July 23, 2013

Savoring the Solitude: A Writer’s Life

Lauren photographing the Susquehanna River
Lauren photographing the Susquehanna River
Lauren photographing the Susquehanna River

The day after Liz and David’s wedding, we cleaned-up, congratulated ourselves about how well everything had gone, and played a few rounds of disc golf. (I provided comic relief for the real players.)  Monday morning, Lauren Cottrell Banner and I drove north along the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, up the west side of Susquehanna River, and through the soft green mountains of Pennsylvania.

After we returned to my home in the Finger Lakes, Lauren stayed a few more days. Friends visited. We cooked and laughed and went for walks.

Lauren and Eve Abrams in my woods
Lauren and Eve Abrams in my woods

Thursday afternoon, I took Lauren to the airport. After a morning of thunder and lightning, flashing yellow “canceled flight” signs filled the tiny Tompkins County Airport arrival/departure board. I looked for Lauren’s flight while she checked in. Bingo. On time. She was flying west to southern California. Only eastbound flights were canceled by the storms.

We kissed goodbye—on the lips. I inhaled her toothpaste breath. Then we held each other a long time, not knowing when we’d meet again. She headed for Santa Monica to be with her beloved husband, the ocean, and her glorious garden. I headed home to deafening silence.

I don’t mind living alone. I’ve learned how by now. My Lab Willow is a sweet companion, even if I don’t love all her habits. That morning before breakfast, I found her in the front yard with a dead rabbit, head missing, already ingested. She licked her lips with delight, but obeyed my command and left the rabbit to come inside. I do not kiss her on the mouth.

Pat Rockwell, Liz McFarlane Mansfield, and Lauren the day after the wedding
Pat Rockwell, Liz McFarlane Mansfield, and Lauren the day after the wedding

Still, the transition to solitude surprised me even though it’s been five years since Vic’s death. I wanted noisy laughter and the joy of working with my sons and friends. I wanted to be with people and dance. My world felt too quiet.

Waves of longing came for Vic and the life we lived. I felt lost and discouraged, but also knew that by tomorrow I’d savor the solitude. The garden needed weeding, my body needed rest, and my satisfying writing work waited for me at my desk.

Willow watching the sunset with me

That evening, I let Vic’s absence settle into my bones, I sat on the deck with Willow and watched the sunset. I took photos of flowers in evening light. Bluebirds fed their brood, and red-breasted grosbeaks sang their song. I picked vegetables from the garden and admired how the plants had grown. Gold and purple finches ate at the bird feeder, and hummingbirds sipped fresh sugar water. I made an organic salad for dinner and read myself to sleep.

By morning, I felt grateful for a quiet day to meditate and write down my rich memories. A writer couldn’t ask for more.


Do you have too little or too much solitude? How do you carve out time alone for creativity? To read more about the wedding, see The Day Before the Wedding and Sunshine on the Wedding. For more about accepting solitude, see Coming Home.


  1. July 20, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Kim Kluxen Meredith


    Elaine, your words always fit in my head so well.

    This summer I am so lucky to spend 6 weeks at the beach. I am a shore person. My Nana had a place at the beach in Point O’Woods, CT. Although I was very young, it must have made quite an impression on me.

    This summer has been the perfect mix. I crave time with my children and grandchildren. I sometimes don’t even take a moment to shower! It is non stop action. And the when everyone leaves, I shed a few tears (really!) and then get into my solitude, creative mode. I know that I need that time too. It has been the perfect blend for me.

    Glad you are finding your own equation.


    1. July 21, 2015 at 10:41 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Sounds like you have a perfect mix, Kim. My balance scale is off kilter from too much solitude. This week and next I’m with friends round the clock. I haven’t taken time to do this for a few years. It makes me very happy although I know it will make me just as happy to return to my writing life. I need to rally a little more social effort at home. Deafness will isolate me if I let it and sometimes I don’t have energy to hear. It can take a surprising amount of effort. wishing you more delights at the beach with family all around.

  2. August 6, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Ann Napoletan


    Once again, Elaine, I can so relate…

    Since my mom’s passing, I find myself relying more on solitude to strengthen me. I crave quiet time and find that 8 or 9 hours in the office each day wrings the life out of me…. it’s such a relief to find peace in the evenings… to think, to write, to breathe.

    Much love,

    1. August 6, 2013 at 11:05 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Dear Anne,
      Seems like it takes quiet and solitude to digest what we’ve seen and felt. Putting words to the experience helped me know where I’d been, since much of accompanying someone to their death happens in a deep mysterious wordless Underworld far beyond the ego.
      Peace and healing to both of us and everyone,

  3. August 1, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Robin Botie


    Hi Elaine. Reading this I felt the vacuumed whoosh of escaping air that surrounds me each time company leaves and my house empties out. It takes only a day or two to forget the loneliness and savor the solitude. But whenever I hear of someone needing a place to stay in Ithaca, I think for a moment of filling my guest room, moving people into my empty house and hearing my home sing again.

    1. August 1, 2013 at 8:01 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Robin, I think of May Sarton’s book Journal of a Solitude and feel the natural joys and sorrows of a life alone. It gives me time for writing and gardening, but leaves me with the question of who will eat the vegetables. And then I’m thankful for friends and a meal together before I’m ready to return home to my wildflowers, dog, and the stars. Looking forward to your Sunday reading.

  4. July 26, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Lynne Taetzsch


    Elaine, you tell this familiar story so beautifully. Even though we have learned to live alone without our husbands, it is still hard after family leaves. I am experiencing the same thing this summer each time family stays and then leaves. Yet like you, I value my solitude and enjoy my work.

    1. July 26, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      I think many feel this way. This time, compared with a few years ago, I was able to make the transition more quickly and with less angst, so that was good. Everything changes, and I try to let this fact flow through me without resistance. I’m not good at it, so life gives me plenty of practice sessions. Best to you and your work, Lynne.

  5. July 26, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Lauren C. Banner


    I feel such an ache reading this.
    It brings up my feelings of wanting to stupidly stomp on the floor and shout some idiocy like “WHY did he have to go?”. I know why… it is in the nature of things. There were a web of causes that we will never understand. In Tibetan Buddhism they talk about three kinds of phenomena: apparent (what we can see), hidden (what we think), and very hidden (those things deeper than thought, traces that extend beyond this life). Karma falls into the last. We simply cannot know all the causes that go to determine any given moment of experience.

    Staying inside the mind swirling around in the eddies of distress and sorrow can lead to mental as well as physical harm.
    Being willing to see what is in front of you, you are able to find the beauty that is always there, natures balm for the soul.

    Blessedly, you have the wisdom to find the treasures that life presents to you, in solitude or as you did when Vic was around. This is a tremendous gift. And one you share so well through your writing.
    My heart is with you. Feeling you from my quiet home this morning, I raise my cup of tea to you dear friend. May we dance again soon.

    1. July 26, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      You make me cry. Yes, I usually find a positive way our of a funk and don’t spend time thinking about why Vic went or where he went. Although I stomp my feet a bit along the way. His body just had to go and that’s what was and what is. There’s plenty for me to learn and experience in this new world with its joys and challenges, even if my ego squirms at times. So what’s new about that? Transitions make the loss feel fresh. It was so lovely spending all that time with you, a rare and unique treat.

      I just baked 3 pies for the Hector Fair, so off I go to do a little community service and political action tonight on behalf of anti-fracking candidates for the town board. The world needs our care.

      Thank you for drinking tea with me and I look forward to dancing with you soon.

  6. July 24, 2013 at 11:53 am



    Dear Elaine, the tussle between solitude and interaction with those we love is the writer’s existence. There is momentary sadness, then the joy of finding the words in the quiet. I bless you in your solitude, and in the silence that holds your husband and memories. We are given what we need in the most unusual ways. Love, Therese

    1. July 24, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Therese. The trick is to always remember that I’m being given what I need and there is always a lesson in the experience, even if my ego squirms and whines. That’s a lesson, too. Thanks for reading and responding. You do so much good work on behalf of those who grieve and, in the end, that’s everyone.

  7. July 23, 2013 at 9:53 pm



    I loved this. You bring such depth of meaning to such simple everyday moments! Your transition to solitude could have been written by me–sans the dog–today, had I not decided to write about my first attempts to teach my grandchildren how to meditate instead. Everyone went home on Sunday, and our son’s golden retriever went with them. I’d been invited to keep her for the rest of the summer, but after being awakened at 6:30 every morning for a week by dog lick on whatever part of my body happened to be uncovered, I decided to forego that pleasure! I do love her, and she will be my summer dog in another year or two, but neither of us is quite ready yet!

    1. July 24, 2013 at 8:00 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I read about your inner adventures with your grandchildren. http://jeanraffa.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/6466/ I remember teaching meditation to our philosophy center children at “Sunday School.” The best lesson came from our teacher Anthony Damiani who asked for a large glass bowl filled with water. He gathered the little ones around him and let one drop of water fall into the still surface of the water. He asked the kids to watch the circle of ripples to see when they would disappear. The children watched intently and silently. Then he put in another drop and they watched another ripple. He said that the still water was their mind and the drop and ripples their thoughts. Otherwise he and the room were quiet as the little ones watched with amazing focus for 5 or 10 minutes. I always remembered this myself. Willow is polite and waits by my bed until I stir. She doesn’t wake me up, good dog, even though she knows my rising will mean a walk and breakfast. I wonder how your psyche feels this morning as it wakes up to silence. And I wonder what you will do with your quiet days, or are more people coming. It’s summer! My California son and his girlfriend will visit in a few weeks.

  8. July 23, 2013 at 9:51 pm



    My kids, three of whom still live with me, have been gone for four days. I can’t remember the last time I was in a house alone. I am loving it, and I miss them immensely. We can hold both. I miss you, too, Elaine, sweet soul sister. That missing is bone deep – who knew?

    1. July 24, 2013 at 7:30 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I wonder how you’re changed by time alone, feeling and luxuriating in it. Did it lead you anywhere new? Yes who knew about the depth of connection even when separated by a continent, even when someone we love is no longer in their body. And who knows what must be learned on a solitary path after a life surrounded by family and community? The community is still around, but we don’t come together as we once did. There will be a taste of that as we gather to run a vegetarian food both at the local fair this weekend. I think of the nuns who meditate in caves in India and perhaps still in Tibet and remember the luxury of my solitude.

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