“Solitude is an Anglo Saxon concept.”
This is the first line of a short story by Lucia Berlin, an American writer whose genius was only discovered posthumously. Reading her semi-autobiographical tales this summer was a timely reminder that a good life can be non-linear, messy, challenging, and unconventional; that the richest, most impactful lives often are. I highly recommend familarising yourself with her work.
I digress. Like all great writing, this short sentence sliced straight through my cerebral cortex (The Paris Review accurately describes Berlin as a ‘master of the fragment.’) Solitude is often on my mind: It’s something I have spent a lot of my life both considering and actively practicing – almost always on the supposition that it’s a valuable pursuit for creative professionals, and human beings in general. I'm far from a misanthrope but I do need to be alone on a regular basis in order to collect myself, reflect, and of course, write. I’m baffled by people who never seem to do the same. When do they find time to think?!
Recently, though, I’ve been reevaluating how much time alone is essential for a fulfilled and fruitful creative life – and to what extent solitude is indeed ‘an Anglo Saxon concept’. I’m still organising my thoughts on this - and reformulating them in real time, as the conditions of my own solitude, or lack thereof, have recently changed - so I’ll wait to share them here.
In the meantime, here are some collected thoughts that have resonated in the past.
Wishing you a peaceful week.
"Here, in my solitude, I have the feeling that I contain too much humanity."
- Ingmar Bergman
"But your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths....
What is happening in your innermost self is worthy of your entire love; somehow you must find a way to work at it, and not lose too much time or too much courage in clarifying your attitude toward people…"
- Rainer Maria Rilke
"True action, good and radiant action, my friends, does not spring from activity, from busy bustling, it does not spring from industrious hammering. It grows in the solitude of the mountains, it grows on the summits where silence and danger dwell. It grows out of the suffering which you have not yet learned to suffer."
- Herman Hesse
"Human beings are creatures of belonging, though they may come to that sense of belonging only through long periods of exile and loneliness. Interestingly, we belong to life as much through our sense that it is all impossible, as we do through the sense that we will accomplish everything we have set out to do. This sense of belonging and not belonging is lived out by most people through three principal dynamics: first, through relationship to other people and other living things (particularly and very personally, to one other living, breathing person in relationship or marriage); second, through work; and third, through an understanding of what it means to be themselves, discrete individuals alive and seemingly separate from everyone and everything else."
- David Whyte
"True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives."
- Wendell Berry