“Loneliness is like sitting in an empty room and being aware of the space around you. It is a condition of separateness. Solitude is becoming one with the space around you. It is a condition of union. Loneliness is small, solitude is large. Loneliness closes around you; solitude expands toward the infinite. Loneliness has its roots in words, in an internal conversation that nobody answers; solitude has its roots in the great silence of eternity”
-Quote by Kent Nerburn, which I found posted by @northernproject on Instagram several months ago.
The plan for writing this post came to me on a recent solo trip I did in Caine’s Head State Recreation Area. I had just finished a two-week artist in schools residency and needed to recharge and reground myself before heading to Palo Alto to teach a workshop for the pop-up book, The Adventures of Apun the Arctic Fox. Because my partner and I often travel for work, and because we live so remotely (making travel for work more of an event), I usually have blocks of solo time in my schedule. I’ve come to treasure it and to seek it out as a part of my process.
During my recent solo time in Seward, I didn’t do much. I tried not to. I watched the tide come in and out, I walked around and took photos, and I watched the world around me. I read and drew a little bit, but mostly I tried to do nothing. I thought back on a podcast I recently listened to with Kit Whistler on Women on the Road. Kit has a project called “Idle Theory Bus” where she and her partner traveled around for a year and intentionally tried to idle, or do nothing.
In the podcast, she shared:
“What we learned from idling is that you can learn a lot, there is a lot inside of you that you don’t realize is there, you don’t need a lot of outward stimulation to learn. I think that often as humans you need to learn from other people, but sometimes we get kind of obsessed with this idea of specialism or that you need to have a formal structure to study something. I think that coming to your own realizations in idleness is so important and it’s very empowering.”
“If you can sit and be with yourself and get through that initial fear, because it is scary to sit alone with yourself; if you’ve never done it before, your first few times, or your first few days, you feel this anxiety... but you learn this incredible skill of building an entire world inside of yourself that wisdom starts to come from… The only reason that I feel like I have anything to give to people, in what I share through my art, is because I spend a lot of time sitting and letting the universe talk to me, and then I have something to share.”
Those words resonated with me because I also find a lot of my inspiration by being alone with the natural world or with the universe. It opens me up to observe and be part of my surroundings on another level. It's also a personal journey because I find it’s important to be able to place myself in my surroundings.
Another empowering thing Kit said is:
“All of us can do that. It’s not some special thing only mystics or monks can have… If we allow ourselves to go into that space of idleness we all tend to come to the same wisdom and the same realization in these very big ways. “
Last winter I had some big chunks of solo time at home. One of those chunks was during November and December, which are the darkest and loneliest days (nights) of the Alaskan year. I definitely oscillated between loneliness and solitude (see the quote at the beginning of this post), but I think a little loneliness can be OK. Here are some self-portraits I took one night of my reflection in the window. I feel kind of weird sharing them, but I think they capture some of the spirit of that time.
In that period I spent time doing nothing, observed some beautiful feats of nature, like the sundog below, and thought a lot. I also created some bigger works and new art that had been in my head for a while. I think digging deeper into myself allows for that space and impetus to create.
I’ve created a kind of ritual when I have several weeks at home to myself. I set aside the first and last days for that ritual. The first day I move around the furniture and do whatever I want. I try not to work, but to let out some of my impulses, and to set an intention for the days to come. It’s always a little depressing after your partner leaves and you have a quiet and empty house, so I try to treat myself, indulging in some wine and popcorn and maybe watching movies or listening to podcasts more than is reasonable. I set aside the last day for cleaning, rearranging the space, and making room to welcome my partner back. Both transitions to being alone and then not being alone anymore can be hard, so making time for them helps me quite a bit.
These phases, seeking time for idleness and restoration are an important part of my artistic process or just part of being human. Also, why write a blog post about solitude? Because it's important to share these things. Solitude is important and so is community. What about you? Do you enjoy time alone? Does it help you create and do you have any rituals around it?
PS: I should note that I am very rarely truly alone and a lot of credit and companionship goes to this four-legged fellow, our dog Jack.