Solitude is an achievement.
That’s a quote from author Alice Koller. It’s also my life tidily rolled up into four words. I continually search for those spaces where people are not present. I have difficulty thinking in the places where they are.
I’ve got one of those older version brains that goes into overload the moment it’s required to do more than one job. I cannot multi-task, instead I multi-focus. My head fractures into splinters and processing data becomes a bit like slogging through a vat of molasses. My mind is like one of the first PCs from back in the early 80’s; BASIC language and a memory of about 16 KB. That’s it. I’m a Commodore with floppy disc storage space.
However it is that this new generation of brains has developed—with the ability to effectively do homework, text, listen to music, Skype, paint their toenails and scarf down a burrito simultaneously—is an enigma. I watch them like they are zoo animals. They’re foreign and fascinating.
When I want to work, I want to be alone. Entirely. I’ve even asked the cat to find another place to settle because her breathing is distracting.
So when I found out I’d been granted almost five whole days to be alone in the house while the rest of the family was swanning around the countryside, I danced a tiny jig and relished the thought of spending the better part of 120 hours writing.
Except after about sixty of them, my eyes ceased to focus, and I was forced to leave my swivel chair and the nearly imperceptible hum of my monitor.
I went a few miles down the road to the local winery.
What a beautiful day. What a gorgeous vineyard. What a jaw-dropping view.
What a mistake.
My intent was to spend a little time enjoying the vision of rolling hills filled with fruit-laden vines rising to verdant sloped mountains. With a glass of wine in my hand, I could sit transfixed and listen as the grape leaves, all broad and flat, soaked up the summer sun.
But as soon as I stepped out of my car in the graveled parking lot and looked around, I found several dozen others who’d targeted the same goal.
The winery had a tasting room both in and outdoors. Each was jam-packed. The chatter flowed as freely as the wine.
A young lady, packaged in the vineyard’s t-shirt and apron, flashed a marketable grin, handed me a menu and swept her arm across the crowded porch like Vanna White showcases contestant prizes. “Make yourself at home,” she said, gliding away.
I wandered, weaving through clusters of women dressed in flowy frocks and men sporting chunky watches. Chairs and tables seated twos and fours, and if occupied, people perched on any remaining flat surfaces.
I wanted someplace quiet, someplace with only one chair.
And I found it. Sort of.
Around the corner of the big wraparound porch, I spied a small nook with two white rocking chairs that matched nothing else, hidden away from the jostling trill of people in high social mode. Paradise.
I claimed the far rocker and noodled over the menu. I waited for Vanna. Three times couples poked their heads around the corner and pulled back saying, “Oops, taken.”
After fifteen minutes, I left my purse on the chair and hunted her down. I rounded the corner and we nearly collided.
“Oh, there you are,” she said, as if she’d truly been on a search. “I had no idea you’d be sitting way back here.”
I nodded. “Can I do your reserve flight and get a cheese platter?”
She gave me an uncomfortable glance. “Is that just for one?”
When I nodded again, she cocked her head as if I’d answered in Croatian.
She pointed to one of two outside bars. “Just order the wine from one of those fellows over there. And … good luck.”
Now my head mimicked her gesture. “I think I can find it.”
Once reaching the bar, I asked for the wine flight. Again, the response was, “Is that just for one?” I must have rolled my eyes because the bartender quickly put the glass up and moved into his spiel about prized grapes and stainless steel tanks.
I took the glass back to my rocking chair, sat down, took a sip, and before I could swallow, heard the strumming notes of my phone. Sir Sackier wanted to know why I wasn’t answering at home.
In the next sixty minutes, after burying my phone and returning to my wine, no less than twenty-five people peeked around my corner with comments ranging from, “Hidden away here, aren’t you?” to “You realize you’ve snagged the best spot today?” and “Waiting for someone?” I’m pretty sure I even heard one woman stage whisper, “What a shame.”
I answered yes to all of them. Some more forcefully than others.
When Vanna came for the third time with my last wine sample and another version of, “No winner yet?” I was about to ask for the manager to say how much I didn’t appreciate the staff pressuring me to buy their bottles.
But I did like the wine. I was just giving up on the solitude.
I paid for my wine and tipped the barman on my way out, still flummoxed over Vanna’s last look of pity and the barman’s sympathetic gesture of goodbye.
It was a lovely place, and theoretically a great idea for claiming some quiet space. I got into my car and wound down the driveway, through the vines and hanging fruit. At the entrance, I glanced back once more and shook my head at the botched afternoon. That’s when I spotted the big placard I missed when coming in.
The sign read, The Single Mingle Sip & Supper.
Yep, solitude is an achievement, but for that to happen you have to find the key to success. For me, that’ll be right under my reading glasses.