds us together.
Back in Place
Recently at Good Earth, I see a patch of cleared ground.
Last year I saw similar patches and thought someone was thinning the forest unnecessarily, but I found out on a Master Naturalist field trip this spring that it’s a really intense removal of invasive plants led by a spirited volunteer: a retired fish hatchery worker who’s experimenting with seeding native plants in the cleared soil.
When I love something, I start by paying attention, and then I need to know more. I read books. I take Naturalist classes:
What We See
I’m piecing together this thing I’m calling the Midwest Visual Language.
My theory is that even though we don’t have a ‘design culture’ the way some geographic areas do (relaxed aesthetics on the West coast, beautiful efficiency in Japan), we have distinct visuals.
Things that feel like home.
It’s sweeping in theory, personal in practice.
I pulled images from my Google photos (already a biased curation).
I’ve grouped them in loose categories: signs, frames, cows, clouds, prairie, ornate government buildings, worn-in churches.
I had a conversation at my church last week about how we don’t have much religious imagery here. Cathedrals in other places function as a wordless reminder of something bigger.
We have carpet and cinderblock, good for dodgeball or potlucks.
I’m trying to puzzle out more than images.
What does it mean to be from here? To leave? To stay?
Here in the Midwest, there’s a hand-built practicality. Metal structures, Home Depot doors. Neighbors pitching in with chainsaws to clear branches after a tornado. Church basements, crockpots full of meat on a plastic tablecloth. Library deliveries of large print books to the assisted living home.
Little me, riding her bike past the neighbors’ weeping mulberry tree.
High school me, running the 5 mile circumference of town countless times, sweat soaking my t-shirt as I circled the outskirts.
Movement as necessity: keep going, it’ll be over eventually.
Solitude was more comfortable than community for me in my small town.
Still, I’ve always had this hunger to know and be known. Most of us do.
It took moving cities and meeting a whole lot of new people to make me feel known beyond my nuclear family.
In my visual audit, skies show up more than anything else. Something so big it can’t help but move you. Something that makes you fall in love a little bit.
“I’m from the Midwest.”
This is what you say when big skies feel more like home than the tired buildings in the center of town. And for a while, as a solitary kid, it feels like this is all there’ll ever be for you: skies, your thoughts, your own projects.
But then you find others here. Others with a gnawing hunger for ideas and creativity and deep conversation. You know and are known. When you meet, they invite you to book club, because a like-minded friend must not be left behind.
One More Place
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Someone has thrown romaine lettuce across the sidewalk on my hillside.
A decaying chocolate donut slumps nearby.
Once I saw a woman chuck something into the trees and then bolt uphill. When I got close to the place of chucking, I couldn’t tell if the dingy carpet remnants and crumpled grey tank top were from her, or had been there a while.
A small animal died on the very edge of the treeline, its long fingers on tiny hands visible, carcass puffing up with bloat and then deflating to a limp pile of fur.
I walk under the branches every day on the way to and from work. I look forward to this patch every day, a welcome respite from direct sunlight.
The weedy untended growth feels friendlier than the sidewalk further uphill, cracks meticulously filled with tar. Or the dogs barking incessantly unless I choose to move from sidewalk to street.
Someday, it’ll probably be graded down and turned into parking or apartments.
Right now, there is good shade.
Taylor Swift’s I Can See You on repeat
This is also a fun listen
I’ve made 3 versions of this potato-broccolini frittata for people in the last month and I’m still not sick of it
I’ve switched to the Arc browser, and it’s rad. My favorite feature is the dual window option, but there are a bunch of cool things.
Read this, loved it. Perfect popsicle-on-the-porch book!
Thank you for walking with me for a moment. I love hearing what my thoughts stir up for you—reply directly to this email, or leave a comment to share with other readers. If you know someone who’d like this, feel free to forward it on.
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