It’s Grandpere’s fault, really. He was the one pouring the wine, conversing about religion and attempting to share his wisdom; he was the one who confuddled my mind with his counterintuitive beliefs and suggested that I read Jung. Jung, whose name I daren’t pronounce because my tongue fights my brain, and it always comes out wrong. It took some time, but eventually, when I was living in Chile, I did read The Essential Jung: Selected Writings and I knew Grandpere had been right.
Such individuals as Jung, who wrote some time ago and whose thoughts are often bound in the language of their field, a field which has developed since they were writing, can be a bit tricky to read. But the book I read was compiled and introduced by Anthony Storr, who made Jung’s writings accessible, giving a context for the development of the idea, an explanation amid the confusion, and holding out a guiding hand so that one was never lost for long.
Hence, when I came across his book, Solitude, I recognized the name Anthony Storr. I didn’t hesitate to make the purchase. It, after all, promised to provoke thought, or that seductive act of thinking, the peeling back, the scrying in the mirror, the steady pondering, the feeling of achieving insight without doing anything or going anywhere. In other words, his was a book written to cater to that need I have, which Grandpere recognized in me, to build complexity within my mind.
As much as being a book about solitude, it was a book about creativity. Imagination, that most precious gift, flows in the space of solitude. Precious, and dangerous. We also fear our imaginations. So frequently do they get carried away and led us into fantasies we should not give credence, and so well they hook us, pull us deep; they tangle our emotions and create a font of uncertainty, where reality and experience blur with dream. Anxieties feed on imagined fears: the preoccupation that someone we care about might judge us as lesser than we would like; that our actions may be seen as quirks; that we may be being tolerated rather than loved; that somehow a minute mistake, like the flap of a butterfly’s wing, might lead to the crumbling of our walls.
We take reality and believe it as fragile as imagination.
But to imagine can be to heal, to believe in a possibility which is beyond the current circumstance, to realize that each moment is transient, that it too will pass, to see that everything around us continues to evolve, to change, to come and go and that there is hope. Storr frequently refers to creatives, who drew sustenance from their solitude, who turned away from the crowd and into themselves to find the order they could not find elsewhere. How frightening, perhaps?
I can hear it sometimes in people’s voices, the urge to connect, to communicate and envelop myself within society. And this makes me laugh. I wonder what terrible thing will happen by my not speaking to a soul for a few hours. Maybe I will disintegrate? I laugh because I do not think myself shy, and although I can come across as sometimes unsure, this is more frequently because I am slow adjusting to a new culture or the dynamics of a varied social group, or the speed of the language flowing back and forth that hits me like a jet.
There are many people who are afraid of striking up conversations, concerned that they might be rejected in some form, or cross an invisible social line they cannot see. They become paralysed in their seats, uncertain of how to introduce themselves. Filled with adrenaline, they might rush through the preliminaries and stumble into silence. All of this is true for me. I might ask the wrong question. I might mispronounce a name. I might give off the wrong impression. Or maybe interrupt something I shouldn’t. Away from the English world, I start sentences I cannot end and fail to understand the answers to the questions I ask.
Thankfully, I don’t seem to care very much. I love people. I love my friends, my family, the students who fill my days with their entertaining conversation, the chap in the grocery store who is teaching me the names of the vegetables, the waitress in the café who insists there are better things than croissants, the Senegalese woman who asks for my money, but shows more gratitude for my asking where she calls home than the coin I give. I love a life full of people, full of conversation. But I also love solitude.
I love reading books which tear at the heart, composing sentences of my own, placing words together and weaving a line. I love listening to classical music I don’t understand and wandering unknown streets. I love sitting on park benches painting in my sketchbook and time alone in a café, notebook in hand, taking the time to reflect and compose my life so that it’s the life I want to lead.
I love solitude, and I need solitude, and with solitude in my life, I feel more loving.
Anthony Storr wrote a long book. He talked about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and Isaac Newton and Henry James. But he ended with the idea that:
The happiest lives are probably those in which neither interpersonal relationships nor impersonal interests are idealized as the only way to salvation.Solitude, Anthony Storr
I cherish both, but to build the skills I want to build, I need the concentration and the space that solitude provides. I need the freedom to go deep, to focus free from everyday distraction. And then I’ll pour that glass of wine, rustle up a meal to share, and with laughter and joy be that social being I also am.