A Day in the Life of a Hermit Writer

I suffer from manic-depressive illness. In the early nineties, I was newly diagnosed and recovering from a complete nervous breakdown. A few years earlier, realizing I had a terrible problem, but not knowing its true nature, I had taken refuge in a shack near a 10,000-acre tree farm that bordered the British Columbia wilderness. All told, I was to spend sixteen years there, many of them in combative cognitive-behaviour therapy.

Log Cabin in Winter Wind

Winter can be hard on hermit writers trying to live on the cheap. (Image: WPClipart)

Old ambitions of becoming a writer had resurfaced so, being essentially shipwrecked anyway, I decided to live off my savings and have a go at writing full-time. The 1990s proved chaotic and painful years for me, so much so that I was never able to finish anything, yet they “made” me as a writer. For years, I kept a diary of my struggles. Those of you who long to be a hermit – writers or otherwise – may romanticize such an existence, especially one lived in a beautiful semi-wilderness area teeming with wildlife, yet the lifestyle itself really is quite mundane. What matters is what you do with all the time. I invested mine in making Jung’s journey of individuation and learning how to write. These two immensely rewarding activities literally transformed my life.

Here is a more exciting day in my hermit’s life. It was my habit to go into town for groceries and other supplies every two weeks. The reference to my brother’s house marks a Christmas celebration, just about the only day of the year on which I met with members of my family. My only conveniences were a phone and electricity. I rarely used the phone. I had no running water and only an outdoor toilet. I did have an old 13-inch portable TV with bunny ears that – because of the altitude – picked up five channels.

Saturday, January 2, 1993

Last evening, I wrote that the day was one of rest and relaxation. How ridiculous! With the six and a half hours I spent working at the computer, combined with the several hours of reading in the afternoon, I put in a very long day. Today I felt the effects of the last four days of hard work: my mind just wasn’t functioning properly. I was in a fog.

I had a thorough wash as soon as I got up, then shaved, and brushed my teeth preparatory to going out. With the weather still frigid, I knew the doors of my old pickup truck would be frozen. I had forgotten to leave them unlocked upon my return from my brother’s house on Xmas day. Before going anywhere, it was therefore necessary to thaw the lock mechanism on one door so I could get into the truck. In the process of performing this annoying task, I scalded the heel of my left hand with some of the boiling water I had intended to pour into the seam of the door. The pain was agonizing, but I managed to keep going and get the lock freed up again. I rubbed snow on the wound afterwards, which brought wonderful relief. While I was at it, I cleared the snow and ice from the top of the truck’s canopy.

After hastily scribbling out a shopping list (as I did this I had to keep pressing my hand onto cold surfaces to dull the pain), I set out for the forest spring where I get my water. A bearded old man – a fellow hermit who also lives in the mountains hereabouts – was just finishing up as I arrived. He lugged his dripping water jugs to the yawning trunk of his idling car as I crossed the icy road with my own empty plastic kegs. There are nearer springs than this one, but the water is so good here that people come from as far away as Hatzic on the other side of Mission.

Then, it was down the long hill to the highway, and away to the Abbotsford side of the river.

My first stop on the other side was the mini-warehouse company to pay the rent for January. Next, I made a brief appearance at Future Shop, picking up some software that had been out of stock when I purchased my Mac. Except for my hand (which had stopped hurting so severely but had begun to blister), so far so good.

Back on the Mission side, I visited the bank in an abortive attempt to pay my phone and electricity bills. The ABM was “closed.” For my grocery shopping, I opted for Overwaitea. I felt that I would end up having to go there anyway if I tried to get what I wanted at Buy-Low. That the margarine I needed isn’t sold at Buy-Low, I knew for a certainty. I was anxious to keep moving along at a good pace for fear that my truck’s doors would freeze up again if I dallied too long in any one spot!

More trouble at Overwaitea. The place was packed, with long line-ups at both Express checkouts and at all of the regular ones. I sped around the store as quickly as possible, hoping to keep my time in the store to a minimum. However, at the dairy case, I somehow ended up with someone else’s cart, and did not notice this painfully obvious fact until I was in the bakery section! So of course, I lost more time going back to retrieve my own cart. A long wait at the checkouts followed.

When I returned to my truck, the door mechanisms were dangerously stiff. At Overwaitea, I had been unable to get the big push-pins I needed and for a moment, I was tempted to try People’s Drug Mart. However, discretion being the better part of valour, I decided not to risk allowing the doors to chill any further. I did make another pass at the bank, but the ABM was still sulkily displaying its “closed” sign, so I began the drive home.

Leaving town on James St., I suddenly realized I had forgotten to bring my library books with me. In fact, I had forgotten about the library completely. The books I had left behind were not due for another week, but the weather forecast was for much snow and I didn’t want to get caught with nothing to read so I risked a quick trip inside to pick up a couple of titles. I found that rather brief biography of H. G. Wells I have been planning to read and grabbed Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifixion II as well. And then I headed for home, hoping fervently that the access road would be navigable thus sparing me an afternoon of lugging groceries, books, and water up the mountain on foot. It was.

Safely home again I put everything away. I did have to haul it all from quite far down the snow-choked driveway [about two hundred sloping feet], but compared to hoofing it up the steep half-mile access road this was small potatoes, so I didn’t mind. I then made myself something to eat, having left the house without eating any breakfast. As I savoured my first pot of tea of the day, I got started with the Well’s biography: H. G. Wells; His Turbulent Life and Times, by Lovat Dickson.

At five, finding myself still dazed and foggy-headed and rather tense as well, I put the hockey game on. I thought an entertaining yet mentally undemanding sporting event might be just the thing to relax me and perhaps clear my head a bit. It did help. Afterwards, I read a little more and then went to bed early.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

9 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Hermit Writer”

  1. The places where I spent my childhood were close to neighbours in comparison! I am nominating you for the ‘Loyal Reader’ award. You must be fed up with me nominating you for awards, so don’t feel under pressure to claim it, though the rules are simple.

  2. I must say that your routine journal entry reads far better than a good deal of the literature I’ve read of late. This makes a nice armature to your excellent piece on Wells, which I also enjoyed.

  3. Thanks for the kind words, Evan. Whenever I include diary entries in the blog, I like to present them in their original form to preserve the emotional tone of the time. However, I do clean up any missed spelling errors, take out the odd “that,” and simplify my punctuation. I once had an unbridled passion for the semicolon! My fondness for “that” rages on unabated. 🙂

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: