Alone At Last
It was reassuring in a way hearing Maria Semple talk about “dark existential moments of aloneness” brought on by writing her first novel. Not that I would actually wish these thoughts on anyone, but Maria had come from a very successful career writing for television, and it reminded me once again that no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, nothing can truly inoculate you to the unique solitude of book writing. Which is to say, the echoing silence of your own psyche is more a product of the activity than the individual. But we must be careful, those of us who write, might write, or have ever written, not to cry too long and loud about this aloneness. As unique as the solitude of book writing is, so too is the deliciousness of immersion when it is going well. We have all had days when we have gone in deep and then emerged from a work session as if waking from a dream. For me, these days are as relaxing and profound as the best mediation or visit to a church. On these days, any company but my own would only spoil the very thing I have always sought.
After all, aloneness is really the point of it. One gift of writing is that moment when the author looks up and realizes, “Jesus. There’s no one here but me.” I had this same experience when I was twenty-one and moved into my first apartment without roommates. I was quite terrified in a way. That first night I lay in bed and thought how when you are a child, you get in the car and go wherever the driver is driving it, but when you are an adult, you can drive that car anywhere, and the world is quite large and full of roads.
Yet any choice that anyone has ever made has occurred in the solitude of the heart, where there is never anyone present but the one making the choice. Writing a book merely dramatizes this fact. We can fool ourselves by asking advice or convening focus groups or taking polls, but in the end we must make our own choice, even if that choice is to do what someone else wants us to. Making peace with the inevitable solitary nature of life is not some hard pill to swallow, though it might appear so at first. Rather, it is the very route toward your own contentment. At the end of that road, as anyone who has ever finished a book knows, is the knowledge that not only can you can you do it, but that you were meant to do it, and the only true loneliness is separation not from other people, but your own heart.