The Guardian newspaper recently published an article by novelist and short story writer Sara Maitland in which she analyses why, in this era that celebrates individualism, there is simultaneously a fear among so many people about being alone and a social suspicion of those who intentionally choose to live in solitude.
Maitland’s arguments resonate with me and her choice to live in solitude reflects my own situation. Reading the article, I found it reassuring that I was not alone in wanting to be alone.
We never know ourselves perfectly. But to the extent that I am rationally self-aware of my needs, interests, and priorities (as opposed to being self-delusional), I can identify three factors that ground my desire to live, more or less, a solitary life.
The starting point for this solitude-by-choice for me is the loss of my long-term partner and the consequential mourning of that loss. Bill and I were together for thirty-three wonderful years as a gay couple. He was unexpectedly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2009 and died two weeks later. The trauma of his death and the exhilaration of our life together are described in my memoir “August Farewell.” Everyone deals with the loss of a loved one in his or her own way. My way has been to delve deeply into the profoundness of that loss, to celebrate the love and life that Bill and I shared and face up to the searing reality that that life is over, and to tackle the challenge of reinventing myself as a person without him.
The second factor for choosing solitude grows out of my strategies for dealing with the loss of Bill. Immediately after his death, I wrote the memoir “August Farewell” in order to record for myself the details of those incredible two weeks between his diagnosis and his death. I had written books during my professional career so writing came somewhat naturally to me in this point of crisis. Writing “August Farewell” proved to be cathartic and a means to capture forever for myself so many precious memories that would inevitably have dissipated over time. Still struggling with existential issues prompted by his death, I decided to follow-up the memoir by exploring these issues through the genre of fiction. And so I began writing a novel, “Searching for Gilead”, which was published two years after “August Farewell.” I enjoyed the writing of the memoir and the novel as intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and artistic outlets, and consequently set myself the challenge of pushing the envelop further by tackling another non-fiction genre: the short story. I am now in the process of writing a collection of inter-related short stories, a task that I expect will occupy me for the next several years.
All of which is to say that the process of writing prompted by Bill’s death has led me quite unexpectedly into a new self-identity. I now think of myself as an author. It is what I do. It is who I am. And in order to do what I do and be who I am, I require solitude. I need substantial quality time to write.
Which brings me to the third factor that is propelling me at this point of my life to choose solitude. Paradoxically, I need to be alone in order to commune at the deepest levels with the artistic souls from whom I gain the greatest solace and nurture: writers, playwrights, visual artists, composers and musicians. I read a great deal of literature, primarily fiction, and write personal reflections/blogs on those that move me the most. For that reading and responding, I need to be alone. I go to art exhibitions often alone so that I can indulge myself with the art uninhibited by social interactions. I attend a great many musical and theatrical events, opera, and ballet but primarily classical concerts. I have become involved as a patron and volunteer with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and even though in that capacity and at those concerts I am interacting with many people, the essence of my experience is being engrossed in the music sitting quietly and alone, letting the music wash over me, engaging with it almost transcendentally.
Sara Maitland in her article in the Guardian anticipates the critiques that people would make of her decision to live a life of solitude and she responds to those critiques. I will let her analysis speak to those who may also raise questions about my comparable decision.
At this time in my life and to the extent that I know my own head and heart, I place myself in Maitland’s company—living a life of solitude, by choice.
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To read, Sara Maitland’s excellent article in the Guardian, see: http://bit.ly/1hmmDGZ
For information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead”, see my website at http://DavidGHallman.com
To read my personal reflections on books that I read, see my blog at https://davidghallman.wordpress.com or my Goodreads site at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4802765.David_G_Hallman