On Sunday, June 12th, our book club met to discuss 20th century poet May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. Before the meeting, I was caught up with the news about the mass shooting that occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning, at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. By the time our meeting began at 2:30, I was still reeling. I expressed some of my feelings to the book club attendees. However, I was not able to lead the type of discussion I had hoped to lead, in particular to ask the questions that I had shared with the group, which I found to be thought-provoking:
I also tend to be the kind of person who needs time to really digest what I’m reading, and I don’t often have that time due to work and other commitments. So now I want to share more fully formed thoughts about Journal of a Solitude, and how those thoughts relate to Sunday’s horrific shooting in my own mind.
There was a mix of reactions to the book among those who attended the book club meeting. Some felt that the book suffered from “navel gazing,” whereas a few people relished it. I liked (and expected) the amount of introspection, since it is a journal, but did not fully share my feelings during the meeting. I could relate to what Sarton was expressing in her journal – not so much the communing with nature (which, although I think nature is healing, I don’t partake of much in my own life), but her anger, which seemed to be due to unresolved feelings about some of her relationships. As the author stated:
“Plant Dreaming Deep has brought me many friends of the work … But I have begun to realize that, without my own intention, that book gives a false view. The anguish of my life here—its rages—is hardly mentioned. Now I hope to break through into the rough rocky depths, to the matrix itself. There is violence there and anger never resolved.” (Journal of a Solitude, p. 12)
The reason her journal resonated with me is because of the anger I feel on a regular basis; it permeates my thoughts and feelings although is rarely expressed through action. And this is what (for me) ties into the massacre that occurred early Sunday morning, as well as all the talk since then (such as on social media). Some of my online friends (or their friends, whose views they shared) are expressing anger (understandably) and even hatred towards the shooter. I have not tuned into what politicians and pundits are saying (I admit that I don’t really want to know), other than what Obama said in his statement. But I also have a friend on Facebook who shared some wise words from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I shared these same words (as I was mostly at a loss for words) with the book club on Sunday afternoon:
“We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds – our own prejudices, fears and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women. To prepare for war, to give millions of men and women the opportunity to practice killing day and night in their hearts, is to plant millions of seeds of violence, anger, frustration, and fear that will be passed on for generations to come.”
Beautiful, inspiring words. They resonate deeply with me because I am aware of the violence in my own heart and mind at times. And it is so easy (and feels good) to feel anger and even hatred toward the haters and violent people who commit these atrocities. But I need regular reminders that while I will not physically express my anger, it permeates my actions in other ways – through judgment of others, distance from my family (the source of my own anger), and I’m sure in other ways that I may not even be conscious of.
This is what I wanted to share. My Facebook friend followed up with another post, and I also want to share his own insights, which also resonate with me and are expressed more eloquently than I feel able to do:
Others’ ignorance is plain and obvious to me, but mine hides from me in deep wells of justification, righteousness, rationalization, and consensus. It’s what perpetuates an illusion of separation that’s so easy to cling to — it’s so seductive. I am very grateful beyond these words to have learned whose hate, ignorance, and violence I can do something about in this moment.
(spoiler alert: only mine)
So that is why Journal of a Solitude has meaning and resonance for me. I only wish that Sarton had written more about why she had these feelings of anger or depression, this inward violence, as I wonder if the mood captured in her early 1970s journal was related, even partly, to her sexuality. Solitude seemed to be her escape and her punishment, as well as a necessary element for her creativity.
I want to end by sharing the words (in the form of a modern-day sonnet) of another artist, who is currently a hit in the musical theater world. It uplifted me after a day of strong emotion, as I witnessed the healing power of art during the Tony Awards broadcast on Sunday night:
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.
I need to believe that love is stronger than hate. At least, I have hope that it is so.
One thought on “Reflections on Journal of a Solitude”
It’s clear that we all carry a bag of hurt over our shoulder, full of unresolved issues. And similar to how most war time national debts are never repaid, but only reduced via inflation over time, we never resolve these unresolved issues … they only fade away over time, as they lose their sting.
Sometimes, we are forced by external circumstances to open the bag of hurt, and confront what’s inside, which is often painful and rarely results in a satisfactory outcome.
More typically, the only real resolution is to leave the bag of hurt by a tree in a forest, turn around and walk away, and leave the troubles behind. The healing is to be found in that simple act — of letting go, of letting the unresolved issues pass through you and be released into the air, to be left behind in the forest.
Yes, you will still likely feel the taste of ashes in your mouth from time to time, but at least your soul will be free to feel again, to be filled with the beauty of this world and all those left alive in it.
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