by Angela Cybulski
Tip #2: Find a place apart.
In the film 42, rookie Jack Robinson has a major curveball to deal: his race. As the only black man in an all-white ball club in an all-white league at the height of the racial segregation issues that plagued America through the better part of the 20th century, Robinson simply cannot live where the other players live, at least initially. In a poignant scene near the beginning of the film, Robinson and his wife are taken to a place apart, a “safe” place where they can reside while he starts playing on the farm team and which enables Robinson to keep his focus on the game and on his family, rather than on the major disruptions and challenges caused by his race. This evasive action in light of the curve may not be right, but it is necessary, both for Jack’s safety and for the sustained practice of his craft.
When curveballs create an imbalance in our own creative lives, sometimes the best way to deal with them is to go somewhere else. This doesn’t mean ignoring them – just like Robinson, we still have to deal with them. However, in order to strategize the curves while continuing to practice our craft, sometimes it’s necessary to gain an objective distance. Finding a place apart allows us to acknowledge simply that the curveball exists and we realize that there may be no right way to deal with it head on right now. If Jackie had forced himself to attack the curveball his race presented to him, his family, and his ball club, he not only would have compromised all of those relationships, but he would also have compromised his ability to practice his craft in any meaningful way. Dealing with the ferocity of the curveball would have consumed him.
Often in our lives a similar thing occurs: sometimes it becomes impossible to continue writing in the place you’re used to for any number of reasons. Going someplace else doesn’t mean you can’t ever come back to where you were. It simply means that the place you had before no longer serves, no longer functions for you, the way it did before you began struggling with the curveballs.
What kind of space a writer needs and even if the writer needs a place apart depends upon a lot of factors. For myself, I need complete quiet to think, especially when I need to get into the fantasy world of the novel I’m writing. I do not thrive on noise and busy-ness, though I know some people who do. My temperament is such that I simply shut down after too much stimulation. I need time and stillness to access and process my ideas, while other writers may be able to tune out external stimuli to a greater degree.
I’ve had need to find a place apart on several occasions. One time a few years ago, the chaos of indefinite construction projects, the ensuing drastic schedule changes and nearly constant interruptions by the work crew engulfed both my writing place and time and made quiet in my home next to unknown – the conditions under which I wrote previously simply no longer existed. During that time, I was fortunate to rent a small studio space with a writer friend which allowed me to temporarily escape the chaos at home and keep writing. Eventually my schedule and life reverted will revert back to what it was and my space and time became more my own again. But for awhile at least I needed to find a place apart that would allow me to keep my head and hand in the game of writing.
More recently, emotional challenges at home have made it difficult to enter into the mental and emotional place I need to be in to write. So, when my friend invited me again to share studio space for a few months I accepted. This new space is a true blessing, a quiet room of my own where I can escape the chaos for hours at a time, a place where I can write, think, read, and recharge. Here I am given the concentrated quiet I need to enter deeply into the made up world of my novel and live there awhile. It is a place where I can breathe and think clearly and process everything that I am struggling to deal with. My place apart helps me to both work and strategize my troubles with the curveballs, enabling me to better see my way clear to dealing with them. And that’s what a place apart should do for you.
I will eventually lose this studio space and I was aware of that when I agreed to share it. That’s the thing about finding a place apart – it is for a time. Even though it will be difficult to give up the space, it will have served its purpose. The most important lesson having a room of my own has taught me is learning to commit to making the time to going there and to doing the work. It’s about committing to nurturing and practicing the work that matters. Being in a place apart has taught me to see possibility where none seemed to exist before. I’ve learned to take the initiative, find a space, and continue on with the work, in spite of the curves.
In an inspiring interview on the radio show Writers on Writing, memoirist Allison Singh Gee recounts how she composed her book, Where the Peacocks Sing: A Palace, A Prince, and the Search For Home, at a table at work on her lunch breaks. As a busy working mother with a three-year-old at home, Singh Gee said she just couldn’t find a way or a place to write except to do it somewhere else. Finding a place didn’t mean she was abandoning her child and her home. It simply meant that in order to practice her craft and do the work of being a writer she needed to find a place elsewhere – home was not conducive to doing the work she needed to do. Finding a place apart enabled Singh Gee to deal with the curveballs and complete her book.
Your place apart could be anywhere – a library, a café, a park, even your car. Perhaps it could be a real room of your own, like my situation. If you simply cannot physically LEAVE, then maybe try working outside or in another room in your home. One woman writer I know shuts herself up in the bathroom just to have some peace and quiet. Doors work wonders – don’t be afraid to close a door, position a screen, hang a drapery to block out the noise or chaos or whatever is preventing you from focusing on your writing project.
If you simply can’t grow where you’re planted remember Jackie Robinson: don’t beat your head against the wall trying to force the situation to conform to your expectations of what needs to happen or hold so tightly to your old way of doing things that you fail to think creatively about other possibilities (see Tip #1). Find another place to put down roots, even if only temporarily. Doing so can make the difference between writing and not writing. Finding a place apart can make it possible for you to stay in the game, just like Jackie.
Where do you write? How do you create a place apart to ensure your creative life is able to weather the curves?
This is part two of a six part series. You can find the others here: Series Opener, Tip #1