The Den of Solitude

Here is something I’ve never shown in all the years I’ve kept this blog: the front of the little pink house where I rented an apartment in Keene, NH for the past eight years.

Office, looking toward street

In the past, I’ve talked about the decisions any blogger makes about what is or isn’t appropriate to share online. Although I’ve occasionally shared parts of my apartment in Keene–the roses that bloomed in cascading torrents alongside the front porch, for instance, or random corners in the backyard–I never felt comfortable posting a picture of the entire facade. Posting an un-cropped picture of Where I Live felt too invasive of my privacy, too much like posting my address or phone number online for anyone to see. Knowing I was blogging from the imagined security of an “undisclosed location” made me more comfortable sharing those details I did choose to disclose. Setting boundaries isn’t about keeping everything a secret; it’s about choosing which secrets to share and which to hold close.

Living room with couch

When you blog about place, the scenes of your daily walks quickly become familiar to your readers, creating the impression that they could perhaps retrace your steps if they ever found themselves in your neighborhood. Since this blog has never been about inspiring the world to beat a path to my door, I quickly established the habit of not taking or posting too many pictures of my precise street. Partly I wanted to protect the privacy of my neighbors–nobody wants a photo-blogger living next door, posting pictures of one’s literal dirty laundry–but mostly I wanted to create the sensation of space in a neighborhood that’s otherwise densely packed.

Living room, looking into kitchen

When you share a dorm room or small apartment with a roommate, you quickly become protective of “your” space, protecting it from even imagined encroachments. I honed this ability to wrap a virtual shroud of privacy around myself when I lived in the Cambridge Zen Center. When you live in a meditation center that attracts a constant stream of daily practitioners, weekend retreatants, and short-term residents, you learn to create your own privacy wherever and however you can: this is my room, or my desk, or my meditation cushion. It’s no wonder, I think, that one of the Center’s revered Temple Rules reminds visitors and residents alike, “Do not use other people’s shoes and coats.” When you share the place you hang your hat, it can be very important to your sense of self and privacy simply to have your own hat.

Office corner

When you live within walking distance of the campus where you teach–and when you live on a street that is popular with student renters–you learn to pull a veil of privacy behind you when you enter your little pink house. J and I regularly referred to my apartment in Keene as my “Den of Solitude,” the place where I slept, graded papers, and quietly minded my own business on weekdays during the school year. Now that I’ve moved out of the Den of Solitude, my personal prohibition against showing pictures of it no longer applies. Now that I’ve broken the bonds of this particular place, there’s no need for the boundary I’d made to protect it.