14 April

Solitude. I Love To Be Alone. A Strength And A Blessing

by Jon Katz

“Let me tell you this,” wrote Jodi Picoult in My Sister’s Keeper, “if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.”

There is some truth to that, at least for me.

I have tried many times to blend into the world before, and people almost always disappointed me. I suppose I must have disappointed them.

I have seen this as my failing, not theirs, but I don’t share Picoult’s bleakness about being a loner.

I do enjoy it.

It’s my natural place, and it took me many long and sometimes difficult years to come to terms with it.  It’s a good and peaceful place for me to be. I am never lonely.

I’m afraid I don’t write well about my love of solitude; people seem to think I am sorry for it and pining for more people in my life.

“I’m so happy for you meeting Moise,” wrote one reader, “I know how you are so eager for a male friend.” I realized I had once again failed to express myself well. The Amish do not make friends like the “English” do.

I love my time with Moise, we have a real connection, but the Amish don’t do buddies, and that is not something I seek or need from him.

I have everything I have ever wanted or needed.

I care for myself.

The more solitary, more friendless, the more unsustained I am, wrote Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre, the more we respect ourselves.

The last thing in the world I crave now in my life is another male friend; I’m done with that; men have disappointed me more than anything else in my life. I’m finished with them.

It is important to remember that there are many good men who do many good things. I know that.

But men are also victim makers, too many do harm to people, their families, the earth.

A good friend, a man I valued and loved and did good work with, was recently arrested for having sex with a child.

This broke my heart. I have no more energy to figure out why men do what men do.

My best friend when I worked in television, was a decent,  honest, and empathetic man.

He set fire to his life a couple of years ago when the women working for him came forth and told how he would expose himself when they came into his office to meet with him and after he closed the door.

And how he sexually harassed them again and again. Everywhere he went, he left victims behind, innocent people who trusted him.

I hear awful stories from every woman I know about men.

There is nothing left of my TV friend’s good life. His wife is gone, his children are gone,  his house is gone, his work is gone. He’s a night security guard at a rich condo in New York City.

Why do men so willingly sacrifice themselves to harm others for their own selfish pleasures? Why do they so rarely see that it’s wrong and an awful price for them and others to pay?

I had a friend I loved very much who visited with me one weekend and then went home to his wife and hung himself in a tree behind the house, so everyone could see him hanging there and swinging in the wind.

My heart breaks for men; I look in horror at the men who seek political power and use it to club innocent people into the ground and preach cruelty and hatred.

So many men are broken to me, the list of people who hate them seems to grow and grow until it seems the earth will open up and suck all of them into a giant sinkhole.

It is lonely being a man sometimes, I will admit to that. But it is simpler than being around men or becoming their victims.

I think the world is nearly done with men; I am done with men. I do not despise men; my heart breaks for them. I want to cry for them. So many are lost, closed, angry.

Sometimes I am so disheartened and wary of what men do, I have to find a way to be alone.

Tonight, Maria, exhausted from her belly dancing class, went to bed early.

I was glad. I needed to be alone tonight.

We talked all through dinner, and then she just ran out of energy. I did the dishes, let the dogs out, cleaned up the kitchen. I cherish my time with Maria, but I needed to be alone tonight, and I think she sensed.

I wrote this piece, turned off the computer, and went into the living room, still and peaceful.

I am grateful for solitude tonight. My mind works much better sometimes when I don’t have to speak to anyone or listen to anyone or be pitied by anyone.

I poured myself a rare Scotch – two fingers and two ice cubes – and chased Bud out of my chair and sat down with the New Philip Roth biography Philip Roth – 900 pages – by Blake Bailey, a book I loved from the first page.

It seems a narrative masterpiece, the study of a master writer and a brilliant but deeply troubled man—a loner from beginning to end.

Thoreau, another loner, wrote in Walden (I  have a stack of loner books on the shelf right next to me)  that he found it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.

“To be in company, even with the best, is soon worrisome and dissipating,” he wrote in Walden. “I love to be alone. I never found that companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

I did find my companion. She has also been hurt by men.

I am fortunate.

Maria is as companionable to me as solitude, but even then, I sometimes sink when I pay attention and learn of the destructive and hurtful ways of men – and women –  and need solitude to wash away the sadness.

Solitude gives birth to the original in me, to a kind of poetry I can’t access in the company of people.

Thomas Mann writes that solitude also gives birth to the opposite, the perverse, the illicit, the absurd. Yin and yang, yin and yang, nothing is simple or completely clear.

It isn’t like humans to be happy and bright and hopeful all of the time. Solitude is cleansing, like flushing the soul’s toilet.

We all find our own ways to let it pass through us; it always does pass through.

If it isn’t in human nature to be happy all the time, neither is it in our nature to be unhappy all the time.

Tonight, I’ll cleanse myself of this uncharacteristic but somehow sweet melancholy with a glass of Scotch, a powerful story of a tormented genius, and music of contemplation from my new and wonderful Primephonic App, Music For Contemplation – Schubert, Mozart, Bach.

Good company late at night.

I’ll read and listen until I fall asleep. Sometime around one or two a.m., I’ll pop awake, Zinnia dozing with her head on my feet. I’ll stumble up to the bed and cuddle up with Maria and in the morning will be raring to go, to face the day and rejoin the world.

My brooding ends with the first light, it and the birdsong pull me right out of myself. Zinnie crawls up on the bed to lick my check or failing that, my leg.

Dogs make good friends, but I need more human connections in my life.

The last thing I read before I sit down will be Rainer Maria Rilke’s famous letters to a young poet,  considered by artists to be a sacred work of creativity and inspiration:

Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding, but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

– Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

Off to the living room. Good night to all.

17 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts about solitude and personal reflection. I share your love of being alone and left to my own thoughts. The happiest that I’ve been in years was during the two Spring months last year when France shut down the country. Walking my dog three times a day through empty streets and fields, not having to worry about being run over by frustrated Formula One racers, which is a common affliction shared by many French drivers, was refreshing. And thanks, also, for the literary recommendations; I’ve been happy with all of your suggestions.

  2. “Solitude is cleansing, like flushing the soul’s toilet.” Ok, BEST analogy, EVER!!! I was told by a therapist that I was a “gregarious loner,” and that this is a personality type and is quite normal. I can be with others, interact, and even have a good time and then once my battery is drained by the interaction, I must retreat and recharge. Self-care for a loner!

  3. From one person who cherishes her solitude to another – thank you for this. I’m a shy person who some people would label an introvert or perhaps socially dysfunctional. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize that I mostly just like to be alone. However, one thing I’ve learned is that too much of a good thing can turn bad. What starts out as a pleasant solitary interlude can lead to brooding and loneliness. Sometimes you just need that human connection. I have a husband, two grown kids, a dog and a very good friend. That is enough for me. Above all else, I prefer to spend my time reading without interruption with my dog nearby.

  4. “Solitude gives birth to the original in me, to a kind of poetry I can’t access in the company of people.”

    I’m glad to read this, it reminds me that I will always benefit from my solitude, especially when I do not mistake it for loneliness.

  5. You talk about men disappointing you. But in all fairness I have had women friends who have greatly disappointed me and hurt me. I think being a jerk is an equal opportunity job – men or women.

    1. Thanks, Jean, I hear you, but I can only write about my experience, not yours. In general, and with few exceptions, I have not been disappointed by women. In general and with few exceptions, I have been consistently disappointed by narcissistic, closed-up men incapable of honest communication. I respect your truth.

  6. It’s nice to have a warm ATTUNED being sharing our joys but most of us need solitude. Abt a third of toddlers are shy, withdrawn as a matter of genetic temperament. Adults should respect it.

    As for the b_stard you worke with, if it was _oonves, he was more assaultive than unzipping

    My college biology Prof’ said the female reproductive system is the most complex we have. And males’ are the simplest. If boys were expected to become adults and understand simplicity cant dominate and control the more complex in our society more, and understand we why we let so so many WeinSteins, Moonves, Allens + slide, we’d be better off.

  7. I have never felt the need to be tethered to another human for how many years a marriage or having children would take. This past year was easy, as I was blessed to be an essential worker, and I didn’t miss anyone.

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