Solitary Pursuits

...Scene of the crime.
…Scene of the crime.

Sir Isaac Newton was a life-long bachelor who died in 1727 at the age of 84. He is considered by many to be the most influential scientist who ever lived. He built the world’s first reflective telescope; he developed the theory of the visible light spectrum; he shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of important theories in calculus; and his monograph, Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, did no less than establish the very foundation for classical mechanics (physics). One might wonder whether the breadth and depth of Sir Newton’s accomplishments were made possible due to his apparent lack of interest in having a wife and family. That is, could he have pulled this off as a husband and father of a gaggle of small children living in rural England?

The freedom one finds with solitude, as with Sir Newton, seems often to lead to great ideas. And a solitary existence is often simply necessary when pursuing the perfection of a craft. Speaking from personal experience, I know of no accomplished guitar player who did not while away an inordinate amount of his or her youth sequestered alone in a bedroom working on chords, riffs and arpeggios.

Word crafting is a solo pursuit as well. And the poet, novelist, journalist or essayist must find peace and quiet to allow his thoughts to blossom and take shape on the blank sheet in front of him. This cannot be done readily with a small child wailing away (not by me, anyway). Nor can it likely be accomplished while attending a keg party, for that matter.

And think about this: if Albert Einstein had not been busy putting his girl friend, Mileva, in a family way, perhaps he would have had enough time in his life to figure out the Unified Theory. Rats! How much time did he waste going to soccer games and PTA meetings when he could have been focusing on the missing link between general relativity and quantum mechanics? Man! Lost opportunity there, ay?

The creative among us, regardless of genre, tend to hole up in their respective ateliers at every opportunity. These solitary studios, dens and nests are often found in attics, barn lofts, country cottages, garages, basements, cabins in the woods and third bedrooms in the suburbs of America. My friend, Gypsy Dave, calls his “The Church of the Divine Puttering.” I call mine “The Kitchen Table.”

Sometimes a creative sort can have his cake and eat it too. William Wordsworth in his poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” speaks of the “…bliss of solitude,” and the benefit of his walks with nature. I can imagine—he lived under one roof with his sister, his wife, Mary, and her sister, and five kids. Jeez. No wonder he needed long walks.

Yes, it does seem that the greatest of epiphanies often come from the minds of reclusive introverts—those who are most comfortable in environments that allow the mind to wander. Or to focus. Uninterrupted.

And I confess to being such a person. An introvert, that is. After having raised a family, as a single parent in later years, and having attended my share of keg parties and PTA meetings throughout my life, I find myself once again comfortably ensconced in the quiet of my sanctuary—my natural habitat. And, sure enough, I have reaped the benefits of my solitude. For example, I have managed to discover the true meaning of life (turned out not to be such a big deal). And now, I am pleased to announce that I believe I have finally cracked the code on how to beat the stock market. Here it is….oh, just a sec. I need to get that phone—it’s my daughter.

Okay, so, what was I saying? Wait. Did I write that down?

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4 comments

    Well said, Skip. And while Francis Bacon wrote that ‘The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship’, many creative individuals become involved in primary relationships that will allow them the solitude necessary for realizing and manifesting their artistic or scientific vision.
    ‘Solitude’ by Anthony Storr discusses and elaborates nicely on this and much more in this wonderfully researched and highly readable book and I recommend it highly for anyone with a continuing interest in the subject.
    In the mean time if you need me, I’ll be out back practicing some new licks….

    I have found some of my best solitude in my kayak in an isolated nook of a reservoir or lake. Beauty, nature and the almost total lack of human sounds make for a peaceful experience.

    I suppose someone should point out that your reference to “licks” would be those typically associated with the playing of your guitar. Well, anyway, that’s what I would assume–correct me if I am wrong.

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