That determines our lives
I wanted to say that reading this was a gut punch, but that feels like it means something bad, so I'll stick with: it really hit home in several different places. 🧡
Isolation and loneliness are weapons of authoritarian and totalitarian states, and empire, for a reason. They atomize not just people's efforts toward creating better societies, but our hearts, spirits, and even abilities to imagine something else. That kind of loneliness makes letting go and being carried away more tempting, drowning in the system that doesn't want to let anyone truly thrive, because fighting on your own is so damn hard.
The search for solidarity you mention here -- that has been a hard one, and I'm sure it's true in countless communities. When you are trying to build something or improve something, the *lack* of solidarity creates its own excruciating loneliness. I can think of countless examples even in the most banal efforts at community change, exponentially harder in more important things.
It's such a specific, subtle kind of loneliness you're talking about here, and I'm so grateful you are. Even we solitude-loving people who prefer to keep our personal spaces private are subject to it, especially if we're trying to do anything in the world. And often one of the only effective and powerful tools we have is the one you're reminding us of: connection, stories, the constant reminder that we're not alone, no matter how lonely we might feel.
Like so many of your essays, this one makes me feel like talking on and on (in solidarity), so I'll shut up. Thank you.
(Also I have not been on one of Chris's Freeflow trips but I bet they're AMAZING and highly recommend this one to anyone considering it but uncertain -- an incredible topic, plus an opportunity to stay at the Prairie Reserve; I've stayed in one of their cabins twice, very close to these yurts, and always yearn to go back. It's something else. The sunset over that part of the Missouri, hearing the meadowlarks in the morning and coyotes at night ...)
I relate to this. The funny thing is I was just saying I haven’t felt lonely since the pandemic started - I’ve been anxious. I don’t miss all the things I used to do in person in the name of connection. In fact, I felt more lonely then. Maybe because I was doing things for connection but they weren’t making me feel connected. It’s really hard for me to open up in person, I tend instead to try to make sure everyone is OK. And so I have found connection online because I can relax and be connected. But then I find myself wondering, are these connections I’ve made real? ￼ I sometimes feel anxious that I’m not building community. I’m rarely in person with anyone, outside of physical therapy and my family. ￼ I get super nervous about being in person with people now, but then, when I am, I find myself feeling less anxious for a little while. It’s all very hard to figure out. ￼ I know for certain I don’t want to be alone all the time.
I read this post carefully and felt it right to the marrow in my bones. Earlier I have mentioned that I spent six years in a 12x12 cabin on the Blackfoot River a few miles upriver from Bonner. The solitude was exquisite. I am a pro at being alone, but I am also a pro at being a social animal. In my cabin days, I brushed up against insanity and debilitating depression. The reason I had sequestered myself was to provoke my fate, to face my demons, and at last to cast them out of me with the hard-won confidence earned by throwing myself into the world of risk. Slowly but surely, courage replaced exasperation. I am thankful that my friends and family were always there for me. They understood my self-styled rite of passage.
“Songs don’t dignify human activity. Human activity dignifies the song.” Wow, that’s beautiful. (LC knew some things?) Wish we had dueling cabins in the woods🤸♀️ 📚 ❄️
When I saw the smiling kid with the Taco Cat shirt, I felt a sense of being part of a community despite preferring solitude to community for the most part, although there are those moments of loneliness, well-described by Donald Hall. For short periods of time on a near-daily basis, I spend time in several in-person communities of fewer than twelve men and women and would miss that if it were no longer in my life. Feeling at ease in those communities would have been impossible for me when I was younger. I couldn't tolerate groups of people. My creative thought processes are different when I am alone than when I am in groups. Your post has reminded me that I need both.
As I try to build community geared on writing and art in my hometown, I realize it’s an uphill battle because it’s as if people are fighting the idea of community. It seems Netflix and chill is the go to activity and branching out to meet your neighbors is a stretch. I’m trying. I often feel lonely and I think Antonia’s comments speak to me. The system is designed to make you feel powerless. It is divide and conquer. It is distract the masses from action. I wish I could attend another Freeflow retreat because I gained friends and knowledge that made me a better person. Whoever goes this time will have a great time. I encourage anyone reading to sign up.
Mmm, thank you for this. January is one of the loneliest months, I find. We're hungover from winter holiday chaos, so aloneness can be welcome, but it's just too cold to even move around the house some days, let alone go out to the local cafe or pub or what have you.
Related to Antonia's comment -- I've been working through Gabor Mate's latest tome of a book, The Myth Of Normal. Among many side effects of capitalism is that atomization that leaves us feeling obligated to individualism, and we often end up suffering physiologically when we are truly so lonely. I'm with you, in that I need plenty of time alone, but I also yearn for community, especially that sense of connection that goes beyond one-on-one or small group friendship. Maybe religious folks get this at their congregation; I've previously found it among my high school cohort, or my university department, social contexts where everyone knows of almost everyone even if we don't personally know them. I haven't filled this need since COVID hit.
Until maybe now. I joined a community choir last night, which I'm affectionately referring to as "going to church, except God is irrelevant," since we practice in a church. I haven't sung in a choir for years, and it kind of fell into my lap, and I guess I've said yes. While I know this won't fulfill all of my community needs, I think it might help nourish at least some of the most aching ones.
The distinction for me as well as you make here- solidarity with others. I often joke that the only reason I want to return to membership in a church is so I can gather with others in collective faith and service to something greater than ourselves. Sure lots of people I know claim to love the earth, or children, or the fate of native languages or orca or salmon or western red cedar, but we are not gathering together in any sort of sustained and organized way. So then the socializing becomes thinned to surface level conversations, which sure I can do those, but for any hermit type person, which I believe all us writers are naturally wont to be, those conversations can be so draining and ultimately make me ever more lonely.
I've been reflecting too how much solitude I need to LISTEN and be in communion with my more than human neighbors, but as a mother of 2, wife, daughter in law, etc that time is hard to come by. And for me it's becoming more and more important to find other humans who also value building relationships with their more than human neighbors which is very hard to find in this me me me era. The myth of human supremacy makes me feel very lonely indeed when I consider my world view up against the dominant one.
I had an older friend too who once told me when I sorrowed with him about my yearning for deeply obligated village life, "the economy depends upon our isolation." And from a policy standpoint this has been quite deliberate and continues to be true, which I don't know but sometimes that really helps me to remember.
So really appreciate your words here...
I've always been more lonely with people than alone.
This is so resonant -- thank you for writing it. I have struggled with community my entire adult life. I have long harbored fear that community too often leads to conformity. That, combined with my inherent preference for solitude, has made community-building difficult. Though I feel exceedingly grateful for the handful of individuals with whom I have managed to cultivate close friendships. Thanks for speaking so much truth here. I found Holly's post quite enlightening/validating as well. And the post from Lisa Olivera Holly references also. It's comforting to know I'm not alone in my experience.
My own loneliness is a topic constantly on my mind as well. Especially in regards to our indigenous community. My story of relation is a complicated one that leaves me feeling othered and slight trepidation when seeking connection with our LS community. So for now I'm learning ojibwe in my solitude with no one to really practice with but hope that in due time the chips will fall where they are meant to. Thank you for your writing as always. Loved where you mentioned that we all have a dragon to fight and a ring to destroy.
I look forward to you posts and enjoy them all. As a blend of writer and musician I share a connection to what you write. I have been organizing some posts concerned with poet Gary Snyder.
Love the Holly quotes too. It is natural for writers and musicians to have a love hate relationship with groups, crowds and the public. We require so much quiet time to process and work on our imaginations. Solid friendships are very different things than interaction with groups. Jason Isbell writes: "crowded rooms are a burning battlefield".
But yes. Take it easy - you sound exhaustingly busy.
So good to be here and read your words -- I’m lulled and invigorated by them at once. I’m glad to “know” you in some small way --
Thanks again for a great piece.
Endeavor to nurture your relationships to the best of your ability. The payoff is grand and I’m not talking dollars.
You are doing a great job. I admire you so very much.
And I hope that you will always consider me to be among your friends.
Thank you for sharing a photo of your young friend’s awesome hoodie. It ROCKS!😻
"In some sense perhaps I too attended the dance."
I love this. I believe we keep history and people alive in our memories, so yes, they attended the dance, in the way it still existed at that moment.
As for loneliness, I think some of us prefer to walk alone. I like good company, but I need my solitude as much if not more so. I think we writers with our empathy and self-criticism can sometimes judge others as harshly as we judge ourselves, and that can make being good company difficult. I'm writing about similar things for my mid-week newsletter. There must be something in the air. We texted about bison, not about loners and community...