Exiliado: Leave Me Alone

Jonathan Pizarro
5 min readMay 24, 2023

I visited Dennis Severs’ House last weekend. Not knowing much about it, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t just some sort of National Trust house from the 1700s that had been preserved as a museum. I thought Dennis Severs was a Thomas Carlyle type. It turns out he was an artist from South California who moved to London in the 1970s and decided renovating the house would be his life’s work. The house then, is a living piece of theatre existing in various timelines and a testament to creativity and creation.

One of the things that struck me most was the insertion of things belonging to Dennis Severs. This included 80s music playing around the house, postcards he sent and received, his leather jacket and baseball cap. I imagined him around the house in fervent stages of creation. I longed for space like that, a place to engage deeply in art by myself and with others, in person. It feels like a luxury to me. I sit here currently writing this in a coffee shop. I’ve purposefully made an effort to have this time to write. I am fighting against the music blasting through the speakers and the man next to me on his phone which he has decided to put on speaker because he thinks everyone needs to listen to his conversation. And this is what we call normal and acceptable human behaviour now. A constant noise.

One of the questions that most comes up during writing workshops that I host, or in conversation with writers who are getting started, is finding the time to write. Once you have the time, it’s also about finding the willingness to write. As Picasso once said, the Muse has to find you working. I don’t feel this is an issue related just to those are starting out, and although there’s something to be said about being resilient, the biggest problem I often encounter is noise.

That’s not just noise of the sound variety, but the onslaught of things, mostly digital, that demand our attention every moment and lead to all sorts of procrastination. And yes, this is going to be a post about how much better you’d be without your phone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how as a teenager I felt much more free and creative. On reflection, I feel this is because I wasn’t overwhelmed by a device in my hand that not only distracted me constantly, but also dictated what I should consume and how. I had a notebook I wrote in every day. I listened to whatever album I wanted and played it until I knew all the words. Whether that album was from the 1970s or something on the charts. Likewise with books. If something interested me, I read it. And I couldn’t browse online for ten more books I thought looked interesting which contributed to a huge pile of unread books that I don’t even touch. Just thinking about my unread pile at home gives me anxiety.

In short, my life wasn’t dictated by algorithms. Spotify now has a homescreen with looping videos of new music they think you should listen to. YouTube has a monstrosity called Shorts where you can spend half an hour looking at loops of ten second videos instead of an interesting documentary.

Don’t get me started on social media and the way the apps continue to push content your way they want you to look at, rather than connecting with the people you’d like to. There’s also the immediacy of people’s achievements, wrapped up in a short moment in time. For writers, that means you see completed manuscripts, prize winners, newly published successful books. All wonderful things that should be celebrated, of course. What you don’t see is all the work that went into those moments. I think it’s important to think of that context whenever you see a post like that and start to wonder if you’re just being lazy compared to everyone else.

Finally, there are the demands on your time. It feels like a lifetime ago that you would be called on a landline and if you weren’t home, then too bad. You agreed to meet someone in person. You sat down in the evening to check your emails and then you logged off. Everything is urgent now. You should reply to messages as soon as you receive them. You should have an answer to everything right away. Leaving someone waiting for a few days before you reply feels like a sin. Except you probably have dozens of people in every sphere of your life making the same demands.

So if you want to reconnect with your creative practice and enjoy it and see the fruits of some of your labour, I have some advice. I can’t say I always follow it, but I do my best. Some of it I follow throughout my life, not just when I’m writing, and it’s definitely led to a more peaceful life.

Your phone. Put it on silent as much as possible. Not even on vibrate. Put it in your bag. Out of view. Switch it off in the evening. Learn to love Flight Mode. Get an app timer (I use Stay Focused and I’ve set the time for Instagram and Twitter to 20 minutes each a day). Don’t fall into the trap of productivity apps that force you to use your phone. Don’t pick up your phone first thing in the morning. Read something in print in the evening and the morning. Don’t check the daily news. Don’t answer messages right away.

Your work If you work on a laptop or tablet, try doing something on paper instead. This is especially useful if you’re stuck. Invest in silicone earplugs to drown out noise (especially useful in coffee shops). Sign up to a workshop so you feel some accountability and your time is protected. If you’re stuck on a project, do something else that you feel has no consequence (write a short story, a poem, work on a quick sketch). Mark out time for your practice and add it to your calendar and stick to sitting down and doing it, however much or little you end up doing. Enjoy the process.

Your online life Delete your watchlists. Think about what you’d like to watch or listen to or read before opening up the app. Use the block and mute button to curate your feed. Set your country to somewhere else so you don’t get constant political trending doomposts. Join an online writing/creative group. Not posting six times a day doesn’t mean you don’t exist. You don’t need to share or have a hot take on everything. Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t read the comments.

I’m on holiday somewhere rural for a few days and I’ve decided that not being online would be a good idea. It’s especially worrying that I think not being online for less than a week feels monumental. But I’m going to do it. I’m going to take a print book, a notebook, and a laptop that doesn’t connect to the internet. I have a dream it means I’ll finish my novel. I’ll rush back online to tell you all about it.



Jonathan Pizarro

Queer Llanito writer exiled in London. Entre dos aguas. Fiction in Untitled:Voices, Fruit Journal & Emerge Literary Journal. Twitter: @JSPZRO