The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, May 18, 2016:


“The accomplished hermit stays in the town; the immature hermit hides in the mountain.”

Zen koan

Some decades ago, advice columnist Ann Landers responded to a question about loneliness and being alone with the statement that one does not equal the other.  She went on to say (I’m paraphrasing) that if you don’t like yourself enough to be alone with yourself for half an hour, then few others will either.

It makes sense, then, that immature hermits don’t realize they can’t lose themselves in the paucity of company in the mountain.  Accomplished hermits know they don’t need to lose themselves in the town.

A familiar stereotypical image of writers, of course, is that we are solitary, reclusive, or eremitic folk.  Many may be one or more, but there is a big difference among the three types.  We tend to work or live by ourselves, solitary but not necessarily alone – family, neighbors, or colleagues are frequently nearby.  On the other hand, a recluse is usually one who removes him/herself from people and doesn’t want to interact with people, sometimes going to great lengths to keep others away.

Mystic hermits such as Dame Julian of Norwich and the Desert Mothers and Fathers actually welcomed company when it came around and were as hospitable as their circumstances allowed.  They knew the point of going off alone is not to lose oneself.  The point is to find the best of one’s self.

Usually that is done in community, working out and through our difficulties and differences in such a way that benefits both and all parties.  At the same time, though, we must work through the darker, uncomfortable parts of ourselves, and often that means taking what I call ‘hermit time’ as we live and work to find those places.

This hermit, for instance, always struggles to reconcile myself to the noises and disruptions of the town – such as the neighbors’ leafblower that whines all day at least once a week for three seasons of the year, and delivery trucks, and loud cars – while, at the same time, I enjoy the people around me.  I love getting to know people, about their lives.  Just this morning I enjoyed meeting two evangelists who came to the door.  We had a good, substantive conversation – so much so, the two women asked if they could come back.  I look forward to seeing them again so we can talk some more and I can get to know them better.  These are, after all, the instances from which we often glean fodder for our writing.

We don’t need to hide in the mountain for a mountaintop experience.  As much of a hermit as I tend to be, some of my own best ‘mountaintops’ have come when I’ve been in the company of others.  Other people are where we most often find the Other, which will – when we put in the effort to make it so – lead us to that place of otherness within ourselves that we want to spend time with.  Even Ann Landers would want to be with us then.

The Prompter Room

For Monday, December 28, 2015:


“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude.  One must overcome the fear of being alone.”

Rollo May

“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of each other.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

“The writer’s curse is that even in solitude, no matter its duration, he never grows lonely or bored.”

Criss Jami, ‘Killosophy’

Can you tell I am in need of some solitude?  Or at least some quiet.  Virginia Woolf’s ‘room of one’s own’ would be so nice right now, one far away from the rest of the house, where I can close the door and shut out the noise of the TV and the phone, even if I still hear the dogs barking.

I treasure my alone time, so much so that some of my happiest moments are when I can be in hermit mode for as long as I need to be.  Especially in nature.  Even better is when I can be with my best friend, who’s also a writer and who also tends to the eremitic, out in the quiet of the woods, just walking and listening to the music of the natural world.

I don’t always write when those treasured moments are given to me, but I can fill myself back up again with what I need to write later.  Sometimes I’ll read, sometimes I’ll just stare into space with nothing going on in my brain.  There’s a Cherokee saying that tells us the most creative thing we can do is to sit all day and watch the river flow.  Yep, that’s me.

None of that will happen today, but I need to find a moment or two where I can escape all the stimuli that are coming at me, where my body can breathe and my brain can rest.   I wish for you, though, the time you need or want for solitude, and that you’ll enjoy your time down at the river.