Arts·Where I Write

Megan Gail Coles can only write in complete solitude — she needs quiet to set the words free

"I do not have the capacity to deflect stimuli. I am programmed open-tuned. Constantly seeking and searching out frequencies in any shared space."

'I do not have the capacity to deflect stimuli. I am programmed open-tuned'

Where Megan Gail Coles walks her dogs in Newfoundland. (Megan Gail Coles)

Leading up to Canada Reads, CBC Arts is bringing you daily essays about where this year's authors write. This edition features Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club author Megan Gail Coles.

I do not write in public because I cannot write in public.

That is the truth of it. I do not have the capacity to deflect stimuli. I am programmed open-tuned. Constantly seeking and searching out frequencies in any shared space. All detectable stations layer outlandishly over the words in my mind. It gets loud. Very textured. Like a late night radio antenna grabbing signals from neighbouring towns, I pick up story waves ceaselessly.

Everything is important and impossible to filter. When without choice, I find myself plucking at lonely syllables in cafes and airports, wondering after what is mine. I want not to mistake what is someone else's for my own. I purposefully try to hold distance between myself and others to prevent this unintended bleed.

Because I absorb conflict.

This happens most when I am forced to write near other humans. I take them in. I take them on. Some writers find this helpful. They enjoy "additional." I do not. I am too porous for "extra." My head is ready-made noisy. I need quiet and routine. Two sleeping dogs in an empty room at least, in an empty house around the bay, better yet. Family and friends near but separate from me while I lose myself in crafting sentences. One after the other after the other. I am not present during these working hours. I am elsewhere. Sometimes I look up to discover myself still in my bathrobe, the late afternoon light picking apples across the tablecloth. But there are new pages. Often many.

This privacy is a lot to ask of everyone I know, but it is usually a lot I am asking of myself.

Megan Gail Coles's dining room table in Savage Cove. (Megan Gail Coles)

And I read my work aloud. No one needs or wants to see that. My frustrated rage and blustering weeping would put anyone off their sandwich. The invading salty cursing would cause many a grandfather to coughing spit their tea. It is almost a public courtesy that I write in seclusion. I am doing Newfoundland a favour by composing the hardest bits of everything in my little house in our little cove on the northernmost part of the island where every room feels like having one's back to the wall looking out upon the page. This place inherited from my kin, surrounded by all my relations, is my safe space. We made it all together in sturdy offering. It was and remains a steady collective contribution as we remember time spent in childhood.

A biscuit box named for Nanny brim full to bursting with memories.

My father in his gear shed talking to whichever uncle has swung by, their truck in full view from the kitchen window where I collect another cup of coffee, wood smoke rising from the stove. My mother on her lunch break standing against the doorjamb in her work clothes asking after my word count. A cousin on the phone. She has made a pot of soup.

Drop over sure for a bowl if you gets hungry. Your Aunt Millie will bring one over to ya if you're too busy. Just text.

Everyone letting me alone while constantly checking in.

They know I am in there writing. They don't need to see it to believe it. This makes me feel trusted and beloved. Later, I will walk the dogs out the graveyard road in gale force wind to set them free bouncing upon the bog spongy underfoot. This is where I first learned to think up stories in the blowing silence. It is where I do my best work. Raincoat. Rubber boots. Gloved hands in May. Without witness, void of display, out of earshot.

This is what I mean when I say solitude.

Where Megan Gail Coles walks her dogs in Newfoundland. (Megan Gail Coles)

I have always been wary of open offices dismissing vulnerability. As a child, I did not like it when the teacher stood behind my chair, full of expectation of performance. I do not like being hovered over still. I resent unnecessary supervision. I lean toward resistance.

Resist these phantom feelings evoking every boss you ever had gritting their teeth while breathing down your neck in tandem for effect. Willing you to think faster, write better, sit straighter in your chair, make them rich and popular, all before five o'clock. Ignoring your discomfort. The nerves in your belly. Counting how many times you pee. Pretending this new way of working works for everyone when it clearly does not work for you.

They've proven that now, too. This thing the body always knew. Some of us need a door to think behind. And the option to open and close it.

The Canada Reads debates will take place March 16-19 on CBC, CBC Gem, CBC Radio and CBC Books 1:48