In her famous 1929 essay, Virginia Woolf said that for women to write, they need money and a room of their own. She argued against the disadvantages that made time and quietude rare luxuries for women but expectations for men. A room of one’s own is a place with distance from the world; peace and solitude for uninterrupted creative time.
In 1988, the mythologist Joseph Campbell described something he said everyone must have, which he called a sacred place, “where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be,” a place of “creative incubation.”
Ninety-three years after Woolf wrote, a place of one’s own is still essential to any creative act, but gender aside, uninterrupted, peaceful time is more difficult to come by than ever. There are no walls capable of protecting us from the constant noise and insults of news and social media. Even for those with their own lovely place to sit, it is typically the same place; the same body with senses dulled by staring at the same computer used to answer emails and attend Zoom meetings all day.
We tend to think creating happens in our minds — and that peace is a mental state, when in fact, they are both physical and sensual. Writing well, in a way that engages readers, is a physical act, requiring the author to feel in order to awaken common feelings in his or her audience. Likewise, quietude is not a state we can simply think ourselves into. We have to experience it, which requires our physical selves and senses.
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Our escape, from the demands and anxieties of quotidian life, will not come through the same screens that cause them. One needs to get out of one’s room.
Which is why, when I hear Mark Zuckerberg talk about his metaverse, it causes me extreme anxiety. It will come, I fear, at the expense of our peace and creativity, our connection to the natural world, our bodies, our senses and our survival. We are physical beings that depend, for our health, on our connection to the natural world. We need a metaverse, it’s true, and happily, we already live in one. It’s called nature.
My own metaverse is a place with more forested acres than people, in the southern hills of the Berkshire Mountains. I came home here after decades of living and working in Manhattan; after a failed attempt to lose myself in academia in Phoenix, Arizona. The pandemic was a good excuse to make this move, but not the real reason. This is my sacred place. I have, to quote William Atkins in the latest issue of Granta, “learned to dwell better, to know and love my own patch more deeply.”
Nature is all around us, but not equitably distributed. I wish for everyone a metaverse of their own.