February 19, 2009

A delicate balance

Writing is solitary activity. But does that also make it a lonely one?

Solitude can be a good thing (to borrow a phrase from Martha Stewart):
"The necessary thing is after all but this: solitude, great inner solitude. Going-into-oneself and for hours meeting no one--this one must be able to attain. To be solitary, the way one was solitary as a child, when the grownups went around involved with things that seemed important and big because they themselves looked so busy and because one comprehended nothing of their doings."
--Letters to a Young Poet
Though solitude definitely carries a more positive connotation than loneliness, I can't help thinking that too much time spent in solitude fosters feelings of loneliness. Following this formula, maybe too much time spent writing can make you lonely, too. Nevertheless, it makes for memorable literature:
"A loneliness heavy enough to balance out all the years the two of us had spent together as cousins and good friends echoed between us like the faint strains of a melody. ... We were just walking along talking about silly things, giggling--that was it. And yet no matter how much fun I seemed to be having at the time, sometimes when I think back over my memories all that comes to mind is the blackness of the night and the shadows of telephone poles and garbage cans, things like that, very dark, and the images make me heartsick. When I remember that night now, it seems that's how it really was."
--from Goodbye, Tsugumi
"She tried to recall her father's stories--storms at sea, waves ten, fifteen meters high!--but they rang shallow against what she'd just seen: those dense roaring slabs of water, sky churning overhead like a puddle being mucked with a stick. She was crammed in by a boatload of human bodies, thinking of her father and becoming overwhelmed, slowly, with loneliness."
--from The Boat
Loneliness washes over all of us, but not just anyone can describe it the way these writers can. And I guess that's what distinguishes writers from readers. Readers recognize the feeling, and while writers recognize it too, they can also do more -- describe it to a T, build stories around it, make it into something new and meaningful. Making something from nothing, Eggers calls it.
"This is like making electricity from dirt; it is almost too good to be believed, that we can make beauty from this stuff."
--Dave Eggers, AHWOSG