Solitude and the Artist

by Kim Goldberg

solitudeMost people simply cannot grok prolonged solitude. This makes it hard on those of us who work creatively as writers, artists, poets, visionaries. To think the thought that has never been thought, to write the line that has never been written, to tease out the story from the shadow, to conjure the world that has never been conjured… These pursuits all require solitude. And not mere bursts of “alone time” but a plunge into waters whose depth is not known. 

The solitude of the artist is an ocean with possibly no bottom at all, but filled with immense beauty and wonder. Like research and development, the creative journey takes the time it takes. And you don’t know what you’re going to get, or when you’re going to get it, until you’re done. It may take a month, it may take a lifetime. It may take more than one lifetime. 

banana slugSo wondrous is this ocean of solitude (which is really not solitary at all, for it is surging with every manner of non-human entities, matrices, visions) that a forced surfacing is actually painful for the artist. Yet the phone rings. Friends send emails wanting to meet for coffee, wanting to know when you are coming back to Facebook, it’s been three months since you deactivated your account, you are missed, needed, letting people down, hurting their feelings… 

The rapture of sustained solitude is alien to the majority of people. Their lives are simply too littered with outer world commitments, duties, appointments, expectations—all the ephemera of the temporal world. They are wild horse chasing wind, as we say in the practice of Liuhebafa. People will claim they understand and value solitude. But they are referring to their hour-long walk around Piper’s Lagoon, carefully scheduled to fit between end of work and beginning of dinner prep. 

When they encounter a friend who is ecstatically and deliberately immersed in prolonged solitude, someone who is willfully declining engagement with the outer world in order to pursue a rich creative journey, they perceive it as sad and lonely. They worry about the person, label the person an introvert or depressed, ask the person if she is okay. They perceive the artist’s solitude as a disturbed and unhealthy state, an unnatural state. They conflate solitude with loneliness because they have not yet discovered or admitted to themselves that loneliness has nothing to do with being alone. It has to do with not having something you want, which is why you can be lonely in a marriage, at a party, in a crowded room. 

huge cedar treeMy prolonged solitude is never lonely because I have what I want in my life. And I am surrounded by, and in relationship with, all manner of strange and miraculous things, prompting new discoveries daily. 

In fact, it is people’s own fear of discovery that spurs them to view prolonged solitude negatively. It is their fear about what they would actually do with themselves and/or find out about themselves and their existence if they had no one but themselves and the non-human inhabitants of the planet to commune with for months or years at a time. It is their fear of what shape their innate creative energies might assume if unfettered long enough to coalesce. It is their fear of what they might encounter if they became a human being instead of a human doing. 

All of these fears are subliminal, not conscious, which makes them all the more powerful and binding. 

About Kim Goldberg

Kim Goldberg is an award-winning poet and journalist and the author of 7 books. Latest titles: UNDETECTABLE (her Hep C journey in haibun), RED ZONE (poems of homelessness) and RIDE BACKWARDS ON DRAGON: a poet's journey through Liuhebafa. She lives in Nanaimo, BC. Contact: goldberg@ncf.ca
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9 Responses to Solitude and the Artist

  1. Joe Rosenblatt says:

    lovely writing /jr

  2. Bill Stuart says:

    Wonderful writing KIm.
    Keep shining the light
    Bill

  3. Laura Beattie says:

    Hi Kim,
    Though not an artist in the same sense that you are, I too understand solitude, and I am content to wait until (or if) you surface to see what you have to say.

  4. d78hill says:

    Yes, this is what I am missing…my solitude! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  5. Yang Ho says:

    “The perfect person completes his own world”, the paraphrased words of Zhuangzi.

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