“One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.” —Carl Sandburg
I read a newspaper story over the weekend about how artists turn to nature when they are looking for peace, solace, and rejuvenation. The piece was in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The author was Dan Haifley of the O’Neil Sea Odyssey, essentially a classroom on a catamaran for kids. The youngsters sail the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and get hands-on lessons about ocean life, the living sea, and the environment. Haifley referenced Jack Kerouac’s book Big Sur, the autobiographical novel about his time spent at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s California cabin near the sea. It was there that Kerouac struggled with his alcoholism and his unwanted celebrity, and hoped to gain peace from the solitude, the ocean, and the wilderness.
Nature, Haifley writes, is Kerouac’s happiness. Certainly that is the case in the The Dharma Bums, a book about hiking, communing with nature, and Zen Buddhism. And it is true that Kerouac hoped the nature he discovered during his time in Big Sur would heal him. Haifley suggests the more we disconnect from nature the more difficult it is to find solace. I think he’s right. But I would argue that nature may not be the sole catalyst here. It’s seclusion, the inward gaze that nature so beautifully permits and that is the true healer.
My continuing plans for a writer shed meet that need.
I love to hike, walk the woods. Although I don’t do it enough, I know that it brings me balance. And although I love the trees, the dirt, and the earthy smells, I know that the forest, the ocean, the mountains, and the prairies are only the vehicle for being alone. It is “aloneness” that brings me back to center.
In the world of Twitter, constant news feeds, cell phones, email, and texting, solitude is the peace that refocuses the soul. The writer shed is that refuge. It’s a place to work but also a place to think, to get lost in my own mind, to find my inner woods.
I suggest it is another of Kerouac’s books that sells this idea more strongly. Most of what is written in the first part of Desolation Angels is taken directly from Kerouac’s journal when he was a fire lookout at Desolation Peak in the North Cascades of Washington state. He was there for two months in the summer of 1956, much of it alone on the mountain, sometimes for weeks at a time. The book ultimately is a study in human solitude, Kerouac’s opportunity to be silent, to think, to write in that remote mountain top. All alone. It was his Walden.
The writer shed is my Walden, my Desolation Peak.
“I came to a point where I needed solitude and just stop the machine of thinking and enjoying what they call living, I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds.” —Jack Kerouac
Here’s a piece from the NY Times on hiking to Desolation Peak: Climbing a Peak that Stirred Kerouac.
Below is a short video on the writer shed progress. Almost there.
3 thoughts on “The Angels of Solitude”
Hello, David! I read your post “Memoir or Novel—Should You Fictionalize Your Life?” on Live Write Thrive blog. Great post that I've shared online. This is my first time here at your blog and I will follow it. I'll also connect with you online. Solitude and nature. They bring me peace. Although it is difficult to be by myself for long with five children and a husband always wanting something. I wonder if people are afraid of being by themselves. What do you think? If I had a writer's shed, the kids would still bang on the door because they know I have no problem with turning off the phone.
Victoria! Thanks for coming by. I am lucky enough that my children are grown, lucky in the “shed” sense, not that they are at a distance. One is in Seattle and we talk several times a week. My partner came to the shed the other day, gingerly knocking on the door, and asked, “What's the protocol?” I asked her to text me before coming by. We laughed, but she knew I was serious. She understands I need that time; it's a big part of me. I've found you almost have to train those around you, the ones you love, that this is YOUR time. You have to be a little selfish. And being yourself? Yes, it's not easy for people because I think they are afraid of being judged. If you don't fit into the “norm” of society, you are looked at differently. But if you are not true to yourself, who can you really be true to? Thanks again for coming by. Best to you and your writing.
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