The Potential of Isolating in Today’s World.
This is not one of those articles telling you all the ways to be productive during a pandemic.
I’d rather try and give you some hope for how this time may be beneficial to you in the long term, both personally and creatively, just by living through it.
Like many of you, I’m no stranger to isolation. I’ve had different versions of it in my life, with varying intensity. In 2011, I was expecting my third child, had recently lost my job, and found myself at home for the first time in years. I was living in rural Ireland, with small children, no car or disposable income, and then we experienced two of the worst winters in living memory.
My world had shrunk to an acre. Forays beyond that were on a short, well-trodden path. The combination of rural location, mothering, and various traumas, all contributing. And then I had those winters to contend with. The long months of cold and snow and dark, limiting my freedom farther, even inside the walls.
Many lower-income people, and mothers in particular, already know this way of living. But now people the world over are discovering it for the first time. It’s a way of life, not easy to get used to, even without the current climate of fear and uncertainty. Even more if you don’t have a focus, a passion, or a project that appeals to you. But all troubles can be transformed.
In my case, I’d grown used to being out working, to the energy and buzz of city life, to traveling, eating out and shopping. To distraction. And while there was always possibility, there was lack too. For me, it was a creative lack that burned my soul. So much of daily life could be borne, or never seen or felt at all. But now the only place I went was Lidl.
I wasn’t driving, and before long, it was normal to go two, three, four weeks without ever leaving the lane, garden and house. Instead, like so many mothers, I was simply cut off from the outside world, which carried on without me.
It was very hard at first, but I grew used to it, even enjoyed the challenge. And then I started to grow through it. To love and crave more of it. Until, in a combination of isolation, nature and creativity, I found identity, my own voice, and the freedom that I’d always wanted.
Even with demands of mothering, I entered into a relationship with the acre. I became intimate with the sky, that westerly sky in particular, with the elements, wind and rain and mist, with the trees and fields surrounding us. I found my old self, and a gothic nature. And I felt a great distance grow between me and society.
I was out.
“I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man.” ~ Franz Kafka
I wrote my first novel in the midst of isolation, on the bones of trauma, while deep mapping the familiar — my mind and the acre. And then I wrote a second book. I’d found my voice. It would have forever eluded me had I not been, literally, stuck in the house.
“Let everything happen to you, Beauty and terror, Just keep going, No feeling is final.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
I know that I’m extraordinarily privileged to have the life I do. I also know, were it not for my long years of isolation, I would not have started writing and I wouldn’t be an author now. There’s no doubt I’m a more realized and fulfilled person than I’d have been without these isolation years.
There have been other benefits too. Time, for example. I’ve been at home for our young children. We spend a lot of time together as a family, and our home life is calm — as calm as family life can be. Even now they’re not asking why we aren’t going anywhere, because being at home is our normality.
I’m writing books Three and Four in my gothic, witchy series, and the outside world I used to miss no longer interests me. And it’s not that I don’t want the possibility of moving in that world, from time to time I do. It just has no power over me. There’s nothing it can sell me. I’ve become very content in my own space, my own head, writing, enjoying this world we created.
Now the world is isolating. And with the specter of this virus, many of us, me included, have been suffering with anxiety. As a dark, sensitive person, I can’t help it. Though my days are busier than ever, even normal.
It’s lambing season, everyone is home. I’m cooking, cleaning, parenting, gardening, trying to write, though anxiety is ever present. It bubbles away in the background, occasionally spilling over, especially at night. Worry for the world, for my parents, and just the awfulness of it all. But I do believe good things will come of it.
The forced compression of this time will lead to greater insights, creativity and growth. It always has before, and will again. The main difficulty for many now is simply not being used to it, and the fear that goes with this particular isolation.
Though work on the my latest novel, ironically, set in famine-times Ireland, has stalled for the moment. And for a few weeks I found writing or reading anything at all difficult. Everything was making me sad, from music to bird song, and the lilacs returning. I knew I had to, as my wise mother would say, “take myself by the hand.”
I reminded myself the writing would return. That this slowdown has the potential to be the best thing that ever happened. For our families, our creativity, our world and ourselves.
Somehow, in this strange time, even with all the worry, you’ll hear your own voice. It will sound strange to you at first, even scary, but then you’ll like it. That’s when you’ll start writing, or whatever it is you want to do.
“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” ~ Pablo Picasso
And one day this will all be over, and we’ll have a new creative age. The likes of which have not been seen since the most creative age in history, that decade between the World Wars, the 1920’s. It will be a direct result of what we’re living now. I’ll meet you there.
Jane Gilheaney Barry is an author of creative non-fiction and gothic fiction from the west of Ireland. Her books, Cailleach~Witch and That Curious Love of Green: Notes From A Writer’s Journal, are available on Amazon. She is currently working on two novels, Banshee and Changeling. You can follow Jane on Instagram or Facebook.