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‚Äôs 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.

Buddha altar

I’m currently moving out of my apartment in Keene, the place where I once lived with my ex-husband, came into my own in the days after my divorce, and have lived part-time after meeting and marrying J, dividing my days between Newton and Keene. As much as I’ve appreciated the convenience of having an apartment close to campus where I’ve stayed midweek during the academic year, I’m looking forward to living in one place rather than two. The time is right to make the next step.

Comfort food

Reviewing these pictures, which I used to illustrate a 2004 post about my apartment, I marvel at how clean the place was then. In the early days after my divorce, I spent a lot of time alone in my apartment–just me and the dog–so I took care to keep the place neat and livable. After meeting and marrying J, however, I’ve spent less and less time in Keene, driving in to teach my classes or go to meetings and using my apartment as a proverbial place to hang my hat. Gradually, my apartment in Keene has evolved from being my heart’s home to being a place I stay when I’m not home. Although I still enjoy teaching and walking in Keene, I realize do so now as a visitor rather than a resident. My relationship with the place is now migratory, with Keene being a place where I no longer nest.

Nestled nook

At the moment, the place where I pupated is looking downright grubby, with dusty piles of stuff I’m sorting through as I work, bit by bit, to move, donate, or sell an apartment’s worth of stuff. I’ve lived in this apartment since 2003, so I have a lot of history (and a lot of stuff) here. As much as I hate moving and want to be done with sorting, weeding out, packing, and moving things between here and there, it feels good to slough off stuff like an old skin. I’m selling some of my furniture on consignment, I’m giving some to my upstairs neighbor, and I’m taking carload after carload of smaller items to the Salvation Army. It feels good to send these things off to their new life: the grateful recycling of things I no longer need. It’s time for both my stuff and me to move on.