Alone Again, Naturally (Jennifer Castle)

In early 2009, my life was at Maximum Chaos: I had just given birth to my younger daughter Clea (she of marathon wakefulness and siren lung power) and my older daughter, Sadie, was in the oh-didn't-you-hear-the-twos-are-nothing "tyrannical threes." Of my three beloved rescue cats, one was in the throes of old-age dementia and another had gone deaf, so they both walked around meowing constantly for no reason. We were living in a 900-square-foot house in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, and you couldn't move without stepping on or bumping into something. If you were lucky, it was a doorway or a piece of furniture; if you weren't, it was a dirty diaper, somebody's barf, or a toy with excruciatingly sharp corners.

Everybody needed something from me around the clock...which meant I had nothing to give myself, let alone creative energy or even, say, the ability to remember what day it was. So of course, this was the moment the universe decided it was time to ignite my career as an author. I had sent the manuscript of The Beginning of After to an agent right before my baby's due date; now I was signing a contract with her and mapping out revisions in between pumping milk and potty training. I cried a lot. It was not always with joy.

Since then, writing under the often-crushing pressure of a hundred daily responsibilities has been my Normal. I often feel like I have to fight for every hour of creative focus. I'm not sure this is a bad thing; it means I don't mess around when I've got my "butt in the chair." I'm always in a race against all the life-things on the other side of my closed office door. It's made me better, faster, stronger as a writer.

But still. I've always been someone who requires wide swaths of time alone. To listen to my inner narrative, or find it again in the first place. To serve only my own needs and nobody else's, and in the process, better understand what those needs even are. To rediscover, in the quiet, the delights of daydreaming and simply, remembering. And to be annoyed by nobody but myself. I get a little crazy and a lot bitchy if I don't get that on a regular basis.

Fortunately, I have a husband and kids who understand this, and an extended family who supports it. Every so often, I'll get a gift: two or three days alone at home. Hubby and daughters go away somewhere to have fun without me, and my soul steps up to the strange buffet of an empty house. The point is for me to write, of course; to write a hell of a lot. And I do. But I fill in the breaks with other powerful recharging activities, such as:

1) Waking up in the morning and reaching for a book (and not my laptop, or the remote), then reading in bed for a long, long time.

2) Ignoring all housework. And any food preparation that takes longer than 5 minutes. If this means I end up eating plain spaghetti out of a teacup from my kids' toy kitchen, so be it.

3) Finding my music. Sometimes that's in the form of my old LP's and a barely-used turntable. Sometimes it's surfing Spotify for my favorite 80's movie soundtracks. Playing it. Sometimes actually, maybe, dancing to it.

4) A cup of bad-ass PG Tips tea, a chunk of dark chocolate, and my journal at the kitchen table. Swearing to journal more often and not when I'm on a "home retreat," knowing I probably won't but that's okay.

5) Guilty pleasure movie rental. Must be dumb romantic comedy that husband would hate or, alternatively, binge-watching of "Glee," "Downton Abbey," "Mad Men," "True Blood," or (most recently) "Orange Is The New Black."

6) Just sitting. And listening. And answering whatever questions I hear, but only as a whisper to myself.

By the time my family returns, the well has been refilled. I'm happy if that lasts a couple of days. I'm extra-happy when it somehow shows on the page, even if I'm the only one who can see it.


  1. Wow, Jennifer. Generally I wouldn't cite to Oscar Wilde as a life coach - if Oscar thinks it's healthy, RUN AWAY!! - but I think here he's nailed it, as have you. I so crave that alone time too. My son is 24 and doesn't live here any more, and my daughter is 17 and tries to pretend my husband and I don't exist, so I have a bit less day-to-day child care than you, but there's that pesky fulltime job that keeps getting in my way... Kudos to you for finding ways to thrive and be creative no matter what!!

  2. MAN, I love that quote. And kudos to you for figuring out how to weave your writing into your life!

  3. Love this--I can so relate. Pasta in the kid's T-cup...divine!

  4. Jen, you are hands down my Writing with Distractions role model. LOVE.

  5. What a wonderful piece! I could so relate to everything, especially the stuff about dirty diapers and barf and crying.

  6. I get those days once in a blue moon, too. I call it "living on body time," where you get to do exactly what you feel like doing, without considering the needs of others.

  7. Great entry! I can relate a lot to it too. A weekend to myself would be legen-wait for it--dary! :-p


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