Friday, February 17, 2012

On Living Alone

I was at Julia's Coffee Shop and Used Books about two weeks ago where it is challenging not to browse the shelves. I came away with a paperback of essays entitled Here Lies My Heart, Essays on Why We Marry, Why We Don't, and What We Find There.  At my age and with two marriages along my life's trail, it was almost impossible not to purchase it.

The essays, by people who make their living from writing, were funny, intriguing, poignant and, a few, right on. Authors included Barbara Ehrenreich, David Mamet, Katha Pollitt, Mark Doty and others. I was, however, most taken with piece by a woman with whom I was unfamiliar, Vivian Gornick. It's titled “On Living Alone” and is from her novel End of the Novel of Love, 1997.  Here's an excerpt:

….My stride lengthened. I got where I was going, did what I’d gone to do and decided to walk back.  When I got home I saw that the bad feeling had washed out of me. I was purged. The walk purged me.
I realized then how ordinary my depression was. Ordinary and predictable, ordinary and daily. Daily depression, that’s all it was. I saw, as though for the first time, that daily depression eats energy. Without energy inner life evaporates; without inner life there is no animation; without animation there is no work. A life in thrall to daily depression is doomed to mediocrity. 
In the same moment I saw that this was loneliness, the thing itself. Loneliness was the evaporation of inner life. Loneliness was me cut off from myself. Loneliness was the thing nothing out there could cure.
Having lived a good part of my adult life alone, I found this observation to ring with truth.  As you know, the point of the realization is not new.  The theme of 'know thyself' or 'the answer is within,' has become a cliche although if we look around us, the evidence of it being practiced is hard to find.

Don't worry; I'm not about to begin preaching about the inner life.  I simply wanted to share the way in which Gornick, or the character in her novel, stumbled upon this truth.  I couldn't find the novel in the library, but maybe it's on a shelf at Julia's.  A good place, I found, to go if you've got a tinge of loneliness.

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