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What Loneliness Taught Me About Writing and Love

In a place where I only had myself, my loneliness turned into something productive

Becky Mandelbaum
Feb 14, 2018 · 6 min read
Photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash

Art Monsters Must Know How to Be Alone

The first time I encountered the term “art monster,” I practically checked my mouth for fangs — I desperately wanted to be one. The term comes from Jenny Offill’s book Dept. of Speculation, in which the narrator writes, “My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things.”

Everything I Know and Like About Myself I Learned from Being Alone

Last year, I spent eight months caretaking a ranch in Colorado. The ranch belongs to the writer Pam Houston, who was my teacher in graduate school and has since become a close friend, mentor, and art-monster role model to the extreme. Because she travels and teaches all over the world (by herself), Houston needs someone to watch her animals while she’s away.

How to Feel Alone When You’re Falling in Love

After leaving the ranch, I moved to Washington to start a job in North Cascades National Park. At the ranch, I’d grown used to reading two books a week, writing six hours a day, and taking long solitary walks with the dogs. In Washington, I was suddenly living in a house with four other people, working full-time, and trying to finish my novel manuscript, all while making time for hiking. The way I saw it, there was no time for love. Or, if there was, it didn’t figure highly on the agenda.

Becky Mandelbaum

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Author of Bad Kansas, winner of the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award. Read more at