Loner in the Crowd

I blazed solo across the southern half of America in January this year to begin a new job in California.  I left my husband and son behind in Savannah, GA while a wonderful church in Windsor, California welcomed me as their new pastor.  Seven weeks later, Windsor shut down for COVID and suddenly I found myself alone in a rental house meant for three with little human interaction.

Given that one of my goals for the spring while I waited for my family to join me was to finish my memoir, it could have been a dream time.  Finish a day’s work, make a quick dinner just for me, and switch over to writing mode for a couple hours at least.  But it’s no fun to eat dinner alone; in the silence I’d switch on the TV.  Eight episodes of The Big Bang Theory later, I’d go to bed with nothing more to show for my valuable alone time than some great laughs with Sheldon and Leonard.

But one day each week was different – Shut Up & Write Fridays. 

My first week on the job I searched MeetUp for writers groups in the community and, despite my basic introversion, forced myself into my tomato red Prius again and drove down Highway 101 to the “big city” of Santa Rosa.  There at a coffee shop I sat with a group of strangers for an hour and wrote a pretty unsalvageable blog post.  Though the post never made it online, I was hooked.  Somehow with all these other writers around me, I could focus.  Our only thing in common was that we all wanted an hour each week to shut up and write and we would make that time if there were others with us.  Though blog posts didn’t happen in those gatherings, I wrote – and rewrote – several chapters of my memoir and met some great people.

I love to be alone and recharge; in that sense I am a true Meyers-Briggs introvert. But part of that recharging is not being motivated to get much done. I am discovering that if I really want to accomplish creative things, I do it best in the company of others – not that I necessarily want to interact with them – but I like having other people around as I dream and imagine.

Last week as I announced things happening at the church, I found myself saying “this was an idea from Bible study” over and over.  For all that we are still on Zoom, that space to be with others, share ideas, and develop tactics is my favorite part of ministry.  Sure there are then long hours alone in the office making the ideas a reality, but the creativity for me happens in community.

I think this is also true for my spiritual life, at least in this season.  I am looking forward to a semi-silent retreat in October with the Shalem Institute. Normally we’d meet in person, but this year it has moved online.  Even so, I can’t imagine doing the 2 days of silence with my family around – what are they supposed to do while I’m tiptoeing around?  So I am going into the mountains for five days; I will join in the Zoom components and keep silence the rest of the time.  But I will not be doing it alone.  Of course, I will have the Shalem gathering happening in the background.  I will also have the others at the resort where I am staying – perhaps they will not be silent, but they will also be “away” from something, hopefully finding some spiritual grounding in this time when it has been hard for many to go away and go deeper.

I have been working with a number of people in spiritual direction the past few months on curiosity – what are you curious about in the world? And maybe more important, what are you curious about in yourself.  This sense of longing to be with people in my creative moments makes me curious.  I used to call it a need for accountability.  In work, approaching a deadline always makes me more productive.  But I don’t sense that other types of accountability have the same inspirational-boost for me in writing and developing creative ideas. The inspiration comes from being in other people’s company, whether we talk to one another or not.  As I learn more about spiritual energy, I wonder if there is something in those vibrations that come from so many sparks of the Divine gathered together that fires my soul? As I sit here today with my Shut Up & Write group now moved to Zoom, I can rule out Acre Coffee’s chai as my energizing source.  It must be the people, the mental, emotional and spiritual space we foster that makes me want to write. 

Now my next curiosity – as we explore the idea of a puppy in our new home this fall: what’s the chance I can get the same energy from spending time with a dog?  It sure would increase my productivity to be able to rely on a loyal pooch for inspiration!

What inspires you when you are working on something creative, like writing? Do you need energy from something in the outside world to tackle a big project, either creative or spiritual or even work-related? Have you ever sensed an energy in a group of people that helped you focus on something important? I am definitely an introvert, yet I crave being around other people, even when we’re not directly speaking to one another.  That has been hard in COVID-19 times.  What have you found spiritually hard in this time?

Sometimes talking to just one other person can make a whole lot of things happen for us.  If you think you might benefit from an ongoing spiritual relationship with someone who can take that journey with you, look into spiritual direction with Openings: Let the Spirit In.

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