Wednesday, June 23, 2010

wherein I praise the role of the fundamentally lonely

I have had the loveliest few evenings of solitude lately. Not just my nights but my days. I loved my guests but I am just not used having someone in my space all of the time. I've not called friends, not had B around, just me, books and music. Glorious, glorious solitude. Last night falling asleep I was joyful. My parents tell me that I've always loved being alone. When I was a baby they would come into my nursery in the mornings and I'd be in my crib, silently observing whatever what was going on outside the window. As a child I'd spend hours alone in the backyard. I remember how much I loved to watch ants. I could sit for hours watching the ants move back and forth, completely absorbed in their tiny lives.

This is my favorite passage from Rilke's essay on Worpswede. I typed this out by hand since I can't find it anywhere online, except in German. This is one of the pieces of writing that I turn to again and again.

Children see Nature differently; solitary children in particular, who grow up amongst adults, foregather with her by a kind of likemindedness at one with the happenings of the forest and sky and in innocent, obvious harmony with them. But just because of this, there comes later for youth and maiden that lonely period filled with deep, trembling melancholy, when they feel unutterably forlorn, just at the time of their physical maturing; when they feel that things and events in Nature have no longer, their fellow-men have not yet, any sympathy for them. Spring comes, even when they are sad, the roses bloom, and the nights are full of nightingales, even though they would like to die; and when at last they would smile once more, the autumn days are there, the heavy days of November, which seem to fall without cessation, and on which a long and sunless winter follows. And, on the other hand, they see people, equally strange to them and unconcerned, with their business, their cares, their success and joys, and they do not understand it. And finally, some of them make up their minds and join these people in order to share their work and their fate, to be useful, to be helpful, to serve the enlargement of life somehow, whilst the others, unwilling to leave the Nature they have lost, go in pursuit of her and try now, consciously and by use of their concentrated will, to come as near to her again as they were in their childhood without knowing it. It will be understood that the latter are artists: poets or painters, composers or architects, fundamentally lonely spirits who, in turning to Nature, put the eternal above the transitory, that which is most profoundly based on law above that which is fundamentally ephemeral, and who, since they cannot persuade Nature to concern herself with then, see their task to be the understanding of Nature, so that they may take their place somewhere in her great design. And the whole humanity comes nearer to Nature in these isolated and lonely ones. It is not the least and is, perhaps, the peculiar value of art, that it is the medium in which man and landscape, form and world, meet and find each other. In actuality they live beside one another, scarcely knowing aught of each other, and in the picture, the piece of architecture, the symphony, in a word, in art, they seem to come together in a high, prophetic truth, to rely upon one another, and it is as if, by completing one another, they become that perfect unity, which is the very essence of a work of art.

Fundamentally lonely spirits. Amen. Nothing wrong with that at all. I was having a conversation recently with a friend. We're both good socially, can play well with others and all of that but at heart, we're both misanthropes who prefer solitude. There is nothing wrong with loneliness, nothing at all. I think the best art comes out of it, the absence. The best times I've had in my life were when I was alone, wandering, without friend or family. I found a strength, some deep vein of sustenance that I'm thrilled to know exists.

One last line from the same essay:

They want to see a life, beside them, over them, about them, a life that lives without concerning itself with them.

I like to think Rilke and I would have had some wonderful silences between us.

It was ten years ago now that I was living in Caribbean Mexico for the first time. My lungs were brilliant, I would swim out to the reef every day and dive deep and long to see. I swam with sea turtles, barracuda; I knew how the currents ran and would sometimes let one carry me out because I knew another would bring me back in. That was the summer I met Lorna Dee Cervantes. I remember her calling me La Sirena because of how easily I swam through the water without fins or mask. I can't believe ten years have passed. But, I look at my writing, what I was writing then and what has come since and I'm pretty proud.

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