The art of loneliness


“I am lonely.”

Society has made an assumption that no respectable person could be isolated, a loner, or in seclusion, unless maybe they’ve just moved to a new country, or just faced the loss of a loved one.

Yet, loneliness is an inexorable part in the complex existence of a sensitive, intelligent being. The ideas in the recesses of our mind that are too weird, too shameful, too alarming or merely lacking the capacity to be formed into a comprehensive language to utter or safely share to another- and then we’re faced to choose between acceptability and honesty. Understandably, often the choice is acceptability.

Not to blame others for not being able to focus on who we are, it takes a lot of energy to listen and enter sympathetically into another’s experiences. They may want to meet us, but of course they as well would keep the topic of their own lives at the center of the conversation, and we meet them instead.

It’s no revelation that we must die alone, and that our pain is for us alone to endure. It’s extremely unlikely that one would ever find someone on the same page of the soul and mind as them. Perhaps we appeared on the earth at different times, are separated by experience and language, or just aren’t made of the same……stuff. We wouldn’t come out of the art gallery thinking the same, and looking at the night sky. Just when they want to say something banal about the roads, we might want to say something nihilistic on the experience of sublimity exhorted from a piece of art, or vice versa. We probably won’t meet the people best certified to understand us. But they do exist. Maybe they walked past us on the street one day, or perhaps stood behind us in line for coffee once or twice. Neither of us had the slightest clue for the potential of understanding and connection. Or maybe they died a couple years ago, or were only born yesterday in Peru or perhaps wont be born for another 10 years. It’s absurd. It’s almost comic. Maybe if we just had a lot more luck.

“No one wants to be alone. You just don’t make the effort to meet people.”

There’s a rumination that loneliness is a payment of sorts, to atone for a certain frame of mind. For some the physical desire to be held or kissed is, for a long time, more urgent that the desire for good conversation. So they end up in relationships with people who they don’t say much to, but because perhaps they like the shape of their shoulders or the color of their spectacular eyes.

Goethe, a man who appeared to have had a lot of friends in his life, exploded at an exasperated moment near the end of his life: “No one has ever properly understood me. I had never fully understood anyone. No one understands anyone else.”

Kierkegaard, a man of seclusion and individual choice set in concrete, harsh human reality, wrote in his journals: “People understand me so poorly that they don’t even understand my complaint about them not understanding me.”

Words from both great men, one surrounded by friends and one confined in himself. It isn’t our fault, and mutual incomprehension isn’t a sign of anything wrong, it is honestly somewhat expected from the beginning. But once this loneliness is accepted, we get creative. We can write poetry, as Goethe did, produce books and works as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Hesse did, create visions as Van Gogh did, we can sing, we can create music, create dances, produce diaries, -produce blogs. These activities stem from the acceptance that people around us might not get us, but others, separated by time or space, just might. They are not calculated to make us feel part of the whole- just simply, that we have the capacity to be understood.

Art history is a record of people who couldn’t find a person to talk to, and offer their coded intimacy- a painting from the 1600’s expressing our own political and philosophical idealism, the lyrics of a singer across the ocean in a different language who just described our self hatred, a Greek playwright who died thousands of years ago sharing fart jokes that weren’t funny to others around him but make us laugh today.

Loneliness allows us to have access to our truer selves, our character, our own point of view. For now, one might be in seclusion. But when we finally locate someone to connect with, we’ll be ready.

 “A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke”
― Vincent Van Gogh

11:34PM 2016.11.22

Oil painting by Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890), “Almond Blossom,” Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, February 1890


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