How I Wrote Tides: A Novelist’s Search for Solitude


In the summer of 2017, I left New York, where I had lived for seven years, and moved to Boston, Massachusetts. My stay in New York had been mixed. I had tried and failed to get my first novel published; I had worked in a job that I found rewarding, but which offered neither health insurance nor a future. At the end of my stay, I was tired of the city which reminded me, every day, of all that I had not acquired while staying. And so I left, happy with the start.

And yet, once settled in the new city, near the university where my husband was going to attend the school of architecture, a new weariness crept in. On Saturday morning, my husband having long gone to the workshop, I walked through the sleepy neighborhood, with its introverted quarters. determined students and joggers, and I searched for a life on the streets, a civic sense, any real sign of the life I might lead, now that I had left the old one behind.

I was greeted by a familiar and discouraging feeling; that by leaving, I had become the one who remained

The image then often came back to me of the Italian café in Montreal that I frequented at university, of this convivial period of my life before I knew that I wanted to write. Or sometimes my mind would wander further afield and let myself be caught on a bus somewhere, anywhere, a seaside town perhaps. The city itself was less important than the room where I would be staying. In this room, I was always alone, with just what I needed: a single bed, a chair, a desk, an electric kettle, a pen and paper, and a door that I could close and lock behind me.

I’ve always been drawn to books and films that portray their characters, most often women, who drift away from their lives: leaving their spouses, their children, their towns, their apartments, their jobs. by Anne Tyler Scale of years is one of those works. It’s a conventional story, about a 40-year-old middle-class Baltimore woman, Delia, who finds herself leaving her husband and three children behind during a beach vacation. She hitchhikes to a nearby town and slowly builds a life there that, in its asceticism and loneliness, seems as far, at least at first, from the old as possible.

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Alone for the first time in her life, Delia discovers her own desires, separated from her relationships, from the roles she tacitly assumes: mother, wife, sister, secretary, pivot of the social and domestic life of her family. Every mundane item she acquires for her spartan boarding room—a gooseneck lamp, an immersion heater, a romance novel—is a triumph over her story of conformity.

I must have desired, my first year in the new city, this kind of solitude too, the one one chooses in a single decisive act of free will. Although I had hoped that this move might help me write another novel, I had left, in truth, not for me but for my husband’s degree. And as I tried to find the courage to start over, I felt the familiar, disheartening feeling that by leaving, I had somehow become the one left behind.


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