I don’t remember when I first read May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude—perhaps, in my early sixties, working full time as a psychotherapist, teacher and consultant— with little awareness that solitude was an elixir, a drink to quell the thirst for my creativity and voice.
The well of Sarton’s spirit, her unhappiness, her loneliness, her ability and willingness to chronicle her deepest sensibilities was compelling to read. I marveled and envied her bravery to write about her humanity as a woman seeking balance, her need for connection to family and friends as well as her need for solitude as a writer.
In contrast, I wrote poems and journal entries in secret, a lifelong habit influenced by my Jewish/Yankee dad who often said, “It’s nobody’s business.” As a professional social worker, I was the keeper of my client’s secrets. I wrote after each session, chronicled my client’s stories in longhand, just as I write this blog, grateful for the perspective that comes from pen in hand.
At sixty-five, I was searching for a way to transition into writing more fully. I read Sarton for courage, for a close-in experience of a woman thoroughly committed and engaged with the writing life. A lesbian, she did not marry but wrote ardently of her need for intimacy. She did not hold back self-criticism, her struggles with discontent, the parts of myself I can barely face in private, never mind in public.
I resonate with her struggle to both heed and ignore the call of the every day. She experienced gratitude for solitude, the opportunity to reflect. She writes,
I feel cluttered when there is no time to analyze experience. That is the silt—unexplored experience that literally chokes the mind. Too much comes into this house—books I am asked to read and comment on, manuscripts, letters, an old friend who wants my opinion…and so on.
I have my own list of clutter. This is my silt—the unexplored experience that chokes both mind and heart, robbing time for reflection, the option to pause and consider. Too much comes into my house through snail mail, e-mail, Facebook— piles of unwanted catalogues, sales pitches for the home, the mind, the appetite, the body beautiful, politicians plea for money, the thrum of capitalism.
After posting my last blog about Mom and me, I felt at sea. Without thinking, I picked up Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. I read, I scanned; I searched for what I knew not until the call of memory, like a compass, lead me back to her words. I am grateful to the poets, novelists and essayists who write reflectively. They inspire my aspirations. Now older than Sarton at the time of her Journal writing, I feel a kinship. How discerning is this Sarton quote:
For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.
What a pleasure it is for me to read your blog each week, which I look forward to, and to once again be reminded of the beauty of solitude. I recently went on a 10 day silent meditation retreat to savor solitude, and to see what blossoms grow in that rich soil. Faye, I remember the strong impact that May Sarton’s “A Journal of Solitude” first had. My reaction felt like an intense wave in the sea before a wind storm, and it woke me up! Her ability to be publicly vulnerable helped me to feel close to her. At that time I was struggling with trying to keep everything in a neat row. What a relief to know that my weaknesses can be honored along with my strengths. Mostly to honor solitude, and to watch the river flow and the buds begin to bloom. Happy spring dear Faye!
Thank you, Bev, for such a beautiful comment. You may not recall, but both books in the photograph are signed by you—The Solitude book says—”On your journey as a writer, may this journal be of comfort to you. With love, Bev.” The journey continues, my friend. Thank you, again.
Thanks to generous friends, I just had the opportunity for three uncluttered days in Vermont. How important solitude is and how difficult to find. Thank you for this post.
Kathi, how delightful and timely! I’m so pleased for you.