Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 26 August 2019
Can you understand being alone so long
you would go out in the middle of the night
and put a bucket into the well
so you could feel something down there
tug at the other end of the rope?
The Abandoned Valley ~ Jack Gilbert
Loneliness. There’s a loaded word for you. What comes up in you when you think about loneliness? Is loneliness sad? Pitiable, even? On the heels of the Creative Vacuum, I could sense loneliness entering the void. This time, rather than beat it back by filling my calendar, I decided to get curious about my internal resistance to loneliness. What if loneliness wasn’t here just to make me feel bad? What if it was actually bearing gifts? After some initial discomfort at this prospect, I decided to open my doors and my heart to loneliness. To court it intentionally.
What I’m saying is: I’ve been having a summer romance with loneliness and he’s just really misunderstood you guys.
The scariest thing about loneliness in my creative life is the (temporary) loss of my collaborative buffer. Now it’s just me. For someone who has been her own harshest critic for the past several decades, that is a daunting proposition. Will I actually allow myself to do the thing? Or will I shut down the idea before I ever let it take a breath? Will I be patient with myself as I attempt something new or will I demand perfection right out of the gate?
Thankfully, at this point, I have acquired enough experience to know it’s worth it and yes, I should follow my creative impulses. Even if it’s just me. Actually especially if it’s just me. Even if there is no one else in the room, self-expression is necessary for my health. Loneliness is helping me minimize the outside input so I can get quiet enough to clarify this core truth for myself.
Because even if there isn’t someone tugging at the other end of the rope, I still want to create. I still want to write and play instruments and sing songs. While I am lucky that I sometimes get to do these things with and for people and feel the adrenaline and energy of live performance, 99% of my creativity happens in my home by myself. And I find immense satisfaction in those practices. If I was afraid of being lonely, would I carve out time for these essential pursuits?
Writer Ursula K. LeGuin said, “As a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your loneliness.” For me, this freedom has allowed me deeper access to the intentions that can drive my creativity. These days, it is so much more apparent to me when I am letting my self-expression fly unfettered versus when I am curating it for approval or, worse, merely grasping for attention. This has carried over into my day-to-day life and, honestly, my friends, the impact has been profound.
What if we embrace loneliness? What if we invite it in instead of deadbolting the door? What if we look to it as a teacher? What might we learn about our desires, our longings, our creative needs? What if we look around and realize it’s just ourselves? What if that’s enough?
We’d love to hear from you. What is your relationship with loneliness? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Til next time,
p.s. Don’t even think for one second that I haven’t been listening to Iron Maiden’s “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” as I write this. Have we met??