Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.
The man who is isolated, who is unable to share in the benefits of political association, or has no need to share because he is already self-sufficient, is no part of the polis, and must therefore be either a beast or a god.
If I didn’t have any friends, I would probably be decidedly unhappy—but that doesn’t mean I need to see them that often. I just need to know they are there—and contactable if necessary.
Break glass in case of loneliness!
I think of them surprisingly often—normally through association. For instance, if I see red wine, I often think of my school friend, Anthony du Vivier—perhaps the most charming man I know—who once commented when we were young men and primarily focused on the opposite sex (as opposed to old men (and primarily focused on the opposite sex): “My dear fellow, the greatest aphrodisiac is a bottle of red wine. Never fails.”
ANTHONY & JUDITH DU VIVIER
Anthony was the best man at my wedding (I’ve been divorced for many years). He really shouldn’t have been because he was ill with a form of Leukemia—which, at the time was normally fatal. He went straight to hospital after the ceremony. There, he nearly died, but the decision was taken to try an experimental drug on him—and it worked. He went on to become a famous skin doctor. He told me he chose to specialize in skin because: “My dear chap, one’s patients rarely die from a skin complaint.”
Anthony speaks like that—in a classic, languid, upper-class English accent. He is a very stylish fellow. Delightful man.
Was he right about red wine? Pretty much in my experience.
When I think about the Vietnam War—which I often do because I’m interested in the military—I often think of retired LTC Greg Wilcox, a truly delightful human being who was not only severely wounded there, but went back for a third tour. He is a brave man—and a good friend.
Do I have enough friends? I have enough for my own needs. I have no idea how many one should have—nor do I think much about the matter. Is there a standard? What an appalling thought. I know that I have the capacity to make friends if need be—and I know I need a great deal of solitude.
The strange thing about solitude is the degree to which it is resented. People, who need the reassurance of the company of other people (which seems to be most of us) tend to become querulous to the point of becoming downright angry when the subject comes up.
This is what Maria Popova says about that tendency.
The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance not only to romance but to all human bonds – even Emerson, perhaps the most eloquent champion of friendship in the English language, lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude, the very state that enabled him to produce his enduring essays and journals. And yet that choice is one our culture treats with equal parts apprehension and contempt, particularly in our age of fetishistic connectivity. Hemingway's famous assertion that solitude is essential for creative work is perhaps so oft-cited precisely because it is so radical and unnerving in its proposition.
A friend recently relayed an illustrative anecdote: One evening during a short retreat in Mexico by herself, she entered the local restaurant and asked to be seated. Upon realizing she was to dine alone, the waitstaff escorted her to the back with a blend of puzzlement and pity, so as not to dilute the resort's carefully engineered illusory landscape of coupled bliss. (It's worth noting that this unsettling incident, which is as much about the stigma of being single as about the profound failure to honor the art of being alone, is one women are still far more likely to confront than men; some live to tell about it.)
I don’t know why so many people seem to resent those of us who like solitude. I can but theorize. Part of it, I’m sure, has to do with a sense of not being needed—or being rejected. But there seems to be more to it than that. It is almost as if the solitary person awakens some kind of primal fear in one’s more social peers.
But, does solitude mean that you are lonely?
No. This doesn’t mean that those of us who value solitude never get lonely—but more that one condition does not depend on the other. It is also my experience that you never feel more lonely than in incompatible company.
I need solitude for both practical and emotional reasons.
- Writing requires absolute focus.
- Reading is a solitary occupation.
- Researching by way of the internet is essentially a solitary business.
- People are innately distracting.
- People are socially needy. I enjoy the freedom from such pressure that solitude brings.
- I need and like to be alone for extended periods. It is the nature of this particular beast.
I’m virtually never lonely when I’m writing. Why would I be? I’m doing something which totally occupies my mind—and which I absolutely adore. Also, even though other people are not physically present, they are very much present in my mind. In that sense, writing is very much a social activity—even if some of the company you keep is fictional.
In truth, I need people as much as anyone. They just don’t have to be real people—or, if they are (my friends, my readers) they just don’t have to be physically present. But I love nothing more than going out to dinner with friends. I’m not a recluse. I’m quite social. But, I compartmentalize.
You might well understand why I’m not lonely during my working day, but what about about the evenings? Well, that’s a valid point, but the reality is that I work a long day, have an active mind, and seem to be remarkably self sufficient. Also, I don’t necessarily stop writing even when I cease physically. Writing is really a 24/7 activity. You subconscious continues to squirrel away even when you are dead to the world. Most convenient.
Nonetheless, I have given serious thought to sharing my life again—and quite possibly will. I miss that special intimacy that comes from being with a woman you love. Besides that, generally speaking I enjoy the company of women. As I have stated many times before, I think they/you are smarter than we males—and you are almost always better communicators. And then there is sex—a very good thing (not that you have to live with someone to have plenty of sex—but it doesn’t hurt).
But, I will continue to need solitude.
I think I’ll let Charles Bukowski have the last word. I don’t agree with everything he writes, but he has a magnificent anger—and, in essence, the man gets it.
“I've never been lonely. I've been in a room -- I've felt suicidal. I've been depressed. I've felt awful -- awful beyond all -- but I never felt that one other person could enter that room and cure what was bothering me...or that any number of people could enter that room. In other words, loneliness is something I've never been bothered with because I've always had this terrible itch for solitude. It's being at a party, or at a stadium full of people cheering for something, that I might feel loneliness. I'll quote Ibsen, "The strongest men are the most alone." I've never thought, "Well, some beautiful blonde will come in here and give me a fuck-job, rub my balls, and I'll feel good." No, that won't help. You know the typical crowd, "Wow, it's Friday night, what are you going to do? Just sit there?" Well, yeah. Because there's nothing out there. It's stupidity. Stupid people mingling with stupid people. Let them stupidify themselves. I've never been bothered with the need to rush out into the night. I hid in bars, because I didn't want to hide in factories. That's all. Sorry for all the millions, but I've never been lonely. I like myself. I'm the best form of entertainment I have. Let's drink more wine!”
You know I’m far from sure about the beautiful blond bit—I’ll have to do some research on the matter—but he is absolutely right about: “Let’s drink more wine.”