“Alone, even doing nothing, you do not waste your time. You do, almost always, in company. No encounter with yourself can be altogether sterile. Something necessarily emerges, even if only the hope of some day meeting yourself again.” – Emil Cioran
It’s my honest belief that people aren’t built to be alone. Most people can’t stand silence. The world grows noisier and faster every day. We rarely stop and look around, we rarely try to spend time alone, to figure things out for ourselves.
“Why?” is the one question that makes us more human than any other, and we’ve stopped asking it. We don’t care.
But artists are different. When I was a kid, every month or so, I caught a cold. I was weak, skinny, anemic, and was blessed with a bunch of chronic illnesses. I didn’t spend much time outside, playing with other kids my age. For a long time, my whole universe contained just my house. Looking back at all those years, it seems sad. The cold perspective, the stranger observing someone else’s life. But it wasn’t.
As a kid, life is often simple. I played with my toys, making up stories. I read books, tried to learn so many different things that I could talk to an adult as equals. It was fun, actually. But I also spent a lot of time alone, in silence. But my mind was never quiet.
Solitude grants you this bizarre freedom, filling your mind with questions and answers and noise and stories. I spent a lot of time building the life I was going to have. I spent more time some place else than my body. This filled my soul with bitter hope and fear. Not fear that my dreams would never come true, but fear that they would come true and turn out to be different than I had expected.
I wanted to be unique, I wanted to be great.
And the more I drowned in solitude, the more I needed it, the more I desired it.
Solitude changes a man. Or a kid. It makes him weary to go out into the world, to experience life. The world outside his window can never be as beautiful as the one inside his head.
I believe that this desire for solitude is the highest price an artist has to pay. Because you, as a writer, singer, painter, never stop being alone. Not even in the most crowded of places. A part of your mind is always some place else, contemplating the possibility of a different life. The artist’s mind lives as much in the present as it does in the future and the past.
To paraphrase Andy Warhol, sometimes I feel as if I’m watching TV. My life is not my own. I don’t know who the people in my life are, and they don’t know me. I’m just an observer. Also, I lost the damn remote control.
Around the age of 16 I gave up on writing. I just couldn’t handle the silence anymore. I wanted to live. And I did. It worked for a while, but I always got this sense the the louder the world around me got, the more people I met, the less everything around me felt real.
I had paid the price and there was no going back.
Think of it as soul selling. You know, Robert Johnson, Niccolo Paganini, sort of things. A stranger in the night offering to give you what you want most.
If you want to be an artist, if you want it more than anything else in the world, then you have to spend a lot of time alone. Writing is one of the loneliest of jobs. But so is singing, so is painting. Yeah, you get your crowd of crazed fans, but can they relate to you, can they understand you?
So you want to be a writer. And you start writing. If you do this often, if you spend a lot of time writing, you’ll also spend a lot of time all by yourself.
I know that a lot of you are not going to agree with the following statement. I have always felt that all great writing has close to nothing to do with the empathy we feel towards others. We write and with every story we finish we lose a bit of our soul. And because of that we want to write something beautiful, just so it’s worth paying the price. Because fame, glory, money don’t really matter when you stop feeling alive, when your mind is always some place else.
All great stories are about what will never be. Odes dedicated to the great tragedy of losing who you are among so many different futures, dreams, aspirations. Our characters are not only who we are, but also who we wished to be. Once, if the world had been different.
John Steinbeck once said, “All great and precious things are lonely.”
And only in that solitude can we properly appreciate a piece of art. Reading a book, listening to a song, staring at a painting, all demand that you shut out the rest of the world. A great book almost always demands that of you.
Maybe this is what makes art so important. The link it creates between human beings. Miles and years apart. You get to see inside my head, and I get you to spend a few moments alone, wishing to find out who you are and what’s your place in this world.
We don’t want to be alone, we never do, but some of us have to.