Someone All Introverts Should Know: Brenda Ueland on Solitude, Creativity and Relationships

In 2008 I began to wake up from the deep sleep of ‘supposed to’. I was married, living in thevariaslaap03_ok suburbs with three children, a loyal husband, part-time nanny and weekly personal training sessions.  It was what I wanted (it’s what most people want, right?) and it was wonderful in many ways, but something was missing.

Me.

I only knew who I was supposed to be. I was based on external scaffolding.  I was my children’s mom, my husband’s wife, a woman with a personal trainer and a woman who needs a nanny even though she’s a stay-at-home-mom. I was fit from training and maintained perfectly pedicured toes. Outwardly, I was healthy and polished.  Inwardly, I was a dark cave unexplored. I had no idea where the rocks and stalactites were, nor did I know the pure deep stream that existed in the unlit catacombs.

I was listless and low energy.  I felt depressed and wondered if there was something wrong with me. How could I be down when I had so much?

Enter Brenda Ueland.

While picking out a gift for a writing friend, I noticed a book called, If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and SpiritThe author’s name, Brenda Ueland, caught Brenda ueland fullmy eye. I read the back cover. I picked up a copy for my friend and myself.

Between the covers of her book I found a woman who lived dreamily and daringly from 1892-1985.  She both conserved and exuded energy. She was a writer, wife, mother and boundary pusher.  She championed the diverse students in her YWCA writing classes. The poet, Allen Ginsberg, called her a ‘Courage Teacher’.

As I read, my eyes opened gently. In her, I found it was OK to crave solitude. I learned I wasn’t the only one who felt trapped in a relationship.  I learned that creativity isn’t all based on skill and massive productivity. I found a non-judgmental teacher and kindred spirit in Brenda Ueland.

Solitude Lets Imagination Slip In

…It is the dreamy idleness that children have, an idleness when you walk alone for a long, long time, or take a long, dreamy time at dressing, or lie in bed at night and thoughts come and go, or dig in a garden, or drive a car for many hours alone, or play the piano, or sew, or paint ALONE; …With all my heart I tell you and reassure you: at such times you are being slowly filled and re-charged with warm imagination, with wonderful, living thoughts. ~ Brenda Ueland

My personal trainer suggested running.  Running gave me time to myself. Ideas and daydreams came to me as I ran, walked,woman on rr tracks shopped and meditated, alone.  Glimpses of my internal world fueled me.  My step got lighter and my depression lifted. I felt my soul fill-in. Solitude became a drug I couldn’t live without.

Everyone is Creative

Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say. ~ Brenda Ueland

Brenda Ueland believed if you told your story without over-thinking or trying to be impressive, you were interesting.  Writing is just talking on paper. She said everyone should write about themselves. Writing or creating is a generosity to be offered freely but not forced upon anyone.

She encouraged making mistakes — she tells us to congratulate ourselves for making daring, honorable, ridiculous mistakes.

Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters. ~ Brenda Ueland

Brenda made me believe I could write.  She showed me that writing doesn’t have to be something I make up.  It can be something I write down that comes from within. Childhood stories, lessons learned, grown-up healing process.  It all counts as writing and a form of creativity.  I never thought I was creative until I read If You Want to Write.

Relationship Mismatches

We did not admire the same things.  I loved abstractions: truth, greatness, heroism.  He liked plain facts and cleverness. ~ Brenda Ueland speaking about her then husband

Many of Brenda’s words and thoughts lined up so closely with my real life it was eerie. I began to recognize a deep and real disconnect between my husband and me. Did we really know each other? Like each other? Would we expand and grow more as humans without each other? I thought so.

All that time I was inwardly wanting not to be married anymore; to be free, alone.  ~ Brenda Ueland

Real Love Can Be Found in Listening

Unless you listen, people are weazened in your presence; they become about a third of themselves.  Unless you listen, you don’t know anybody.  Oh, you will know facts and what is in the newspapers and all of history, perhaps, but you will not know one single person.  You know, I have come to think listening is love, that’s what it really is. ~ Brenda Ueland

I began to listen more.  I found listeners who offered conversation in an alternating-current style — we took turns talking and deeply hearing each other. I experienced a nirvana of self-realization.  My spirit became clearer and clearer. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning. I no longer felt alone in my need for solitude. More and more ideas flowed through my mind and onto my notebook pages as I made time for idleness and writing. My marriage started to teeter but I felt warmth from the two-way love listeners I discovered as I ventured away from my previously defining scaffolding.

The saying goes, When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Brenda Ueland appeared when I was ready. She opened my eyes to an internal world of love, listening and creativity and an external world of authenticity and courage.

Do you have a personal transformative hero? How did they help you see you? When was the last time you reveled in idleness and imagination? 

Suggested further exploring:

Video: THE SPACE WE NEED from Nic Askew and Brenda Knowles of space2live

Me – Brenda Ueland autobiography

If You Want to Write:A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit – Brenda Ueland

Strength to Your Sword Arm – Brenda Ueland

Brenda, My Darling: The Love Letters of Fridtjof Nansen to Brenda Ueland – Eric Utne

My Introverted Love Creed: If We Can’t be Magnificent and Independent Together I’m OK Alone – space2live

The Introvert’s Love Affair with Solitude: Will It Always Be Taboo? – space2live.net

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26 Comments

  1. Michelle
    June 13, 2016

    Hi Brenda- Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your website and all your topics and advice. It’s such a strange but amazing feeling to find that there IS, in fact, someone out there, willing to voice and write about so many of the things I’ve been feeling and struggling with for my whole life. I am in my 40’s and only in the last few years did I find out about MBTI and other personality related tools. Now, I can’t get enough. All spare time I get is spent researching, gaining insight into who I am and what makes me tick. (It sounds funny to say that, as it implies that I had no idea before…LOL). There is nothing in the world more interesting to me, I LOVE it!! Anyway, wanted to thank you for talking about Brenda Ueland’s book, “If You Want To Write…”. As I read your blog I kept thinking, “Why does that sound so familiar…?” Finally went into my spare room/library to browse through the stacks of books I’ve picked up on many a weekend scouring at the used book store over the last few years, and THERE IT WAS!!! I remember thinking it looked interesting and I was very attracted to it for some reason…..I just hadn’t made the time to begin reading it yet!! Until now…..I’m sooooo excited!!!!! Gotta go read now!!!!! P.S. You asked at the end of that post (Someone All Introverts Should Know…) if any of your readers had their own personal transformative hero and I think you just might be mine, Brenda Knowles! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      June 14, 2016

      Awww Michelle you made my week! Your words are too kind but I’m thrilled my writing hits home with you. We sound like kindred spirits. My kindred spirits all love personal development and insight. It’s our drug of choice.;)
      Brenda Ueland felt like a fair godmother to me when I first discovered her. I wanted to talk with her and ask her questions but she passed away in the 80s. So many of her passages either resonated with me or explained something I couldn’t quite express myself.
      Keep on discovering. May you find awe and wonder every day. May you become your highest self. 🙂

      Reply
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  4. Dyan Sohn
    August 31, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this, beautiful and how wonderful to find the teacher and the time be right! I am going to look for this book, as I just recently found YOUR site, and it is ringing true for me in ways. I am flying solo for a few seasons in the mountains, and really needed to read what you have written, so validating. 🙂 Thank you. Dyan~

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      September 4, 2013

      I am so intrigued by your solo tour into the mountains. Wow. Have you read, A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson? It may resonate with you. Thank you for your thoughtful comments Dyan. Good to connect with you.

      Reply
  5. abbybyrd
    July 13, 2013

    Beautiful post. I love that book! I love her advice to writers. The mantra I always remember is “You are incomparable.”

    http://abbythewriter.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/plain-folks-and-the-best-writing-advice-ever/

    Reply
    • brennagee
      July 13, 2013

      That will be my mantra for the week! I needed that reminder.:) Love Brenda U.

      Reply
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    July 8, 2013

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  7. Leanna L. Dale
    June 24, 2013

    I found this book by accident while browsing through a now-defunct Los Angeles bookstore/cafe. It was the luckiest accident of my life. At that point I had been a professional writer for more than twenty years, but I rarely enjoyed my work, and I felt all of it was disposable in one way or another. At first, reading “If You Want to Write” gave me an incredible, if unfamiliar, feeling of joy and self-confidence. Afterwards, I began to surprise the hell out of myself in terms of what I was able to accomplish. This simply written book states some of the most profound truths about life and creativity I have ever read. Whenever I get stuck on a project I go back and re-read it, and its warmth, generosity, and brilliance always inspire me to go on. It should almost be titled “If You Want to Live”, because far more than being a how-to book on writing, it makes an eloquent argument that we all can live creative lives as long as we’re true to ourselves.

    Reply
    • brennagee
      June 24, 2013

      Oh you expressed so beautifully how I feel about If You Want to Write! It is about art,independence and spirit. The book fell into my life somewhat accidentally as well and I refer to it often, much like an old friend. It buoys my confidence and validates my way of being.

      I have read everything Brenda Ueland wrote. She appeared at a time in my life when I needed guidance. Like they say, When the student is ready, the teacher appears. 🙂

      It’s such a warm feeling to know someone else felt the same light and joy from her book. Thank you for commenting kindred spirit.

      Reply
  8. Zen Greenway
    June 18, 2013

    I credit Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins for waking me up, oh, sometime in the 90’s. I suddenly realized that all my assumptions needed examining and when I started questioning I couldn’t stop. It was pretty uncomfortable for a while and at the same time completely invigorating. I’ve always been a dreamer and so always assumed that I would never have trouble with it. The book made me realize just how much of my dreaming had stopped, quietly taking a back seat to everything else in my life. But after I woke up … look out!

    Reply
    • brennagee
      June 19, 2013

      I love the title of Robbins’ book.:) I’ve heard that once you wake up you can never go back to sleeping through life. I hope that’s true. I’m into invigorating.
      I’ll check out Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Reply
      • Zen Greenway
        June 19, 2013

        A bonus is the book is funny as well as enlightening. I actually heard it as a book on tape first. Barry Bostwick. Hilarious! I will never forget his Larry Diamond, the character who became my hero for almost a decade.

        Reply
  9. Julia
    June 5, 2013

    This sounds like a beautiful and inspiring book … thank you for sharing it with us. I have now bought a kindle copy for myself.

    A friend once sent me a lovely gift of a hardback copy of Thomas Moore’s “Original Self: Living with Paradox and Originality. Each chapter is like a meditation of sorts, for me at least. I can dip into it any place I like; it doesn’t need to be read from cover to cover. I find that it often ‘brings me back to centre’.

    Reply
    • brennagee
      June 5, 2013

      Original Self sounds so lovely! I’ll have to find a copy. I love books that take you through yourself and back to center. Thank you for the book recommendation, my favorite kind of little gift.

      Reply
  10. Sandy Sue
    June 1, 2013

    Brenda’s book was my first guide to creativity. I gave it to someone else long ago and have been longing for her words.

    Reply
    • brennagee
      June 1, 2013

      Me too! She truly made me feel like I could write and she gave me the way to begin (immerse in stillness and let imagination seep in).

      Reply
  11. Joy
    May 31, 2013

    Beautiful post – I want to seek out Brenda Ueland now. I also identified with running and having the soul “fill in.” Thank you f

    Reply
    • brennagee
      June 1, 2013

      You should definitely find Brenda Ueland. She was one of my first glimpses into understanding and affirming my temperament/way of being in the world. Enjoy!

      Reply
  12. Steven Barer
    May 31, 2013

    everyone’s situation is different, but I’d be very cautious about associating waking up to yourself, and honouring your truth, with the end of your relationship, these are and should be two separate things. one can individuate, come alive, pursue passions, and find time to honour the introvert – all of this and still be happily married to the person you started with, who you’ve already shared a lot of amazing things with, who already knows you better than anyone else in many cases. will the relationship change? absolutely. does it have to end? absolutely not. so while I am happy to hear that someone is discovering their truth, I’m cautious about confusing middle life changes, and all that that rocky road often entails, with needing for the relationship that has been fine up until now being thrown out with with the changes – it needn’t be so. whomever you’re with, can be the right person, will be on their own journey of coming alive, and may be prodded and pulled by your upheavals and changes, but none of this means that the person who’ve you journeyed thus far is somehow not able to be the right person for the next chapter. just another perspective. i feel that people often undervalue the accumulated wealth in life shared

    Reply
    • Sandy Sue
      June 1, 2013

      Much truth here. I think the important qualifier is a relationship “that has been fine up until now”. Sometimes these long-term relationships have not been fine for a very long time, and that pattern is ingrained. The work needed to break those patterns can be overwhelming, daunting and ultimately fruitless.

      Reply
      • brennagee
        June 1, 2013

        It took ten+ years for my former husband and I to really even know ourselves and each other. So while it seemed fine, it was really just running on auto-pilot. Once we truly opened our eyes, our differences were insurmountable. We made each other deeply sad.

        Reply
    • brennagee
      June 1, 2013

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. My former husband and I both grew a lot during that period of intense awakening and we continue to today. For me, an awareness that he and I look at the world very differently developed. I thought we had the same values, but we don’t. I had latched on to his way of thinking and being because I thought that was the right way to be and it was easier but it wasn’t the right way for me.

      We worked at saving our marriage for years. It wasn’t meant to be. I see us both leading more fulfilling and authentic lives now.

      I agree it is possible to grow together through the mid-life eye-opening stages. We didn’t.

      I so appreciate your insightful message. There IS such beauty and wealth in a life shared. I still see the years in my marriage as valuable and meaningful.

      Reply
  13. Karen Kennedy Thoms
    May 31, 2013

    Yeah for you. Loved this entry. Books are our mentors.

    Reply
    • brennagee
      June 1, 2013

      I agree. Some writers feel like old friends. 🙂

      Reply
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