I have written previously about the significance of solitude, but recently I have been feeling acutely the lack of this kind of aloneness, and this sense was heightened yesterday as I was reading a blog called Daily Routines, which describes the habits of famous writers and artists.  It struck me forcefully how divergent my preferred routines would be from the ones that I actually live, because of work and family and other obligations.

My inclination would be not to have to see or speak to anyone from when I wake in the morning until early afternoon or even later.  I would prefer to breakfast and lunch alone, and this would be time that I spent doing nothing but thinking, or reading, or writing.  If it was to be spent thinking, I would want to be working at something as well, in the garden or the kitchen usually, but almost anything would do.  If it was to be spent reading or writing, I would want to be working at something more intermittent, something that permitted me merely to surface now and again, like a pot of soup stock or a batch of bread.  In any case, I would need a steady supply of very dark coffee, something to keep a bitterness on the back of my tongue.

Sometime in the afternoon, I would begin to exhaust my focus, and I would want conversation with someone.  Ideally, this person would be comfortable enough with me and my house that we would work together to prepare supper as we talked.  There would not need to be any particular form to this conversation.  Its purpose would be only to sift what I had done that day, to share it with another mind, to have it returned to me in a different form than I first shared it.  This exchange might happen over coffee again, but I would prefer by far that it happen over a red wine that was very dry, something harsh to the palette.  I dislike subtlety in wine.

I would prefer to have supper with several people, five or six at most, and I would want most of them to know one another, so that conversation need not remain long on superficialities.  This meal should linger, enveloping the whole evening, taking into itself the coffee that accompanies the dessert and the scotch that follows it.  In the summer, it should end on the porch with my pipe, in the winter, by the fire with a hot toddy, and I should spend at least an hour longer alone there after everyone else has left.

In practice, however, and probably for the better, my life very seldom resembles this ideal.  From the moment that my youngest son wakes me in the morning, I will likely not have a moment of solitude all day long.  If I accomplish reading or writing or anything at all, it will be in the few grains of time that I glean from the wake of my children, and my work, and my other commitments.  I might find a few minutes of aloneness as I am walking from one place to another or when those in my house are distracted by something else, but I can rarely predict these moments.  I seem only to have discovered them when they are ended.

In most senses, I do not begrudge this lack.  The things that seize my time are things that I value very much, and I am happy to give them their due.  There are moments, however, when I long for nothing else than the space for aloneness, when the difference between my ideal and actual routines seems about to break me.  Most of all, what I want of this solitude is silence, or at least the quietude that is more silent than silence, the quietude of natural sound when it suddenly finds itself in the absence of the human and  artificial.  I want to hear nothing that demands anything of me but grateful inattention, and I sometimes long for nothing more than this quiet and this solitude.

  1. Tom said:

    On a practical note, Luke, I gather that you wouldn’t be an expensive guy to send on a holiday. Any old place with a porch and a fireplace on the other side of the city would do, as long as you didn’t need to leave a phone # with the fam (on second though, maybe that’s a bit unrealistic!).

    I’m reading a book by Henry Nouwen right now, called “The Way of the Heart”, in which he discusses the merits of solitude from a Christian perspective. Might be a candidate for a book study in the near future…

  2. Tom,

    Sure, add another book to my reading list. I am so far behind that it hardly matters anyway.

  3. Lauren said:

    Thanks for linking to that Daily Routines blog. It is extraordinarily enjoyable. (Today’s entry about Winston Churchill working in bed until 11:00 every morning also made me feel slightly better about the days I’m still in my pajamas at noon.)

  4. Lauren,

    You are very welcome. Dave Humphrey forwarded it to me a few weeks ago, and I have been enjoying it as well.

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