Many writers choose social isolation, a precursor to the feeling of loneliness, to fuel creative endeavors– to enhance their creative expression. Although this self-imposed social isolation, often termed solitude, is simply a lack of contact with people. It’s ironic when I hear the word solitude and think of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, a self imposed exile from man, but a place that would have portals to other experience to enhance Superman’s knowledge of … well … life, the universe, and everything.
We, as writers, maintain a fortress for our writing, our minds flying through different portals of experiences with our characters, research, and plot lines. So, when do we step over the threshold from solitude to loneliness?
When we feel loneliness.
Loneliness can occur for so many reasons, socially, physically, and emotionally: separation of friends and loved ones, temporarily or permanently; being asked to leave a social circle or group; being physically handicapped and not feeling accepted; going through postpartum depression, and especially after surviving a divorce. When a person is so filled with rage or resentment or any feeling to the extreme, isolation can be the outcome.
The existentialist, especially Sartre, believe that loneliness is part of the human condition. After all, we are born alone, walk through life (or stumble) alone, and die alone. Our desires to have meaning in life conflict with the “nothingness” we believe is out there.
Sylvia Plath, a famous Poet who committed suicide in 1963, wrote about her loneliness: “God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of “parties” with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter – they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship – but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”
When we reach the depths of loneliness, soul depth, where what is real or what is imagined no longer matters, where darkness pervades every pour of our bodies, and loneliness eats away our resolve and resistance. There is no longer meaning in life and our creative juices evaporate. Then loneliness has become deadly.
Virgina Woolf’s phrase “The loneliness, which was for both of them, the truth about things,” (from To the Lighthouse) can be an example of this. One of its meanings could be that loneliness can be lessened through some form of company (that they are not providing for each other), or that (deeply prevalent in Woolf’s psychological constitution) the “I” (alone and lonely) and that “life of mine” (untouched) prevails whether the world exists or not, unchanging. (from the writing of Frank Cioffi by Thomas Basboll)
Loneliness can be transient or chronic, and our reactions to it just as varied. It’s good to stop and check with ourselves every once in a while, to insure that under that self-imposed solitude is not a slow-growing loneliness.
Loneliness and the Writer–Part III, next month.