Amy Bloom spent 9 days alone in a deserted resort town—and caught up on her entire life.
I am not the guru of alone. For that, read Doris Grumbach's Fifty Days of Solitude or May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude—these are women who know what alone is really about. I'm a dabbler, a toe-in-the-water loner.
Life (with some help from me) has conspired to make Together a much bigger part of my life than Alone. I've been raising children since I was 22 and have gone, between one thing and another, only about 20 minutes between relationships. Nowadays I live with my spouse and we both work at home. I have three grown children, and the two who are girls are pretty handy with the phone. (They have been known to call me, and each other, while walking to class and running errands. "It's late. You can walk me to the bus stop," Sarah says. "Now we're getting gas," Caitlin will inform me.) They get that from me. I speak to my elderly parents four times a week and to my sister almost every day. I have good friends (we don't send jokes and we do write about things that matter) at e-mail distance and a best friend on top of that. I would hardly know Alone if it bit me, and so, every once in a while, I have to arrange for it to do so.
I make plans to spend nine days in Provincetown, off-season. I could have gone to a shack in Idaho or a villa in Orvieto, but the point is not to prove my mettle or my sophistication; the point is only to be alone to do my work, to abandon briefly my everyday life. The landscape of dunes (and then dunes dusted with snow) is exquisite, wide open and slightly surreal; the bay sparkles like diamonds. The three-mile commercial strip (aptly named Commercial Street) is desolate but happily devoid of all fudge/temporary-tattoo/my-gay-grandfather-went-to-Provincetown-and-got-me-this-T-shirt tchotchke shops, because the tourists are not yet upon us. I have to walk a mile one way for decent coffee and backtrack for my minor groceries. People who see me Monday morning getting coffee and Tuesday doing the same nod to me by Wednesday, smile a little on Thursday. I fantasize that if I stay for two whole weeks, I could be a regular.
The first two days, I sleep as if I have a disease. Ten hours in bed, then I go about my business in a halfhearted way. I fall into a coma on the couch from three to five. I poke my nose into the Fine Arts Work Center, a haven for working artists during the winter, and they let me borrow books from their library, even though it is horribly clear I'm not doing anything like working. (I also stop by twice a day to use their Internet. If I persist in using the Internet connection at my little apartment, I'll either blow a fuse in my laptop or find myself ordering $3,000 worth of shoes from zappos.com.) I eat soup from the saucepan while reading all of the Sunday Times, including Sports and the classifieds. I think about all the jobs I've had and all the ones I'm no longer suited for. I form opinions about various NASCAR drivers. On the third day, I begin to think about my life. Fortunately, before I get too far, I'm taken out for drinks and discover Danzka grapefruit vodka, which is fantastic. I see how easy it would be, if you could afford it, to read all day and go out for drinks with acquaintances at night. I see that there's a lot to be said for zero intimacy and people who act as if we've all just been born about 15 minutes before we met. Nice. Weirdly chilling perhaps in the long run, but not so bad, even refreshing, for a week.
I make small changes in my novel; I spare my protagonist some suffering and I give her a new friend, a small-time Chinese-American grifter. I spend the rest of the week with the two of them, traveling by steamship from Seattle in 1925. I think about my life some more. I read everything I can find: Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds, which sparkles as always, and Rupert Everett's 1994 novel of high life, which doesn't. I limit my TV watching to an hour before bed. I think about why I married my ex-husband and why I chose my current spouse, my girlfriend. I think about how terrifying writing this novel is. I think about my close friends. I think about what I have confessed to the closest of the close, and what I have not. I think about the death of my dearest old friend, my surrogate father, and I cry for two hours, sitting on the tidy little deck in the bright sunshine, crying as if he has just passed. I think about marriage and monogamy and relationships in general, and I conclude that Chris Rock is the modern Voltaire.
I do very little, really. I think. I eat, very, very informally, and am glad no one is watching. I sleep with my arms wrapped around my pillow. I wander, for hours, through what Gerard Manley Hopkins called the inscape, the landscape of my interior.
Alone, a little lonely, preoccupied and badly dressed, I get to go out, to go in, and even to go under, just enough, before I get to go home.