The Loving Art of Loneliness


photo of man standing on rock

Loneliness is an aspect of the human condition that has long shadowed consciousness. The duality, or multiplicity inherent in the thinking mind has created a divide and for many, building a bridge across this divide is a life’s work to which they are happy to dedicate themselves. How to meet the needs of both the deep self, or ‘I’ of consciousness and the activated self, or rather selves, needed for use within the caper of  human life? Can that bridge ever be stable?

For others, it may be a clear case of choosing a side and forget the bridge. Social world or solitary world? Once decided, best to stay there, for venturing out and trying to live in both will only create discord. Doubt. Inexplicable sadness. And the complete lack of a map with which to go forward.

Solitary types it would seem are happy with their choices as long as they are not interrupted, and those who choose a life connected needn’t face aloneness in a busy connected, modern world.

Of course, this is all a lie.

The sage .. an image of a lonely person and the ideal of ancient philosophy manifests itself in two forms. Firstly, he feels loneliness as a defect of himself, as a flaw that does not allow him to be inside the life of a police or have friendly ties keeping from falling into solitude or isolation. Secondly, a lonely sage, striving to achieve identity with the Truth, conversing with the divine level of “I”.


There is no need to chart the entire history of loneliness here, the condition is suitably recurrent, allowing us to skip a few thousand years without much fuss.

Nor do we need to spend too much time considering the zeitgeist phrase; ” Has technology meant that we are more.. or less connected?”

I am interested though in what people are doing with their loneliness. When we have reached a point where we are staring at the Netflix menu from within a bubble of mindbending alienation and utter emptiness unable to stomach another moment of it , what are people doing next?

Is a dusty favourite book being dragged from a packing box, and if not read, (because loneliness can be quite draining and jumping into Dosteovsky may not actually be psychologically possible.)..but holding it, and turning it over, and flicking to a page in the middle and reading that.. maybe.

Are old records played? If not records, tapes? Cd’s perhaps… anything other than Spotify?

Is the telephone used as a talking device to have a long conversation, where communication filters down around tone of voice and pauses, revisiting the need to articulate clearly, maybe more than once, and even recap, after the accidental plummeting of the phone to the floor, or the need to pee.

Are diaries scribbled in, the same childhood doodles scratched out, night skies simply gazed at, guitars tuned too slowly and strummed with lacklustre, lines of poetry  awkwardly obliged …

I’m not a loneliness expert. I’ve been in and out of it in my life. And I’m aware it is a defining experience in our world now. Google it and some kind of unsubstantiated source will tell you..

“Researchers have found that loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Lonely people are 50 percent more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships. ”

Be alert but not alarmed.

Ultimately loneliness so very personal, and means different things to different people. For some loneliness threatens status. Reputation. Self-esteem. For others it is a sign of failure. Let’s face it, when someone asks us how we are, we are hardly going to say..”.Uhh, really fucking gut wrenchingly lonely actually. ” No. Loneliness is desperate, needy and.. very old fashioned.

I admit I am at times an introverted, over-thinking, hypersensitive, melancholic type.  I counter this with love. I thrive on loving interactions with the world and have always surrounded myself with them. The cooking, the dancing, the singing, the art making, the colourful clothes, the humour, the clumsy attempts at courage, the utter devotion to things I value, all is for love.
fullsizeoutput_237eLoneliness then for me, is a place where I can’t give love. Where doors to that natural instinct have been closed or remain unsafe to open. Not giving love is like trying to hold the tide back. Its exhausting. A lot of us feel this way. Sometimes, loving the way you wish to is not possible. It can’t be helped.

But I do believe, that for the agnostic amongst us, in the absence of elders and oracles, wise woman and sages, this impulse can be better understood, and perhaps more lovingly embraced. In the spaces between the busy love making activities of life, the cooking, the singing, the dancing and thus… on the tired, defeated, broken days, can loneliness be part of that love?

To answer this question, perhaps we best consult the dusty old books …

Faeries in the Paddock, Merrows in the Creek.

Write what you know.

Despite the simplicity of this suggestion, the idea has quite profound connotations. Time spent considering them would lead us to a lengthy philosophical discussion regarding what we can ever really know. At this moment I am interested generally in a simple division between what we know personally and what we know collectively as a result of the social and cultural stories with which we align ourselves. And specifically how that has impacted on writers of metaphysical fiction in  Australia.

I am writing a children’s historical fiction novel which unfolds beneath the canopy of mythological motifs common to the Irish/Scots Selkie mythos and the water deities of  Indigenous Australian cultures, in particular those of the Palawa Aborigines in Tasmania.

Part of the process involves looking at the ways in which writers have approached the metaphysical quality of the Australian landscape since the late 19th Century, and the ways in which they have been ‘successful’ in doing so as writers, and as humans.

The success might be measured by the impact and readership of their creative works, or it may be measured by the degree to which the non-idigenous of those writers were able to include Aboriginal perspectives on the spirit of the land, and resist an appropriation of Aboriginal folklore and mythology.

The issue has a long history of debate , which is ever changing as our views on cultural appropriation become, at last,  more sophisticated and respectful.

As a writer creating an historical fiction story set in Tasmania at this moment in time, the preservation of space for Palawa people to tell their own stories touches every aspect of my creative process. And at the same time I am humbled, humoured even, by the realisation, that I, three generations from my Irish grandparents, am yet enamoured by a landscape of folklore that can never exist here in Australia. And being so possessed by such a pixie spell as this, I see it everywhere.

Write what you know.

I don’t ‘know’ Ireland, I’ve never even been there. And yet I do, as so many in the Irish Diaspora experience, feel such an overwhelming familiarity with its pieces all.

As a child I would leaf through Brian Froud’s Faerie book , rather gruesome at times and quite wild in parts. But there I found faces I felt I might know. And as I child, living in the bush, I saw them when I walked, through bracken and ferns and heavy soil, or along the rocky creek edge peering into dark pools of water that smelt like earth and moss, the spray from the water falls secret and timeless.

Images from Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s Faeries

Equally beloved was Dick Roughsey’s  The Rainbow Serpent. What a powerful book. Every part of it rang out bold and uncompromising from the pages. It was strange, and unfamiliar, almost intimidating, but maybe it was only that the dry lands of central Australia seemed foreboding to a child.

The wet cool waterways could more easily house the creatures I  thought knew, and thus they were there. But now, writing as an educated adult, in an academic context…it cannot just be faeries anymore.

What I have tried to create is something in between, neither fantasy, nor realism, nor even magic realism. A place where the mythos meet, beyond our socio-political wounds and complications. A place where things I know can live. Because , if as they say, all you can really do is write what you know.. . therein some authenticity lies.

As part of the writing process, I am observing interpretations of the natural environment from both children’s and former children ( otherwise known as adults) perspectives, and how the stories we know shape the faces we see. And the doorways still to be opened.

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Image from Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s Faeries

Mythical Creatures in The Waterways of Australia   — Antipodean Odyssey

“Battling with incredulity isn’t easy. It’s not a battle Poseidon had to fight.” Bunyip and Selkie, creatures of the waterways. One from Australian Aboriginal mythology, one from Celtic lore. One made up of scraps and patches of stories, and images. The other a seal or a woman. Mysterious, gentle sometimes, predatory others. Or so […]

via Mythical Creatures in The Waterways of Australia   — Antipodean Odyssey