The Myth of Solitude: A Writer and Her Communities

23 Jul 2018

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Early on, I remember being fed the myth that “writing is a solitary endeavor.” It sounded almost like a curse of the craft. Unlike other arts, as a writer, I was on my own. Yet, when I go to different events, like the recent Voices Against Violence exhibition, I realize the falsity of this notion.

We may write alone, but many writers rely on a community of individuals when creating a poem, an essay and, especially, an entire project. We depend on the writers we read to inspire us, on the people we interact with for material (like our families), on the folks in our writing community to help give our ideas shape, then, later, to edit our work among so many other personal and professional interactions. So, yes, we are responsible for the weight of the information we are sharing, but there are countless people involved in the process. When I’m made aware of my influences in this way, it feels almost impossible to see writing, and life, as anything but a collaboration.

During the winter and spring Inlandia workshop sessions, my friend, Romaine, and I would stand outside of the library well after it would close enlivened by the workshop discussions. Even though I never workshopped my work as the facilitator, so many cognitive processes were taking place before, during and after the workshop that fed my writing. Meeting with the workshop members every other week made sure that I focused on writing instead of letting it fall into the periphery of importance. Because many of us don’t get paid for our writing work in anything other than love, joy and necessity, it is easy to continuously push writing to an indefinite “later.” So, after the Inlandia workshops went on break for the summer, I asked Romaine if she wanted to start a once-a-week writing session to keep us writing and accountable.

This has become an increasingly important component of my process because it means that I have a goal. Even though I constantly upload work unfinished and late, I am writing, and I wouldn’t have been this productive without a like-minded friend like Romaine. We are a small community of two, but sometimes that intimacy is enough.

In the larger scheme of things, I keep hearing people act like their individuality is attacked because they are being placed into specific communities. It’s as if the whole “pull yourself up with your own bootstraps” mentality is resurfacing. For example, someone like Kylie Jenner getting recognition on the cover of Forbes as, “At 21, she is set to be youngest-ever self-made billionaire,” is negating everyone and every opportunity made available to her throughout her life because of the actions of those closest to her. In our ever-continuously compartmentalized world, we want to see that people can seemingly make it on their own. Except, in Jenner’s case, being from a family of affluence and fame, there is no way she made it on her own. If it wasn’t for the preliminary fame of her family and the money that followed suit, the opportunities wouldn’t have been available to her in the same way.

In other words, there is nothing “self-made” about Jenner’s fortune. She is and has been a part of a wider community made up of her family, their team and the larger public for most of her childhood and all of her adult life. Without all of these communities working together, there would be no money to acquire. All this_ Forbes_ coverage is doing is feeding into the idealized notion of “individuality,” the you-don’t-need-help-from-anyone-to-get-somewhere attitude. At some point in everyone’s life, we receive something from someone. Whether it is our family’s wealth and notoriety or an encouraging and thoughtful English professor in our undergraduate program, someone was there to help us out.

Just like the act of writing may seem “solitary” at first glance, so does life. However, when we start tracing the influences and opportunities that have made us who we are, we will all be hard-pressed to attribute our personhood solely to our own construction. From the moment we are born, we depend on the community we are a part of—our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, our governments…etc., which all help us develop an aspect of identity. Even if we are choosing not to be a certain way—just like being apolitical is a political stance—we cannot ignore the influence that allowed us to make that choice.

I was reminded of this idea during the Voices Against Violence exhibition that opened Sunday, July 15th. I was a workshop leader along with three other folks, and to see our work displayed together felt like another display against violence since the unison of our projects fit so well together I couldn’t have imagined not being apart of the group. For my workshop, I wanted to highlight the people I worked with. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to create my project. So, I incorporated images of most of the participants into a larger banner. In this way, the audience was able to their signs and attach a person to the message.

Image of the Voices Against Violence project display.

As a writer who works in the community like this, the idea of writing as a solitary endeavor seems especially untrue for me. I am an individual who is constantly moving in and out of communities. These identities never make me feel less of a person, they actually help me feel more like myself because I have a space for each aspect of my identity. I’m not sure if any one group will allow us to be fully ourselves, which would be exhausting anyway. So, I appreciate the communities I am a part of making themselves available when I need them.