My study abroad is now coming to an end. I came here on the 7th of January, and I will leave in just about two weeks. I am not going to write about my time here, because 1. I already frequently show it in social media posts 2. i wish to keep the events of the second half of the term to myself (that is since the last post I wrote) 3. You probably don’t want to hear about it anyway.
Forty-nine years ago the Beatles asked the world where all the lonely people came from. 2015 and I think we still don’t know. The more pressing question, though, I think, is: where do all the lonely people go? Not that where you go to, to run from the loneliness- which, I now really have given up on answering after five consecutive months of hard thinking- but where do they end up, in the context of having been in a sort of loneliness?
The closest description of this I can find in other literature is having “a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.” Before you propose a solution to my dilemma, I want to tell you that this is not, and I refer to something I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, loneliness that is felt in the absence or loss of something or someone, but: ” (that)… felt in a room full of people, when it seats itself in the already-occupied seat next to you, drinks from your cup and drains it.. it reminds you of its presence even in its absence.”
As i re-read what I write, I find myself thinking: Is this called depression? Is this depression? I don’t know. I don’t know how to think of this, I don’t know how to handle it. My initial thought was to run away from writing it, to not even think it because of the social stigma attached to sickness of the mind. But I know doing so would be a disservice to myself, so I won’t. For now, let’s just leave that written here. Maybe you feel it too and we can share the comfort that even though we don’t know what it is and what is happening to us, that we both feel the same way.
I find myself thinking the same thing over and over so this post will be short. Back in March, I was searching for topics for my honors dissertation. There were only two, they both felt close to the heart, and they were both worlds apart in what they grappled with. The one I eventually chose looks at how a certain extremist organisation manipulates Islamic texts (Quran, Ahadith etc) to go out of the religion’s common, majoritarian understanding. How have they derived so much horror out of a peaceful (not pacifist) text? My preliminary answer indicates sociological, political, economic grievances, rather than grand ideological narratives (as they claim)..
The other topic was on- you guessed it- loneliness. Why is it that so many of the world’s greatest writers (and artists) are so sad? I have struggled with that question since discovering the word melancholy in Keats for my O’levels Literature in English exam. Edgar Poe, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Anais Nin, Frieda Kahlo perhaps, “I drank because I wanted to drown my sorrows, but now they have learned to swim”, Woolf.. How is it that their writings and paintings all share the grief and pain of struggling against the world? When Whitman wrote: “Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring, Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish…” and you understood the depth of what it was that he was getting at. When Charles Bukowski said: “Now something so sad has hold of us that the breath leaves and we can’t even cry”, and you know in the worst of times, you have felt this way too. And one of my favourite pieces:
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
– Edgar Allan Poe
Did they end up creating some sort of revolution in literature? An indirect result maybe- hopefully?- sort of removing the stigma against loneliness, sadness? Perhaps not yet. Did they affect the masses (their readers) in sort of …. creating a thinking, of an out of odds?! What sort of meaning can be constructed by their work, or that is they seek to create? Do the masses see it? Or do you have to be sad yourself (in their sort of way) to see it? Certainly these writers (and painters; I’ve talked about Modigliani once but not Van Gogh, perhaps he will be the subject of the next-ish essay) went on to become very famous, posthumously usually, but has the sorrow aspect been enough explored in the way they wanted the world to explore? (that is their loneliness, their desire to be extraordinary…)
Were they all struggling against the same ordeal? Was the ordeal what they saw as the world trying to make them into something they didn’t want to be? To force them into conformity? (“We all lose some of our faith under the oppression of mad leaders, insane history, pathologic cruelties of daily life…”) They had about them a broken-heartedness with life- Emily Dickinson’s obsession with mortality, so many others’ struggle to be extraordinary, consequential etc and feeling that they failed, broken-heartedness due to a rejected romance, or moral dilemmas (My favourite example for this one refers to the despair in Hamlet ( though, I don’t think Shakespeare is like the writers mentioned here) and his struggle to understand himself and life following the death of his father.
When Anais Nin wrote: “Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” she wasn’t kidding. More often that not, I wish these things didn’t have to exist, you know? Am I being selfish? Unreasonable? I am not trying to act like the weight of the whole world is on my shoulders and this essay isn’t a consequence of some rough patch in my life right now or something, I am just..trying to make sense of questions which have been on my mind for a very long time and now I finally have the confidence, nerve and ability(!) to order into concrete sentences…
So, where do all the lonely people go? Where can they go? The question remains unanswered. You know what i think? I think there isn’t even an inkling of an answer to it in the first place.