Day 21 of lockdown. It was colder today. The clouds had a dull finish to them, spatters of rain came and went. In the scene I have grown to love, contained within the wedge shaped frame between the trees, the band of silver sea and the islands piled above drew in and out of focus all through the day, at times dissolving into sweeping brush strokes — gray, mauve, coral. The very atmosphere hung heavy over the isthmus.
Slowly as the hours moved on I felt the drabness infecting me. I started to doubt myself, to question my work and what I am doing here, laying myself bare. And then I did what I always do in moments of self-doubt I went to the books. I chose the maestro of the journal form American writer May Sarton and her 'Journal of a Solitude'. This was the book she wrote to pull herself out of a depression following the end of a significant relationship. I carry this book with me wherever I go. There is so much generosity in the sharing of her inner life on every page of this journal. Nature and her love of it runs through the text like a poem. Opening the book at random I came upon this passage,
"So much of my life here is precarious. I cannot always believe even in my work. But I have come in these days to feel again the validity of my struggle here, that it is meaningful whether I ever “succeed” as a writer or not, and that even its failures, failures of nerve, failures due to a difficult temperament, can be meaningful."
She was known to be complex, the only child of a Belgian historian father and an English artist mother, she said it was a lonely childhood. The deficits in parenting would lead her later into intense love affairs. She demanded a lot of her women partners and broke a number of hearts. This journal, the first of many, was published in 1973 and gradually with the subsequent journals and memoirs, of which 'Journal of a Solitude' and the memoir 'Plant Dreaming Deep' about the creation of her beloved home in Nelson, New Hampshire are considered her best, more so than her novels and poems, she attracted a cult following.
Further down the page of this entry I find myself identifying with her words, as they resonate across almost five decades;
"It is an age where more and more human beings are caught up in lives where fewer and fewer inward decisions can be made, where fewer and fewer real choices exist. The fact that a middle-aged, single woman, without any vestige of family left, lives in this house in a silent village and is responsible only to her own soul means something. The fact that she is a writer and can tell where she is and what it is like on the pilgrimage inward can be of comfort."
May Sarton both valued the solitary life and struggled with it. She acknowledged that being a writer gave her the time to think and to be. She also felt a responsibility to use her ‘time well and to be all that I can in whatever years are left to me.’ That she could rise to but the thing she feared was ‘losing the sense of my life as connected (as if by an aerial) to many, many other lives whom I do not even know and cannot ever know.’
May Sarton died of breast cancer in 1995 before the internet really took off. She, I feel sure, would have taken to Facebook and prized it for its immediacy and the ability to connect with a reader without the need of an intermediary like an editor and a publishing house.
I think this is why I continue writing my lockdown journal, why I am committed for the duration, however long that may be. Perhaps it is an illusion but I write to connect directly with those I know and those I ‘cannot ever know’. It is this unknowable dimension that has a certain mystery and appeal, the idea that one day years hence someone might read my writing and feel it speaking to them. I think it is this that compels many a writer to continue the journey.
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