Thursday, September 03, 2009

Solitude

I was reading an article about Thornton Wilder the other day, about the break from fame he wished to take so he could "refresh the wells by getting away from it all in some quiet place." ("The Great Escape" by Tom Miller; Smithsonian Magazine July 2009) That break turned into a year and a half in Douglas, Arizona, a town where he mingled with the locals who had no idea who he was and where he spent time alone reading and writing. Out of this "time off" he regained his "literary voice" and wrote the beginnings of a manuscript that would become a best seller and win the National Book Award.

Wilder's nephew, Tappan Wilder, is quoted as saying that he hoped for "solitude without loneliness." This phrase caught my eye, because it is very similar to one I have employed for years in my own quest for healing and rejuvenating solitude. My term sounds a bit more extreme to my ears. I've called it self-imposed isolation: the ability to shut others out when necessary, but for them to be there when I need them. A few times I discovered my isolation in force whether I wanted it or not. I remember one move where I was dreading the expected newcomer greetings from the neighborhood - I wanted my privacy. When no one showed up to greet me, I couldn't believe it - I had my privacy, not on my terms but because others had no interest in getting to know me. This is solitude with loneliness, something I hadn't considered before, and I didn't like it. It really is necessary to be able to tap back into life, no matter how much we think we want to be alone.

It's a tricky thing to balance, this need for solitude and contact with the world. Many people simply do not understand my need for so much time alone, have always made me feel abnormal for exhibiting what can be misunderstood as anti-social behavior. They assume that spending time alone is the same as being lonely (which is not to say I never get lonely, just that being one does not automatically lead to the other). I think they sometimes feel sorry for me, think they need to "fix me up" with someone to "solve my problems." They can't conceive that I could be happy living such a solitary life. They can't figure out how I fill the hours. I can't begin to do and read and create all I would like to in the hours I have. Someone recently asked me if I ever have any spare time. I suppose I could make spare time, but frankly, I have no trouble filling every hour of the day, so spare time is a bit of a foreign concept right now.

So it is affirming to run across yet another instance of a creative soul acknowledging the need to get away and experiencing such positive results from it. As the author concludes near the end of the article, "Who among us doesn't seek a hideaway, a place without distractions, a neutral space in which to do whatever it is that nurtures us - solitude without loneliness?" Who indeed? That is the person to feel sorry for.

7 comments:

Felicity said...

Yet another post, Sheila, where you write what I might have written! I haven't gone out of my way to look for friends here, and I think my life is a lot less stressful for it. I was thinking only this week how about 90% of the friends I've made have turned out to be 'frenemies'. Of the people I've met here who could be friends, they have all told me I 'should' do this or that, should go here or there! Like those people trying to 'fix you up' it's people imposing on you and not accepting you for who you are. Give me solitude any day!

lisette said...

oh i get desperate for solitude sometimes! those times when you feel annihilated by the demands of interacting with people.

i can't create without solitude.

thanks for such a thoughtful post :) (i came here via westcountrybuddha)

The Idaho Beauty said...

Felicity - I often wonder if you and I would be best buds if we could interact in person. There's a bit of safety in cyber friends, isn't there? I think our interests are just varied enough and our general views close enough that we would enjoy each other's company, throwing up a huge barrier against all frenemies!

Lisette - thanks for checking out my blog. Westcountrybuddha is another cyber friend I think would make a grand real friend if only she didn't live waaaayyyy over yonder. It is not puzzling that negative or even neutral interaction with people would be draining, but I DO find it puzzling when positive interaction also makes me shutter myself for a few days to recuperate. The best thing that happened was when I stopped feeling weird or guilty for having to do that. And although I enjoy getting together with one or a few people to sew on occasion, I really do need solitude to work out the best stuff.

bj parady said...

bit behind in reading, so just read this post today. Wow. You expressed what I feel often, quite well. Thanks. Thanks, too for the Wilder story. One advantage of internet buddies is you can choose when to interact. And you can wear jammies while doing it.

The Idaho Beauty said...

...and you don't have to wake them up in the middle of the night to say your piece, bj! Comments always welcome no matter when they come.

The WestCountryBuddha said...

Well, it's fortunate that you don't mind late comments, because I've come to this posting via a google search for something completely different, and I've read your comment with a warm glow! Aw, that's so wonderful Sheila as I'm sure we'd be good friends too. Perhaps when they finally invent the ability to "beam" people up a la Star Trek, we might eventually say hello face to face. Until then, I'll stay in my pyjamas and use the internet!! x

The Idaho Beauty said...

Ah, WestCountryBuddha! I'm so glad you agree. How interesting that you would stumble upon the post while googling for something different. Gives me hope that my mutterings don't just waste away down the internet tubes...

How many times have I joked about how wonderful it would be to be transported directly to wherever I had to go. Or would I end up being like Dr McCoy, distrustful of the technology? It certainly would solve the problem of interacting with cyberfriends other than in cyberspace. But then, we'd have to get dressed and comb our hair...lol