On Solitude

solitude

By whatever tripartite cocktail of nature, nurture and culture, it has fallen upon me to be a person who spends a great deal of time alone. This is a necessary condition for a writer of course, our occupational hazard, and one that I have learned to approach with the requisite dosage of amor fati. In the best of times, my solitude spreads itself out before me, inviting me to loll on it like a blanket of infinite possibility, my time to be allotted and dispensed as I see fit. I awake without an alarm, roll from one side of my bed to the other without risk of jostling a grouchy sleeper, and, once fed, clothed and groomed to the liberatingly minimum solitude standard, set about to beckoning the muse by dint of sheer, inspired kinesthetics. I work and write, laugh and cry, putter and pace to the backdrop of the day’s chosen soundtrack, the ideal intermingling of autodidact and anarchist, a dynamo of learning and leavening and sublimated libido.

Then solitude decides to swipe the blanket away, leaving me suspended above the abyss like a Jonathan Edwards-style sinner (a simile I come by honestly, having come of age in post-puritan Connecticut). My two rooms morph into a warren of claustrophobia, my lack of grooming and nutrition into both a reflection of my paralyzed state and a pretext for its perpetuation. Loneliness pervades my body, leaving it a limp, rag doll. Learning and leavening, in a neat one-for-two, become exchanged for languishing. I yearn for company while impressing myself into the labor of keeping it out. I stare in diligent self-hypnosis at the intermittent lights of my computer screen, playing the same song over and over as if skipped records were back in style and cursing Sundays, when they cycle around, with all of the diminished powers at my disposal.

When it comes to sussing us out, solitude is extremely sharp. If we are capable of some feat, it will reveal it to us as if it were the bestower of our own boon. If we are stumbling towards a fall, it will stick out its leg. Solitude is protean, crafty, osmotic, a creator of weather fair and foul in which to clothe itself as friend and foe. Embracing us non-locally with its massless arms, it caresses while stifling, nourishes while depriving. It brooks no rival and gives no quarter.

But I hyperbolize. Wisened by the years, I have learned neither to deflect solitude’s presence by means of manic bouts of Calvanist-seal-of-approval industry (Connecticut again, alas), nor to lie prostrate like a dog before its alpha leader the moment solitude sees fit to bare its existential teeth. As in the proverbial encounter with the bear in the woods, I have trained myself, through years of despair-soaked tenacity and scorched-earth depressions, not to cut and run. The result of such training is he who blogs before you today – if not a paragon of equanimity, then someone who can move into and out of solitude as it is given me to do. Someone who can stare down the bear.

The sun sets at six o’clock on this second-shortest day of the year. Tonight, there will be reading and a movie, moments of contemplation, the joy of thought, another degree added to the arc of my lifespan. Alone.

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2 thoughts on “On Solitude

  1. Here are a few descriptions of solitude, depression, severe depression, however you want to term it, to complement your blog.

    For those who have dwelt in depression’s dark wood…their return from the abyss is not unlike the ascent of the poet, trudging upward and upward out of hell’s black depths and at last emerging into what he saw as “the shining world.” – William Styron, Darkness Visible

    It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self’s most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul.” – David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

    I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me. – Abraham Lincoln

  2. Perhaps it’s the dark, cold days of January in New England, but I keep coming across descriptions of depression. In his 1990 memoir, Darkness Visible, William Styron described his as a “familiar siege: panic and dislocation, and a sense that my thought processes were being engulfed by a toxic and unnamable tide that obliterated any enjoyable response to the living world.”

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