I’ve written about finding a balance point before – about balancing a normal, healthy life with something as all-consuming as writing is for some. Well, for me. I’ve been to the extreme, isolated and alienated myself, even from the people closest to me, and found it wasn’t the best way to live my life. I love to write, but not enough to sacrifice living, experiencing. When you have great passion for something, I think this is a realistic problem. Look at the mad scientists and artists in history. They all have two things in common (well, three if you count madness – but that’s subjective, isn’t it?): passion, and isolation.

I don’t think the two necessarily go hand in hand, but there’s a definite connection. Passion can lead to obsession, and obsession can lead to isolation, via means of blotting out everything else. The other extreme would perhaps be the writer or artist or other passionate hobbiest who never ‘gets around’ to creating their masterpiece, or even delving into their passion fully. Maybe because they’re blocked, or maybe because they just have too many other things to do. But I’m not here to talk about extremes. I’m contemplating the happy middle ground.

When is it okay to shut out the world? When is it necessary? And how do you know when you’re begin to focused on yourself and pouring too much into that passion at the detriment of those around you?

I don’t pretend to have answers. Quite the contrary, I’m wondering what you all think.

Personally, I try to juggle a lot of things. (As I’m sure most of us do.) And I often find I reach a maximum capacity for the ‘others’ that take me away from my passion. The artist inside gets antsy, and flexes her pinchers, eventually snapping at anyone and anything that is in between me and my writing shell. Sometimes, I just need crawl inside and close the door behind me. Some of my best work comes from being cloistered in my happy writing place, undisturbed.

But life goes on outside. I don’t want to miss it.

How do YOU find a balance?

5 thoughts on “On Being a Hermit

  1. I understand this completely, I have spent so much more time on my own since I started to write. It was bad enough when I read all the time, my family despaired of ever having a conversation with me again. Artistic endeavor is totally different to just looking at or reading someone else’s work. It is, or can be consuming. Like you Gwen, I don’t want to be swallowed up, it’s tempting to shut everyone out at times…not good though. šŸ™‚

  2. I think you’re asking some good questions. The answers vary, I’ve observed, from person to person. For me, the key has become more clear through working with the Artist’s Way and other of Julia Cameron’s tools, also Christina Baldwin and some other thinkers outside the realm of writing. It’s been tricky, because in the past I’ve been prone to focusing too much on something at the exclusion of other things.

    The way I handle it now, and this may change as I evolve, is to think about what’s most important to me and what I want to spend time on. Those aren’t the same thing. For example, music is important to me, but I’ve chosen to put it on hold for right now. Writing is ‘more’ important for me, at this moment. Finishing my MBA is important, since we have tuition reimbursement (and the last time I had eligibility for it, it wasn’t able to happen; I don’t want to lose this opportunity).

    To be honest, a lot of this process was helped when I attended what is now Franklin Covey, but at the time was the Franklin Institute, training in time and life management. One book in particular helped me a lot, The Ten Natural Laws of Time and Life Management by Hyrum W. Smith. But the training (at the time called Timequest but now I believe is Focus, but is available through their website at http://www.franklincovey.com), really helped me to figure out what my Values are. Most time management systems ask you, “Where do you want to be in five years?” This system asks you, “What kind of person are you now, and what do you want to be? What do you want said about you after you’re gone?” Then, through a series of tools, each of us defines our personal Values statement. I completed the training the first time in 1995. Those Values changed my life.

    Now I’m able to evaluate things in light of “What are my values? Where does this new thing fall in relation to them?” That gives me a clearer roadmap so I know whether I’m “balanced.” Others love to tell me I do too much, or that I should do less. But as long as I’m happy with the things I’m accomplishing, and that those things are inside my Values sphere, I’m able to answer the question for myself – is this thing important vis a vis MY values? If it is, great.

    For me, it was a learning experience to let things go. This happens to many of us, because we all are bright and curious and have multiple interests. Letting music go has been a painful thing, but after my last band dissolved and our lead moved to New York, I decided to put that part of me on hold. I dabble a bit (and recently bought a MIDI keyboard), but when I’ll cut my CD? Not right now. My MBA will take at least until Summer 2009, possibly a little longer depending on how many classes I can handle, so not until after that.

    The rest falls into place around that. But it’s not a static system; it evolves as my interests and responsibilities evolve.

  3. Unhinged says:

    I’ll admit my kind of obsession that-lead-to-isolation is one of the reasons why my marriage ended. It’s a danger. I think it happened because I’ve always been more strongly influenced by fantasy than reality.

    Noony’s comment is worth reading again. I think the experts we connect with a trust (Cameron, et al) are the best way to combat the fantasy/reality see-saw. A writer (or any kind of artist or workaholic) rarely ends up with the kind of partner who understands and can accept such a level or time-frame of no-attention.

    That’s just my opinion, though. I really don’t know other than what’s happened to me personally.

  4. Carl Jung maintained (I’m paraphrasing) that it’s important, when undertaking any prolonged and deep inner work, to have outside concerns to bring one out of oneself. This is the exact reason why I have an outside job as far as possible away from my “natural” mode as possible. (I work in finance.) He felt that it helps us to ground in reality.

    Harvey Jackins, the founder of Re-evaluation Co-Counseling (a modality I’m trained as a Co-Counselor in), also felt this was critical. In fact, he felt that psychological injury CAUSES us to retreat from the everyday because it’s just too painful; the goal, therefore, of co-counseling is to assist oneself in catharting that injury so that one is “present.” (In this context, “present” is an RC jargon term meaning in the moment.) Sometimes, when a person is particularly in pain or inside their own head, just paying attention to a flower, a cloud, a puppy, is difficult.

    Writing as an interesting juxtaposition of the two. On the one hand, it brings us now, on the other, it allows us to sink into our own heads. That’s the genius, I believe, of Morning Pages. Because of what they are, they put us in the moment (which, I believe, is one of the reasons they aren’t writing). That small span of time where we are present, that thirty or sixty minutes, is meditation. And the goal of any meditative practice is to bring the practitioner present, in the moment.

    Natalie Goldberg, author of several excellent books but notably Writing Down the Bones, expressed frustration to her meditation master that she wasn’t doing enough of her practice. He scoffed at her and pointed out that her writing WAS meditation. Upon thinking about it, she concluded he was right.

    So, this circles back to Gwen’s central point, that of balance. When we’re out of balance, writing is the symptom, not the cause. We are out of balance. AND we write. Or over-whatever. The central issue is BALANCE, not WRITING. It’s a matter of finding the central pathology and dealing with it, healing it. Writing can be a tool on the path to healing, and lead to balance.

  5. Gwen says:

    Yeah, but when I boil it down, I truly do just want to write. I could trim a lot of my interactions with the world (not you guys, but you know, other more annoying people and places, like my job. And my family … sometimes.) and be perfectly happy.

    I’m not so much concerned with the actual balance of my time. I’m overwhelmed by my DESIRE to shut everyone out. That is what surprises, and in some ways scares me. I’m much happier in my own head than I am at a party or something like that.

    And the more into writing I get, the more ‘antisocial’ I become – both by nature and reputation.

    I can’t say it actually *bothers* me – I just . . . noticed and wondered if it was me, or the nature of the beast.

    Andi – you do have a very good point, and Byz. It puts tremendous strain on the people close to us, the ones who WANT to be around us, who deserve some of our time.

    Hubby has some not so subtle ways of letting me know when I’m taking it too far, but it is a concern of mine that he’ll stop trying to yank me away from the computer someday, and I might not notice. o.o (Okay, I’m stretching it there – but I think you know what I mean.)

    I’m really glad to hear all of your thoughts on this. It’s a sensitive subject that one doesn’t find being aired too often.

    *hugs around*

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