Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Loneliness and writing. The silent scream from within.
Thomas Wolfe is quoted as saying: “Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.”
I suspect he's right. Even when you're so in love you can't take a breath without your lover, even when you are holding your first newborn, each of us is always aware we are alone in this universe, that push come to shove, inevitably, it's just us standing there at the end of the day. Oh, I know, sometimes we get so caught up in the day to day necessities of life including feeding, clothing, driving, comforting, mothering, cooking, etc... for others that we don't feel lonely, in fact, we crave time to ourselves, like Eli wanting to take a shower without a three year old. We are not lonely because we are busy and distracted. I suspect humankind stays busy and distracted to fight off the lurking loneliness deep inside, but I'm not a philosopher, so who knows.
Add to this basic premise a job -- a passion -- that requires solitary pursuit and isolation. Think of it this way: if you are a mushroom, you cannot flourish until you seek the deep dark, moist cover of the forest. You cannot be a mushroom on a beach in the bright sunlight. It won't work. If you are a writer, you can't flourish until you embrace the very essence of becoming a story teller. Like a mushroom, you are going to have to go it alone most of the time. You are going to have to take cover under the umbrella of your imagination where the world within becomes more real than the one without. And the more successful you become, the deeper into the forest you'll tend to wander.
This is a pitiful metaphor, I know, but in my head it kind of makes sense.
Recently, another loop I belong to got off onto this topic. It was brought up by a woman who mentioned it in passing, like dipping her toe into a pond to test the temperature of the water. One by one, a few other writers chimed in. I was convinced many of them were at my stage of life -- children gone, long hours alone, multiple contracts, umpteen books under their belts, right in the middle of their careers. But then one of the women emailed me privately. She was in her thirties, two little kids, a husband, etc... and she felt the same things I feel, the same core loneliness, that struggle to fit into your life the people you love, the necessities of keeping life afloat for family, the desire to be a better more present friend, and the needs of writing that take you away from everything else. She is trying to find a way to juggle it all -- and it became clear to me that this is what we all do, one way or another, at different stages of our careers -- we juggle that need to be part of our own life and the need to create fiction -- alone.
No wonder we writers crave conferences where we can momentarily rub shoulders with other people who "get" us. People who mumble under their breath. People who hold conversations in the shower with themselves. People who jot notes in dark theaters and ask the cat what she would do if that creep ran out on her. People who wave their arms as though warning off a rabid dog or make their loved ones assume poses to see just what it would take to overpower a younger, stronger person. Nuts, like us.
As a kid, I used to always feel on the outside looking in. When I had my first baby, I remember thinking I would never be alone again. I soon understood the folly of such a notion and thankfully, let her go, but it was there for awhile and it was such a warm glow. The glow of creation.