The Art of Loneliness

I’ve been feeling lonely lately, ever since I got back from six weeks in Ireland with my husband. Not that kind of lonely. I have plenty of friends and a family that loves me and lots to do. This is a different kind of lonely, and it took me a while to put a finger on it.

This is the loneliness of the artist, the person who is supposed to revel in sitting in solitude in his/her studio or office producing art. The person who is supposed to be best when left on her own and most productive when held apart from the distractions of a busy world. And it’s true that I need quiet and isolation to produce my writing, but generating art is only one part of being an artist.

See, when we were in Ireland, I was the one who huddled over the maps and brochures trying to figure out what we’d do each day, but when it came down to decisions, I could run them by my husband and he would weigh in. Off we’d go, both determining when it was time to pull over for our picnic lunch or whether we should stop at that tourist site or just keep going. And at the end of the day, we talked over dinner about everything we saw and did, discussing what we learned and what impressed us, and arriving at interesting observations together.

The other day, I saw a group of business people enjoying a meeting over drinks at a coffeehouse. One moment, they were deep in conversation, the next they were laughing. Sometimes they debated, sometimes they nodded in agreement. And I envied them. They were uncovering some sort of important decision together, and all of their input helped to inform their conclusion.

As artists, the decisions often fall on us. And we spend a lot of time going round and round trying to figure out the right direction to take. Sometimes those decisions feel enormous and suggest dire consequences if we are wrong, other times they seem so trivial we wonder why we have to bother.

I love my work. I’m excited about my new projects, but I’m also feeling a little overwhelmed. Wouldn’t it be nice to share the work ahead with someone else? To know he/she could carry part of the burden and share in the joys and sorrows? Oh, I know there are shared workspaces I could join and, yes, it’s true that venting to my writers’ group or artist friends helps.

But the fact is, every day I fall into a blank page, and that’s a pretty lonely place. Until you fill it, of course, with stories or pictures or songs. For an artist, sometimes the only true way around loneliness is to get to work. I know that. But one of my goals this year was to give myself permission to experience whatever emotions I’m feeling and not just push them aside or try to move past them.

What can I learn from this loneliness? What needs to change inside of me or in my external world in order to feel better? Could loneliness, one of the most challenging of human emotions, have a good side?

I found this quote by Henry Rollins, “Loneliness adds beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes night air smell better.”

Okay, loneliness, show me the beauty. You’re in the lead this time.

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