Loneliness

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It has been a enormous privilege to have my piece, 10 Things I Want my Daughter to Know, read by people far and wide.  It has also been interesting to see which points seem to most resonate.  It is #10 that draws the strongest reaction, and criticism, and I think rightfully so.  I stand by my point but absolutely agree I ought to have said it differently.

I was frankly more surprised by the strong reaction to #9, which cautioned Grace against trying to fill “a gnawing loneliness … inherited from me.  That feeling, Woolf’s ’emptiness about the heart of life,’ is just part of the deal.”  Over and over again, people told me I was missing something essential, diagnosed me with depression, or chided me for having a desperately bleak outlook on life.  But the thing is, I didn’t think I was saying anything particularly inflammatory.  I thought everybody felt this vague loneliness at the center of their experience, this unnamed, ineffable emotion that waxes and wanes depending on the day, week, or hour.

There’s no question this is true of me.  The fact that I assumed this feeling was universal tells you how inextricable it is from my daily experience.  There’s something inside me, deep, inarticulate, but powerful, and I can’t control it any more than I can adequately convey the degree to which it shapes my life.  This truth, however, doesn’t make a sad person.  I could, and would, argue that it allows me to feel profound joy.

While I recognize that we are all tuned into this feeling of loneliness to various degrees, I still think it is part of what makes us human and that it exists in each of us.  Furthermore, I think that much of our addictive or distracted behavior (food, relationships, drinking, drugs, obsessive iphone-checking, you name it) is an effort to avoid awareness of this echoing emptiness.  Or this darkness at the heart of life.  Or this inexplicable awareness of something sorrowful that we can’t evade.  Even as I write this I think: I’m going to get more comments about how depressed I am.  And believe me, I’m not.  But there is a seam of sadness that’s stitched through my life, some hollowness that underlies everything, that ebbs and flows through my consciousness.  What I know now is that when I make an effort to really be here now, and to stop my frantic distractedness, that buried loneliness rises up.

Have you ever felt like the universe was talking to you?  That experience when random, disconnected sources come together to form an undeniable chorus?  And sometimes that chorus makes you feel less crazy and less alone?  Well, I have.  It’s how I connected Dr. Seuss with Mark Doty a while ago.  The reason this particular topic, the loneliness that lies under all of life, is in my head, is because of Louis C.K., Caroline Knapp, and Hafiz.

Louis C.K.’s much-shared explanation of why his children won’t get a smartphone, which I watched several times, contained these sentences, which made me gasp:

That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty.

Yes.  It’s through sitting with the emptiness, eschewing the behaviors that numb us to the darkness at the core of this life, that we learn to be human.  I could not believe this more.

It was in Caroline Knapp’s beautiful collection of essays, The Merry Recluse (thank you, Lacy) that I read her piece titled Loneliness.  Short and powerful, it made me stop, cry, underline, and re-read.

…sometimes I think I was born with it, born with a particularly acute sense of myself as apart from the world, as somehow different or lacking.

…the loneliness of my experience tends to be immune from reality, from circumstance or logic; it lies within me, a small, persistent demon that stirs in my quietest moments, during unplanned evenings, on Sunday mornings.  It is a sense of void.

Yes.  Just: yes.  I too have a small, persistent demon.  It exists in my chest and often functions as a glass wall between me and my own life.  I watch, nose pressed up against the invisible barrier, always feeling removed.  No matter how I shift and agitate, I cannot escape the painful reality of life’s impermanence.  The fact that even as I live a moment it’s gone.  The fact that no matter how much I grasp onto a particular season of life, photograph it, write about it, inhabit it, it slips through my fingers.

What’s new to me, at least in the last few years, is that this loneliness can be as valuable as it is undeniable and inescapable.  Hafiz writes:

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you as few
human or even divine ingredients can. 

I can’t get away from this darkness at the heart of my experience, but maybe it also makes me who I am.  Perhaps I am learning from and shaped by it in ways I can’t yet articulate.  There is such liberation in this thought.  This emptiness, it echoes, but it also informs the way I see this world that I so dearly love.

It’s the same emptiness that both Caroline Knapp and Louis C.K. describe.  It’s the same gnawing loneliness that I referred to in my 10 Things.  And I thought everybody had it.  The reactions made me question that, but I’ve come to the conclusion that we all do, it’s just a question of how much we feel it.  For me at least, the answer is a lot, and often.


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21 Comments

  1. admin
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    How easy it is to numb that ache, but I’ve learned so much from letting myself feel it. xox

  2. admin
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this. I have a lot of trouble using the word “artist” with respect to myself, I have to admit. But the hole: yes. You describe it so beautifully. xoxo

  3. admin
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Yes: exactly. You describe my experience beautifully. I’m happy to know that you can relate. xox

  4. admin
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Yes. Definitely hard. Because when someone we love is lost the pain is so great, right? I agree entirely that loneliness is the gauge of connectedness. Yes. xox

  5. admin
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I’m glad to hear that! xox

  6. admin
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Yes – how wonderfully, eerily the same our themes!! Extraordinary. Sometimes I DO prefer the loneliness, because it’s when I really let myself feel that sadness that I see that there’s great beauty in it; somehow it feels like touching something essential, human. But often I don’t prefer it, and wish I could escape it. The fact is I just can’t, and as you say, I’m learning to sit with it and to trust that it will pass. xo

  7. admin
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Nearly destroyed me too. So much pathos underneath the humor. xo

  8. admin
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Exactly! xo

  9. admin
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Oh, I would feel the exact same way. Exact. Yes, metaphorical, at least I think. xo

  10. Posted October 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I think you are right on. And your loneliness makes me feel less alone in mine.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you. It is so, so mutual. xo

  11. Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    So well said, Lindsey. Your voice sounds stronger and more sure of itself, as if you are making progress on your journey to right here : )
    Loved your 10 Things–sent a link to my daughter, who just had a daughter.
    xo

    admin Reply:

    Congratulations on your granddaughter! I’m so happy to hear you say that about my voice here. I appreciate it. xox

  12. Dianna
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    I have nothing profound to add, I just thank you for putting into words all that I have felt for so long, but could not express. You have no idea how amazingly helpful it is. Perhaps it is because I am also an introvert, but so much of what you write helps me to more fully understand and accept myself. You have a gift and I am so thankful that you choose to share it with us.

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU. What a generous thing to say. I really, really appreciate it.

  13. Posted October 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think I have EVER read anything of yours that I have felt more in tune with, more connected to, more…YES. “Just: yes.”

    I feel misunderstood a lot. I, too, have been told at times that maybe I’m depressed. There were so many sentences here that made me feel like: “FINALLY…someone else!”

    I’m relieved and taken aback.

    The Universe speaking to me…again: yes.

    admin Reply:

    Wow – I am so glad to hear you relate! I am relieved, too, to hear from you that you have felt the same way. THANK YOU. And I think you’re going to love Still Writing. I can’t wait to hear. ox

  14. Posted October 8, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    That persistent loneliness that waxes and wanes…I get it. I have it. I am just like you. Only, I didn’t think it was universal. I always thought I was a bit different because of that, always a step back from every party. Thanks for revealing to me that there are more of us out there.

  15. Posted October 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, I love this post and your HuffPo piece as well. Today, as I cried while leaving the car repair place (don’t ask!), I thought of you and how life’s highs and lows are so irrevocably intertwined.

  16. Swati
    Posted October 10, 2013 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    Every word of yours just got into me..with its truth…yes this is a fact of every human soul..some are brave enough like you to admit it…some are not…and yes no where I felt that you are sad…i just felt ..you are a strong person…the very like Today’s women…

  17. Posted October 10, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I 100% get you, have felt it, and would not call it depression. It’s awareness.

  18. Posted October 11, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey,
    I’ve been away from blogs and writing for awhile, and then I find this lovely, moving post!
    As always, you evoke a sense of home in the diaspora. I love this line: “This emptiness, it echoes, but it also informs the way I see this world that I so dearly love.”
    I’m only one person, but I’ve never read you as depressed — just aware, in the way of Mary Oliver’s poems. Open. True, even when it’s painful.

  19. tara meyer
    Posted October 15, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    it isn’t depression. i am prone to depression and what you are talking about is not depression. you described normal, in your list and just now, i envy your daughter having a mother that cares enough and is able to express to her what you want her to know. you expressed very well all the things i want my 30 year old daughter to know. she does, including #9 to know that not even ourselves can be everything for us.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much. Don’t envy her – there’s plenty she wishes were different about her mother! 🙂 But yes. #9. It is so important, I think. xox

  20. Posted October 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi! I found your blog today thanks to Kate Hopper. This post resonated with me and I want to say to you: “Yes! You are not the only one!” Thank you for articulating it so well, and for pondering the reactions people had to it, how they say they don’t have that same feeling. I agree with your thoughts on this, and I so look forward to reading more of your blogs.

    admin Reply:

    Hi! Thank you so much for your comment and for reading. I’m so glad you can relate to this. That is really reassuring to hear! xoxo

  21. Cindy
    Posted November 1, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Wow. Just: Wow. I can’t remember reading someone else expressing, and so eloquently, what I’ve felt all of my life. And fought against. And tried to change. And unlike you, I have thought it makes me different, and apart from everyone else. This makes me view my loneliness tendency with new eyes, and perhaps a new voice (I’m a writer, too). What may be in store if I just embrace and accept the loneliness? I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much for such a kind comment! I’m grateful to know of a kindred spirit out there … sorry that you can relate to the loneliness, but also glad, I admit, that what I said resonates. xo

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