Dec 11, 2015 - Writer's Life    3 Comments

Family Matters Part II: Solitude

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Lately I’ve been working on my values. You think you know what they are, and you pretty much do, if you’re a thoughtful person in a chaotic world trying to live a decent life. But something happens when you start to write things down. I decided to follow the exercises in a book called things might go terribly, horribly wrong by Kelly G. Wilson and Troy Dufrene. It helps with anxiety. You can tell by the title.

I wrote down 10 values. At the last minute I added an 11th. Then I was to hone them by importance; 5,3,1. As it turned out, my afterthought value was the lynchpin, the one upon which all my other values depended. I scrawled it in at the bottom of the page: Solitude/Silence. A lot of people might not consider this a value. For me, solitude is crucial to what the Buddhists call “skillful living.” I just call it “acting right.”

After I found my #1 value, I was suppose to write a letter to a pretend child. Easy, since I have none. So I wrote the child who was part me and part the child in you, and part the child out there who has no one to say this to them.

Dear Stella(r),

When your parents tell you, “Go to your room and don’t come out!”, don’t think of it as punishment. Listen to the little voice inside you crying out in the craziness that is your mother and father arguing about the bills, a bullying brother, the tattletale lady next door.

Your ability to be alone is how you will deal with boys trying to feel you up, overcrowded schools, more bullies, apathetic teachers, and the need to make straight A’s. Finding someplace quiet is how you cope with the insanity of large families, piano lessons, homework, no dates, holidays, and lots and lots of church.

Stay in your room for 2 or 3 hours, even if they say you can come out now. Don’t talk on the phone to your dramatic friends. Stay off the internet. No TV or games. Play a little music, but not so loud that someone comes in to turn it down. Open a text book and make it look like your studying, just in case. Then dance. Practice the guitar. Sing. Look in the mirror and get used to yourself. You are Stella(r). Shine.

Get a pen and paper. Pretend you are writing to a prisoner on death row. Write your MaMaw, even if she died last spring (especially if she died). Tell them everything. Make this letter your talisman. Tear it up if anyone tries to read it. Write a story, a poem, a song. Read a book dramatically out loud to yourself. Be all the characters. Memorize your favorite lyrics. Draw. Stare out a window. Daydream. Night dream.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you it’s weird to want to be alone. Take off quickly then. Go outside. Climb a tree and spy on everyone. Make a fort in a hedgerow or in the hollow circle formed around the trunk of the big magnolia.

At night, stay up reading beneath the covers. Then tiptoe out into your silent house. Taste your solitude in a stolen cookie and a swig of milk straight from the jug. Drink cold water from the faucet.

Listen closely to the ticking, creaking, unexplainable bumps that happen as your house settles. A car passes with the bass thumping; a siren howls on Main Street. Closer, there’s an owl calling “Who, who, who cooks for you?” Does the kitchen still smell like the red beans and rice you had for supper? Or ground coffee in the pot, ready for morning? Rain through a screen? Your wet dog or cat?

Slip out the door. Even in the city, look up. There are lights of every color and trees that have not been cut. Sit beneath one. Count your lucky stars. After all, you are Stella(r). Wrap your aloneness around your shoulders like a warm blanket or an Indian medicine robe. It’s magic. Cherish it.deer1

Learn to love the quiet of no one talking. Your own imagination has so much to say. Let solitude be your sanctuary. It will protect and sustain you. It could be your favorite food, your finest hour. Keep this note close until you have it memorized.

“Go to your room and don’t come out!”

This command, spoken in anger, could just prove to be your saving grace.


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  • yes and yes again . skillful living. this one comes more naturally as I grow older–not so much when I was younger. you paint yours words with a wise brush stroke dear Mendy.

  • Mendy, I love this post. I agree with the need for solitude. It seems to become more and more important to me as I age.

    You are a wonderful writer. I’d love to have a book of your essays like this.

    Merry Christmas to you and Leigh,


  • I’ve had this post open in my phone browser for a week because I intended to check it out “sometime”. Early this morning, in the silence of my still-sleeping house, I finally read it. It was just what I needed exactly in this moment. You didn’t mean to, but you gave me a gift today in this little gem. Thank you, Mendy. You are a beautiful writer. Your words made someone’s day today (as I’m certain they do often).