May Sarton on Solitude and Creativity

It is raining. I look out on the maple, where a few leaves have turned yellow, and listen to Punch, the parrot, talking to himself and to the rain ticking gently against the windows. I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my “real” life again at last. That is what is strange—that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone…

For a long time now, every meeting with another human being has been a collision. I feel too much, sense too much, am exhausted by the reverberations after even the simplest conversation. But the deep collision is and has been with my unregenerate, tormenting, and tormented self. I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose — to find out what I think, to know where I stand.

My need to be alone is balanced against my fear of what will happen when suddenly I enter the huge empty silence if I cannot find support there. I go up to Heaven and down to Hell in an hour, and keep alive only by imposing upon myself inexorable routines.

The value of solitude — one of its values — is, of course, that there is nothing to cushion against attacks from within, just as there is nothing to help balance at times of particular stress or depression. A few moments of desultory conversation … may calm an inner storm. But the storm, painful as it is, might have had some truth in it. So sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands.

Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.

Photo by SSH

Creativity and Spirit

 

Recently, a young friend of mine asked me at the tail end of an email for my thoughts on creativity and spirit. I thought, “You have got to be kidding.” But I wrote back and asked if she wanted me to do a blog post, or could we save it for a conversation when I see her at Christmas (desperately hoping for the latter).  She hasn’t responded, so here goes . . . .

I have written before about the importance of being in the moment – or putting yourself back into the moment – when you’re writing. That seems to me the only way to achieve authenticity, to re-experience things, events, people, or conversations in a way that will reach into the reader so that she can see it, feel it, experience it in a new way. That’s the kind of connection writers always want to achieve, because it is truth-telling at its deepest level.  Spiritual teachers point to this “being in the moment” as connecting to the Divine . . . although there are plenty of great writers who are atheists!

But “spirit?” This is a word with far too many meanings, and I have no idea which meaning my young friend was referring to – and I’m afraid to ask her until I see her. Concepts like this are too difficult to pin down in an email.

Do we create only when “the spirit” moves us?  Or do we sit down every day in front of the computer just like going to work?  Where does that going-to-work discipline come from? Surely we are driven by something inside, be it ambition, egotism, the desire to connect with other human beings, anger at the injustices of the world, revenge, the profound love of the sheer beauty around us, despair, divine inspiration or just the simple desire to see our name on the marquee. Whatever it is, it flows through us . . . and will not be denied.

Personally, I have difficulty defining what drives me, so for convenience sake I’ll call it “spirit.”  Hope I’m not stepping on too many toes here!

I expect this post to rouse up a few of my readers to comment – let’s get a conversation going. My young friend will certainly be one interested reader.

Photo by SSH

Photo by SSH