Sunday, February 23, 2020

The case for loneliness

Weekends are all about storms. We've had Ciara, Dennis and now the "not yet named" Ellen which howls around our old house, blowing down through the chimneys and rattling the windows. Out in it, it's refreshing, I suppose, dramatic; bracing is probably the proper British word for it. Thistle found half a muntjac leg and carried it on our three mile circuit. Bean is off with the fairies. I try hard to walk and not check my phone. It's challenging. I surprise myself when we bump into a couple with their yellow lab and little border collie twice. We have a genial chat about the weather, muntjac legs, dogs finding baby rabbits, that kind of thing, and I ponder the idea of loneliness. It's been expressed here many times before in many ways, but I keep coming back to it; how isolation to some extent is necessary for creativity and how being alone is so essential to the artistic process - to simply be quiet with your thoughts instead of being around mindless chatter. And yet too much isolation can make you fragile, brittle, fragmented, disconnected.
"Only connect! … Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer." - EM Forster
My darling man is in Berlin being a bit of a legend, as is his wont. I miss him. But I also rather like being alone.

Today my brother posted a picture of the view from his bedroom window in the Angus Glens. A snowy lawn, bare trees, and the pink sunlight on the hill behind, stark and lonely, but beautiful too. Both of us, it seems, want to live with a certain amount of isolation. I live in a farmhouse down a mile long drive; he lives deep in a Scottish glen, surrounded by sheep and very few humans.  Our childhood days felt this way. I remember us in the woods with dogs, and perhaps ponies. I remember fields where birds sang. I remember games of hide and seek but I don't remember a lot of people. That seemed to be only at night and only for the grown ups. Parentals had jolly dinners, and we would hear the clinking of ice in crystal tumblers filled with gin and tonic, and the gentle, heady smell of cigarettes, peals of laughter wending up the stairs towards our bedrooms. Glamorous women with powder and red lipstick and thick gold bracelets covered in charms marking holidays in the sun. But our days were marked by the quiet. Long, long summer days spent building camps or training dogs to jump like ponies, but not a lot of friends. My mother was Norwegian and I wonder if this added to our isolation...she didn't chat a lot to us, or not that I remember. I remember kindness of course, but not great, long, rigorous conversations.

Olivia Laing discusses loneliness in her books and in this piece about loneliness and art.
"Glass is a persistent symbol of loneliness, and for good reason. Almost as soon as I arrived in the city, I had the sense that I was trapped behind glass. I couldn’t reach out or make contact, and at the same time I felt dangerously exposed, vulnerable to judgment, particularly in situations where being alone felt awkward or wrong, where I was surrounded by couples or groups." - Olivia Laing
And in this wonderful conversation with artist Chantal Joffe. (It's worth listening to if you have time.) I heard it in the car this week when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, and somehow, it put me back on track, because there seemed to be inherent hope in loneliness...somehow that's where the art is brewed.



Marcheline said...

I often ponder loneliness vs. alone-ness. I am 53 years old, and work a job that constantly changes schedules. This means I can't join any social clubs, because more than half the time I won't be able to make the meetings. All my friends (except my husband, who's my best friend) are far away. I don't have even one female friend close enough that I could call and meet up for a cup of tea, or watch a movie with.

Sometimes I tell myself that I'm just a loner. I like it this way, with no one to tell me what to do, or burden me down with their own personal problems.

Sometimes I tell myself that I'm living a life without an important piece - a woman to share my experiences of life with, to give and take good advice with, to laugh until we cry over something only girls would understand.

I definitely feel this loss. But I realize that I have so many blessings in other areas of my life that maybe this one thing, this one thing I so desire, is a symbolic sacrifice. Something I knowingly give up in order to keep the rest.

Somewhere deep down, a small spark of hope lives. A hope that maybe one day someone will move in next door, or across the street. Or maybe I'll bump into her at the grocery store or the post office. Maybe I'll find her lost dog. There are a million ways to meet a friend, but there isn't one single way to make it happen.

So I wait.

Lisa said...

The hardest part of writing a novel, for me, is the part where I'm alone way more than my nature would like.

Hence, writing in coffee shops;). Extroverts need company like most people need water. Do you have a critique group? Or need such a thing?

Unknown said...

Ah yes, the delicate balance of wanting to be alone and not becoming too lonely by isolating oneself.

Anonymous said...

Love this post.

Anonymous said...

IMHO - Having that special connection with someone is important. It provides balance and fills an important need for most of us (maybe not everyone). Susan