In the film 42, the major curveball rookie Jack Robinson has to deal with is his race. As the only black man in an all-white ball club in all-white league at the height of the racial segregation issues that plagued America through the better part of the 20th century, Robinson simply isn’t able to remain near where the other players live, at least initially. There is a poignant scene near the beginning of the film where Robinson and his wife are taken to a place apart, a “safe” place where he can reside while starting on the farm team, thus allowing him to keep his focus on the game and not on the major disruption his race will cause. The fact of this evasive action in light of the curve isn’t right, but it is necessary, both for Jack’s safety and for the practice of his craft.
When curveballs create an imbalance in our own lives, sometimes the best way to deal with them is to go somewhere else. This doesn’t mean ignoring them; rather, it means simply acknowledging that they exist and that there is no right way to deal with them head on, at least maybe not right now. Sometimes it becomes impossible to continue writing in the place you’re used to. 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. I need complete quiet to think, especially to get into the fantasy world of my novel. 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. Other writers may be able to tune our external stimuli to a greater degree. In my case, a lot of health problems and emotional challenges at home, coupled with the chaos of indefinite construction projects, the ensuing drastic schedule changes and nearly constant interruptions by the work crew have engulfed both my writing place and time and have made quiet in my home next to unknown – the conditions under which I wrote previously simply no longer exist. There will come a time when my schedule will revert back to what it was and my space and time will be more my own again. For now, however, to continue to write at all it’s become necessary to leave the emotional and physical chaos of my home. For the last few months, I was blessed with a quiet room of my own where I could escape the chaos for hours at a time on alternate weekends, a place where I could write, think, read, nap, and recharge. There I was given the concentrated quiet I need to enter deeply into the made up world of my novel and live there awhile. It was a place where I could breathe and think clearly and process everything that I was struggling to deal with. My place apart helped 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.
One additional curveball has been the recent loss of my studio. Even though it’s difficult to give up the space, it has 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 doing the work. I know that I can still take those alternate weekend times and maybe head over to the library to work by one of the fountains for a couple of hours. It’s the work that matters and being in the space 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 a recent inspiring interview on the radio show Writers on Writing, memoirist Allison Singh Gee recounts how she composed her new 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 says 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 curveball and complete her book.
Your place apart could be anywhere – a library, a café, a park, even your car. If you simply cannot physically LEAVE, then maybe try working outside or in another room. A friend of mine 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 it is preventing you from focusing on your project.
If you simply can’t grow where you’re planted, don’t beat your head against the wall trying to force the situation to conform to your expectations or your old way of doing things (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.
Where do you write? How do you create a place apart to ensure your creative life is able to weather the curves?