I am at home, not teaching for a few months, on a medical leave of absence. When I first started my Leave, a reading friend brought me a bag of books (and some tea) to enjoy while I am at home recuperating. One of the books was Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton, a book that had already touched my life and left a deep impression on me 25 years ago. My friend didn’t know that I’d been thinking about this book and wanting to reread it and remember exactly why and how it influenced me, so it was a delightful coincidence (synchronicity?) to find it in the bag.
I’ve been reading it this morning and thinking about how important solitude is in my own life. Perhaps it’s because I was the only girl in my family and therefore always had a room of my own. Or maybe, as the daughter of writing/thinking parents, and the granddaughter of a gentle, introspective poet, there’s a genetic need for quiet concentration and reflection. But I definitely have that need, and May Sarton put words to it for me in her journal.
First, she describes things that are true in my life and things about me that have lead me to this period of imposed solitude:
- Life comes in clusters, cluster of solitude, then a cluster when there is hardly time to breathe.
- I feel cluttered when there is no time to analyze experience. That is the silt–unexplored experience that literally chokes the mind.
And then, she describes the experience of extended solitude:
- There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it is a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over any encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.
- I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my “real” life again at last. That is what is strange–that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone here and “the house and I resume old conversations.”
This Leave of Absence, these months at home, are an opportunity for me to resume old conversations with myself–to reconnect with my own “real” life and to find a balance between my clusters of solitude and all the times recently when there was hardly any time to breathe.