Solitude

“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.

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44 comments on “Solitude

  1. skirnirh says:

    Weird that you seem to imply that only artist types want solitariness on occasion. Many of us try to keep busy and avoid being solitary or lonely, but most of us need some such time. You should see any cashier when they get off work. They want some silence, some aloneness. My husband is a computer geek and not at all an artist and he has to have his alone time. Human beings all need alone time, even if they try and avoid it.

  2. M T McGuire says:

    I am not sure what comes first. Is it that feeling of not quite fitting in that turns us to art? Or is it the art that turns us into misfits. I don’t know but I absolutely get everything you say here.

    Cheers

    MTM

  3. Cheryl says:

    I often feel like no one understands me. Then I read one of your posts.

  4. “Also, I lost the damn remote control.”

    …(:

  5. Wow..this is beautiful! :) I can relate to it very much

  6. Teela Hart says:

    Once again your words depict a beautiful portrait of….me.

  7. a1000reasons says:

    I can connect with your description and explanation of solitude as I spent my childhood in even lonelier environment. And this affected my personality, nature and outlook of Life. Once you have developed the taste for solitude whether you are an artist or not, you will forever return to savour it every now and then even if you succeeded in not letting it control your life. However, I have a different opinion about great work having little empathy with how we feel toward others. It is on the contrary, I feel. I agree though great work extract a lot from the author as he dredge his depth to reveal it to the world and much of it are about great suffering. If he did not suffer along with his characters, how can he convince the reader of the honesty of the emotions? It is because of this empathy that an author suffers so in producing his arts not the lack of it. My humble opinion.

  8. Perhaps some of us area just ahead of schedule…and so we create, while the rest of the world is still learning to be comfortable in the silence.

  9. annandmeg says:

    Your photograph is lovely and your thoughts quite poignant. It seems to me that many of us live large parts of our lives alone. While being alone did not come easily to me, I now find that I need time alone to feel complete. I am certainly no artist. There are many reasons people choose to spend time alone. But as one who has watched your blog, I am interested in your journey. The beauty with which you express yourself adds to the experience.

  10. I have always had that feeling of not quite fitting in, of preferring my own company, but I would never call myself an artist and up until this past fall, would’ve sworn I wasn’t at all creative.

  11. Contemplation of a boy! You’re just beyond your years….

  12. crossnclove says:

    Being alone becomes necessary. I spent a lot of my teenage years and early adulthood alone. It got to a point where I needed to be alone and sought no contact with anyone. Then it became the lifestyle. Now, I am in my late 30s and am working through anxieties about socializing. I am a photographer now, so dealing with people is a necessity. Still, there are times I crave my “alone time”

  13. monicasnad says:

    i wanted to be unique, i wanted to be great .
    me too :)
    i like your write :)

  14. I don’t feel alone when I’m writing. I feel like I’m in another world; traveling, adventuring, communing. But I do sometimes go out to write in a crowd. :)
    Nice post.

  15. Loneliness and solitude are two different states of being alone. As an artist I frolic in my solitude. It’s my safe haven of creation.

  16. papercurves says:

    I know I seek solitude very often myself, but you’re right about people not wanting to be alone. For me, there is a very huge difference between being alone and being lonely. I can be alone in my room and not feel lonely at all, but then feel overwhelmingly lonely in a room full of people. Strange the way that works.

  17. kgbethlehem says:

    nice…
    i always enjoy long quiet moments over a period of months.

  18. Brett Dollar says:

    Being alone is the curse we take on as writers, artists and musicians, simply because our egos make us believe we have insight that no one else does.

  19. Solitude is vital and is the opposite to loneliness. I have loved solitude since I was born.

  20. Sona Rulz says:

    my place on this earth is just for entertainment :)
    I live for none.. yet people bank upon me sometimes… dunno y ??? :( :P

  21. stump3d says:

    I’m no artist or writer yet I used to take pride in my solitude. It wasn’t something that I dreamed of for myself but I took comfort in it. But solitude has already turned to loneliness for me, I must admit. I feel so disconnected now from the world that I’ve become socially awkward. I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of good and bad experiences because of this distance that I created, slowly being swallowed by virtual and imaginary worlds. I’m trying to reconnect, though. :)

  22. Peter Nena says:

    A writer’s mind is constantly busy, analyzing ideas, themes, plots, characters, etc. Though alone most of the time, that crushing, overwhelming sense of desperate solitude does not affect him. If need be, he might converse with his characters! And even manage a hearty, belly-shaking, rib-cracking laughter. A writer is a happy person. If saddened, or distressed, he should project that feeling upon one of his characters, and then create a more brilliant, optimistic, hilarious hero out of him or her, one who solves all problems, defies abhorrent temptations and is loved by most, if not all. For a writer of fiction, everything is a story, can be turned into a story, and no situation is ever that bad.

  23. Luann says:

    Growing up painfully shy meant I had to work at learning social skills. It took years, but now I feel I can hold a conversation and survive the effort. Granted, it gets a little easier each time. But sometimes I wonder if solitude is my comfort zone, or am I really happy with my solitude?

  24. cinderally says:

    Solitude is liberating, but loneliness is crushing. And they are only a hair’s breadth apart.

  25. Silence is the key. Creativity can’t take hold without solitude. Well done, Christian. I like your perspective!

  26. Flore Leng says:

    I used to be very busy with my work and meeting with friends but later I realized that I need sometime to be alone and think about what I want to do and improve myself to be a better person.

  27. LAMarcom says:

    “We write and with every story we finish we lose a bit of our soul.”
    Too true.
    Wonderful post.
    Thank you.

  28. jasondave says:

    i am most productive, creative and sharpest to do personal thinking and doing house chores late nights up to dawn. this is because the surroundings is quiet and there are no noise and happenings around that can distract me.

  29. simon7banks says:

    As a matter of biology and palaeontology, we clearly evolved as social animals, but small group social animals, not herd animals. That can perhaps explain how strangely humans can behave when they get into crowds.

    In our early days as a species, individuals will often have been alone. Still three hundred years ago, say, that will have been a common experience, for example as someone travelled a lonely road to market.

    It’s unusual now except for lonely people in single accommodation and people who seek solitude, like some hill-walkers and fishermen as well as religious contemplatives. Even if physically you’re alone, you have your smartphone. You say most people can’t stand being in silence for long periods – but how many have really tried it? It’s like swimming: it looks daunting before you try it, and when you start to try it’s easy to panic, but actually it’s easy enough – unless you’re running from something that may catch up in the silence.

  30. ccfordwords says:

    I love this. It is so true! Your mind is one of the most interesting places to visit, that is if your willing to make the trip and explore. It does often require solitude but I’m almost certain your never really alone ;)

  31. There are certain personalities that recharge only when alone. Other personalities seem to energize only with other people.
    For me, time alone in prayer directs my path and energizes me. God is very real for me at those moments. And being with others often gives me a feeling of purpose, and great enjoyment, and if nothing else; laughter is good for the soul!

  32. 76pete67 says:

    This was amazing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on being alone.

  33. naomimgruer says:

    I am extroverted and social, but also need silence and solitude to let me characters come to life. Your view on writing is definitely something to think about.

  34. Internet addition, hallow relationships, and short attention spans caused by being “connected” 24/7. Technology like iphones that entertaining people with all their apps are destroying the soul and the solitude of writers and the culture. What you worship is what you become.

  35. Beautifully expressed Cristian! I particularly like, ‘because of that we want to write something beautiful, just so it’s worth paying the price.’ Every post you put up has a bit of yourself embedded in it so it is indeed a price you’ve (or any artist has) paid towards the piece. Thank you!

  36. digiriki says:

    Been feeling like a hermit lately and just wanted to sit at a cafe and write (and read)–like I am doing now. Thanks for this thoughtful piece. I can relate.

  37. “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…” This is so relateable! Sometimes all I really want to do is lock myself in my room and dream up stories to tell. But every story has other charcacters and to build them you do need to get out into the world and live a little in my humble opinion.

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