“I Still Feel a Very Strong and Positive Pleasure in Being Stranded in Queer Quiet Places.”

“I can recall in my childhood the continuous excitement of long days in which nothing happened;  and an indescribable sense of fullness in large and empty rooms.  And with whatever I retain of childishness…I still feel a very strong and positive pleasure in being stranded in queer quiet places, in neglected corners where nothing happens and anything may happen; in unfashionable hotels, in empty waiting-rooms, or in watering-places out of the season.  It seems as if we needed such places, and sufficient solitude in them, to let certain nameless suggestions soak into us and make a richer soil of the unconscious.”

–G. K. Chesterton, “On the Thrills of Boredom”

I feel exactly the same way. Years ago, my sister and I stayed at a small, shabby motel in the middle of Nebraska, and it gave me the most tremendous sense of excitement. Very odd.

Perhaps relatedly, when I’m trying to calm myself, I often envision places that are usually crowded and busy in their empty, quiet times–an empty parking lot, a deserted Metropolitan Museum.

How about you? Do you love diners in small towns, and the like?

  • Molly

    My mother’s house is fully decorated, and meant for cozying up in fall and winter months. The fabric and decor are always a bit too much for summer months, though the hard wood floors give it a sense of timelessness. Whenever my parents are away or outside and the house is clean and still, I always experience a sense of exhilaration mixed with peace when I walk into their living room during hot summer months. It’s as though time is standing still, and I’m sure that is part of the allure…to stop time, if only for a moment!

  • Mary

    Of walking into my childhood Parish Church when it is empty. Not only is my Lord present in the tabernacle but the quietness and peace is amazingly startling.

    • Debbie Burns

      Empty churches…yes…I like those, too.

  • TJ

    I get a sense of excitement and thrill when I discover the “nooks and crannies” of places, such as hidden cupboards or little used rooms…but, I can’t say that I like being in the places described here (out-of-season places, empty rooms that should be filled with people). Those places make me feel melancholy and lonely. To each their own, I suppose.

    • Alissa Ripley

      I agree TJ! I loved going to my grandparent’s house, my grandma always had hidden ‘treasures’. I do like quiet places, but I am a city-girl, the hum of the freeway is my white-noise sometimes!


  • CAM

    The 20-Mule Team Motel (flea bag got its name from this place) in the middle of the Mojave Desert…stays in my mind as one of the funniest places we’ve ever stayed.

  • A thousand times yes. Thanks for sharing this, because I’ve never read this quote before. I realized while reading your post that this is essentially the feeling that I’m designing my whole life around. Traveling permanently, looking for off-season or not-well-known spots. There’s nothing like the thrill of finding a beautiful place and having it all to myself for a little while.

    I recently drove through US 50 in Nevada, aka “The Loneliest Road in America”. I fell madly in love right away. I hope you don’t mind if I share a photo from the trip.

  • LizCat

    Wow. I didn’t think anyone else felt this way. I’ve definitely had the same motel experience. Also, I’ve always been drawn to small bungalows on flat lawns with either small or no trees, a la Levittown. I have no idea why, as I’ve never lived anywhere like that. For some reason, the thought brings to mind both peace and possibilities. Can’t really explain it beyond that.

  • Debbie Burns

    My husband and I once spent the evening at Dollywood just after Christmas. It was dark, cold and drizzling the rain. We walked hand in hand sipping cocoa looking at the lights and had dinner in the near empty Aunt Granny’s. The park was practically deserted. It was as if we had the whole place to ourselves. I do understand what you mean about the magic of deserted places! Debbie @ ilovemylemonadelife.com

  • peninith1

    An almost empty military airport at Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico, stranded for hours on my way back from a very eventful and exciting deployment to Ecuador. Time to reflect on my first out-of-the-U.S.-experience in a forest of deserted formica topped tables and orange molded plastic chairs at two in the morning. Priceless.

  • Maxi

    I think most people enjoy having a normally busy public place all to themselves, hence the high price put on ‘private’ tours. Often being in a special but crowded place mutes its message and dissipates its power and energy and especially its magic.

    If I can get to a place like that super early or stay late and have it all to myself, it feels entirely different. I can let my imagination soar, imagine living there, feel what those who did might have felt, put myself into another era, hear other voices… instead of just being a ‘tourist’.

  • Jill Shelley

    UntilI read your post, I thought I was the only one who felt this way. As part of relaxing, I often picture myself in a normally very busy store but I am the only one there. I’ve had this technique ever since I was a young girl. Works for me. Don’t know why.

  • Karen

    This reminds me of when I read “The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler when I was a child. I loved the idea of living in the museum after everyone had gone for the day!

  • Evji108

    To me the point of CK Chesterson’s deep pleasure in large and empty, boring places, was that it was there he was able to be most in touch with his inner quiet place of deep bliss, without distractions. If you are not in touch with that quiet centered place, then those kind of places will seem sad lonely and melancholy.

    • TJ

      I would have to disagree with you there. I do think that it’s important to find quiet places of solitude to reflect and think, but this can be in a quiet garden, a park, or even a city space with little people in it. It is specifically these kinds of spaces (where people usually bustle around, especially ones that are usually filled with happy people) that creates a sense of melancholy because they seem “dead,” “devoid of life,” and “abandoned.” At least to me…

  • ScarlettK

    Gretchen, when is your book gonna be made into a movie?

    • gretchenrubin

      No plans right now! One day I hope!

  • Brytt

    I can’t believe someone has put this feeling into words. It never occurred to me to try and explain this because I assumed I wouldn’t be able to articulate it properly. I always thought I was the only person that kind of enjoyed when my plane got stranded at random airports due to poor weather. Really? I get to spend 3 hours wandering around this place. Amazing. Tiny, off the highway diner in the middle of a town that seems to grow an abundance of corn? They ALSO have terrible coffee and a waitress named Lynette who has drawn on eyebrows? Yes, please! Sign me up. These are real life adventures folks.

  • Basia

    I loved both the quote by G.K. Chesterton and Gretchen’s article. I can relate so much to what they are each saying! I love being alone in beautiful quiet places with nothing to do but reflect on things.

  • PS

    I think that in today’s world we are constantly bombarded by the noise of, sounds, people,and things. I love getting home after a long day of being in the office, public transportation, the noise at the gym, the noisy grocery store, and enjoying the silence of the evening. It lets me recollect myself and my thoughts. I guess I am trying to say this doesn’t have to be a special quiet place that needs to be sought out (not saying I don’t like those sought out places!), sometimes you need to create your own special quiet place.

  • maz

    I always loved parents’ evening at school – when most of the building was quiet and the classrooms and corridors were empty. I love to be in places that are usually teeming with life, but out of hours have a completely different atmosphere. Anywhere deserted that is usually, or used to be, a hive of activity, holds a strange fascination for me.