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I Spent Christmas Alone December 26, 2013

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Great Onely Activities, I want to..., Some Like It Single.
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4156759926_26aa1c1c16_oActually, that title is not true. It was Thanksgiving that I spent alone, and which I wanted to post about several weeks ago. But I never got around  to writing the piece until just now, so I tweaked the title just to make this post more timely.

I didn’t have to spend Thanksgiving alone. I could have joined some friends or my family. But I wanted to be alone during the entire Thanksgiving weekend, and be thankful for my aloneness. But would it work? Could it be done?

Answer: Kinda.

My plan: On Thursday morning, I would drive twenty minutes to Bull Run Park, where I would spend three nights camping in a Rustic Cabin, writing my Adequate American Novel and snacking (not necessarily in that order).

There would be no WiFi.  I had long believed that if I could simply get away from the Internet, I would finish my book in a weekend, easy.

The nice woman on the phone at the park swore my computer would not pick up one single quiver of WiFi. “No Internet,” she said, “But there is heat, a microwave, mini fridge, futon, table, chairs, queen bed, and bunk beds.” This all seemed a bit luxurious for a writing retreat in the deep woods. But perhaps I’d get lucky and the heat would fail, and I would have to continue typing in fingerless gloves with a scarf around my neck, hunched over my keyboard, as boundless creativity flowed from my stiff white fingertips, the way I’d always imagined–correctly or incorrectly–Henry David Thoreau did when he went to Walden Pond.

Now it’s true that Thoreau did not have a down comforter, plus a down-filled bomber jacket, plus a calf-length down coat (not meant to wear over the bomber jacket, but I wore it over the bomber jacket).* Nor a frozen Trader Joe’s spinach pie (Thanksgiving dinner) and a bag of organic pears and nutmix. But nonetheless the words he used to explain his famous explanation for his retreat kept playing over and over in my head. I remembered them from the movie Dead Poets Society.  Or thought I did. (I did not and will not Google them to make sure I get them right.) This is what I kept hearing as I shuffled around my little cabin, from computer to refrigerator and back again:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately

To front only the essential facts of life

And to see if I could not learn what it had to teach

And not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I did not know what “to front” meant and suspected I had gotten that part wrong, but without WiFi I could not confirm.

The cabin smelled of cigarette smoke because the previous tenants had done some illegal  puffing and the odor had sunk into the plastic mattresses. At first I thought I would have to abort the mission, but then I told myself a little smoke never bothered Hemingway. Did Thoreau smoke? I didn’t know. So I would have to use Hemingway. And I didn’t even really like Hemingway (short sentences not really being my thing, as you can tell by opening any random post of mine on Onely and putting your finger somewhere on the screen). I tried to think of famous writers who smoked, and all I could come up with was Hemingway. Hemingway, Hemingway, Hemingway, Hemingway–in between stanzas of To front (wtf?) only the essential facts of life. . .

I lasted until Saturday night. Until then I made fantastic progress writing, interrupted only by my bladder. When I took breaks to drive to the bathrooms and behind my cabin I could see the festival of lights in the background.

But very late Saturday night I lost steam. I suddenly hated my writing and Thoreau and pears. I winced as I pried open the laptop’s evil grin that gaped wider and wider and showed a bunch of nasty teeth in the form of sporadic documents and folders comprising my novel.

Full disclosure: Another thing I had that Thoreau didn’t was 3G. I crawled under the futon to where I stashed my iPhone.  “Come visit me!” I texted my friend Sam. “Tomorrow morning?” she texted back. “Please–my laptop is trying to eat me!”

“I’ll be there,” she said. Another thing Thoreau didn’t have: a friend Sam.


*My supplier, Eddie Bauer, said their down was acquired some humane way (shaking versus plucking? I wondered). Therefore I did not have to feel guilty waddling around like the Michelin man while flocks of down-deprived geese shivered in the cold, covered with–forgive me–goosebumps.

Photo credit: Swainboat


1. Kelly@Try New Things - December 27, 2013

This is a great column…I have often wished to try the Henry David Thoreau Walden thing myself just to reach a place of simplicity and peace to write my book too. I think that I would have needed some company by Saturday too so it was great to hear your honest evaluation of the experience. 🙂

Onely - January 10, 2014

Thanks so much Kelly! I had been feeling a little bit like a failure for not making it the entire four days. But your comment helps. I guess being alone to write (or whatever) is something you have to practice at and build up to.
PS If you come back to this comment, I hope you also see Bobt’s comment about Thoreau’s laundry. . . surely we can do better than that. = )

2. bobt - January 3, 2014

Thoreau was not completely alone. I’ve read that he was in fact only about a mile from Emerson’s house and Thoreau’s mother did his laundry.


Onely - January 10, 2014

Yes he is surrounded by myth. I had not heard the laundry thing, though. That is fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

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