The Social Minimalist, loneliness and writing in a room with a door

The other day I was in the car inching toward downtown Toronto in high traffic. To help pass the time, I listened to a youtube podcast by a guy whose name is Einzelgänger.

Typically, he quotes ancient philosophers rather than celebrities, but yesterday he quoted Robin Williams, who, if you recall, committed suicide some time ago which plunged the collective fan base into a state of surprise and shock. How could such a celebrated actor take his own life? A comedy actor, no less, who evolved into other, more serious roles after making his fans laugh as Mork?

The quote from Robin I’m referring to touches on a topic which became much weightier during the long years of lockdown at the height of the pandemic: loneliness.

I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.

Robin Williams

Loneliness is a state of mind, I think. Or, at least, I think this some of the time.

For years, I’ve struggled with finding time and space to be alone to do the things I longed to do, such as think, and then write out the thoughts into readable prose. This was a crucial and significant requirement for my emotional and mental well-being, but for some reason, I kept stumbling around in the noise created by the population in and outside of the house. During those years, the tiniest interruption would hurl me into a state of agitation, especially if I was deep in thought, formulating yet another series of unpublished, or unpublishable books.

Couldn’t they see I was writing? (It’s not the family’s fault, it’s the house’s fault. The limitations – the lack of a room with a door to call my own – was deemed the culprit of my struggles. Or, on some level I blamed myself for not learning how to ignore the noise and clutter and focus on the task before me.)

For years, I desired, yearned for, alone time. This ubiquitous room with a door remained elusive and plunged me into elevated states of anxiety. Without the solitude in a room with a door I had no outlet to express my words, I thought at the time. I convinced myself I needed this room of my own, in part to create a space where I could at least pretend I had internal peace. Because you see, for me, internal peace comes partially from the physical solitude that is only attainable inside a room with a door.

Sure, walking in nature, along bodies of water or deep in forests, creates such internally peaceful periods of solitude as well, but these day trips aren’t always practical or timely. The room with the door was more achievable, I thought as I cast frenzied glances around the house filled with dog hair, teenagers, clutter and chores.

There was no escape.

But seeking solitude and alone time did not mean I was lonely. That came later (or maybe was always there). Loneliness among the noise and people and clutter is real, as Robin implies so eloquently in his quote.

It’s also self-imposed, I accused myself silently. Why can’t I just accept each phase as it comes, and learn HOW to turn inward among the noise created by normal family life?

Einzelgänger is a brilliant, thought-provoking man who succeeded in making my own tumultuous thoughts more coherent. But he’s not the only one who is influencing me lately; I have gone back to reading John Irving, the celebrated author of The World According to GARP. The book I’m currently reading is called A Widow for One Year and it is so chock full of passages which not only resonate with me, but remind me that I (still) am a writer despite not having written, much less published, anything worthwhile in a long time.

Which is a lie. I wrote many words – my so-called unpublishables – but they are hidden from the scrutiny of the public view. Whether or not they are worthwhile to read remains a mystery.

You see, I am still playing it safe.

Why do I do this to myself?

The characters in the two books I read by John Irving are writers by profession. Authors, actually, published and successful. Writing and publishing is a consistent theme in his stories, and many powerful passages on the topic of writing, or writers, jumped out at me at regular intervals in the two above-mentioned books.

Here’s one such passage:

She is a writer… She just doesn’t do it.

John Irving, A Widow for One Year

Was he talking about me, here? Ha.

(He was not. The sentence was spoken by Ted to 16-year-old Eddie, about his wife Marion. Ted was a famous children’s book author (and a philanderer) and hired Eddie to be his estranged wife’s lover under the ruse of needing a writer’s assistant. Despite the crazy arrangement, he continued to characterize his wife a writer even though she wasn’t writing. I found this amazingly brilliant. Does anyone think this about me?)

Here’s another passage from the same book:

But one must never not write a certain kind of novel out of fear what the reaction to it will be.

John Irving, A Widow for One Year

This passage was written by Ruth in her diary, the successful published novelist and daughter of Ted and Marion. Ruth was first introduced in the book during the time when 16-year-old Eddie was ‘working’ for Ted. She was a mere four years old then and perpetually preoccupied with the photos of her dead brothers whom she had never met.

The passages I’m taking notes on right now are mostly written by Ruth, who is on a European book tour promoting her third novel but, unbeknown to her fans, she’s already deep in thought about her next novel. She has reached a point in her life now, as a mid-thirties woman, where she struggles with an If Not Now, When moment (like me). Just before she left America for her Trans-Atlantic book tour, she discovered her best friend betrayed her deeply, then shortly after that discovery, she was emotionally and physically, actually sexually, harmed by a man who was not her fiance. (I don’t want to give away spoilers). She came up with the notable passages I’m writing down while she was touring the Red Light District in Holland. Her intention was to connect platonically with a prostitute (the politically correct term today is Sex Worker) to research an idea she was formulating for her next novel.

The above passages touch me in ways which are difficult to explain, which is ironic because they launched me into writing again. Which is also why you’re treated to an increasingly rare blog post from me today…(written in my room with a door).

But I have a problem. I don’t have time right now to write more than this article. (Long story…)

Einzelgänger mentioned the topic of loneliness (and Robin’s quote) in a video called Friendless & Happy (click the link to listen to it).

His main message focuses on the Social Minimalist, someone who is described as “getting by with minimal amounts of social connections; just enough to fulfill his social needs”.

I think I identify with this description. I am a Social Minimalist. But I am also keenly aware that too much alone time causes over-thinking, over-analyzing, and a ‘stuck in your head’ mentality that could, does, has (?) lead to mental health issues.

Loneliness is particularly difficult during the long, dark and cold winter months; a concentrated effort to remain socially connected in the real world, not just online, has shown to have a positive effect on self-professed introverts, especially writers (like me).

Which is why I say yes when I’m invited out. Socializing, albeit sparingly, with food and drink and intellectually stimulating conversation remains high on my list of approved and acceptable activities which I enjoy. I don’t have to do this every day or with a constant stream of friends, but every once in a while, it’s nice. Just last week a had a lovely lunch, for instance, and it marked a highlight of my week.

Do you see me sitting in my room with the door firmly closed typing these words? It’s been too long…

What do you think about Robin’s quote, or the term Social Minimalist?

Thank you for reading my post today. Don’t forget to check out some of my links:

Stay tuned for the revitalization of my digital download PDF store.

See you in the comments.

28 thoughts on “The Social Minimalist, loneliness and writing in a room with a door

  1. I must say that I’m proud of myself for exercising my boundaries more when it comes to socializing! It’s been so much better for me overall, and I no longer feel super guilty over rejected invites.
    I believe I’m more introverted than an ambivert, depending on my mood. Lots of socializing does drain me and I need downtime to recharge. I highly value my alone time though it does get tough during the wintertime, which is why I plan on relocating to a warmer part of the country within the next 5 years, pending how independent my kids are.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I think there’s a difference between loneliness and being alone. When my mother died, I experienced loneliness. Since the pandemic, my husband’s been working from home. I wish I could be alone, sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Claudette, I’ve just done a binge read of about 10 posts and want to say how much I enjoy your work. You are a clever, dedicated, creative and a committed writer. You write a lot. You propel yourself forward into new and uncharted territory. You are brave and ambitious. And tenacious. I am envious 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can definitely relate to being a social minimalist but I enjoy my own company most of the time. I also need a quiet space to write but if I’m really deep in thought a noisy coffee shop will not prevent me from writing. The problem in reaching that moment is I typically need to get into the zone first (which requires some quiet time). There have been instances where I was furiously typing at my keyboard when the area surrounding me was peaceful and when I looked up after I had finished, there was a crowd of chatter I never noticed had existed. I do the best work and the fastest work when my house is clean, the farm chores are done, and my kid is in school. We’re working on framing and building our greenhouse this winter and I hope to have a writing nook installed in it for me during the colder seasons of the year to enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See I don’t mind the background noise either, it’s the interruptions from people who can see that I’m deep in thought who come in and ask me stupid things like what’s to eat… 😛🙄

      I like how you described getting into a zone first. That’s exactly it.

      And I’m jealous you have a greenhouse with a writing nook!!! How awesome for you!

      Like

  5. I am, in every meaning of the German/Austria word an “Einzelgänger.” I am alone but never lonely. I am happily married, have friends, like to mingle, but deep down in my soul I am -and always will be- an Einzelgänger

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t write out in nature. Sure, it’s lovely, but nature is noisy and distracting with eye-candy flowers, birds, waves, etc. Can’t write there. Need the quiet room, just like you, not necessarily with a closed door, but quiet! I don’t get lonely now that I’ve quit dating/romance. Being with annoying men who never understood me was lonely…

    Liked by 1 person

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