The wandering life is a lonely life, and I've yet to figure out if I am drawn towards loneliness in order to focus on my art, or if I'm so dedicated to my art in order to escape my loneliness.
For the last two weeks of my UK tour I fell into these three beautiful books on the writing life, loneliness and free living.
Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 by Susan Sontag
"In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself."
Susan Sontag is one of my favorite essayists and I’ve been wanting to read her journals for a long time. Reborn is her own documentation of growing up, inventing herself, constant self improvement and the journey from a 14 year old girl with huge aspirations, to finally being a published writer in New York at 30 years old. Her own notes and small thoughts from being a young aspiring writer to slowly blooming and finding her way. What I like about Sontag’s journal is that it’s very different from other wonderful collections of journals and notes such as Anne Frank’s or Virginia Woolf’s. While they write longer sort of short stories that tell a longer story throughout their journals, Sontag documents small fragmented thoughts, ideas and things she wants to remember on her way to become a great writer. There are pages with just lists of books she wants to read, small words she likes that she wants to use in writings, or musical compositions she want to listen to.
"I intend to do everything...to have one way of evaluating experience—does it cause me pleasure or pain, and I shall be very cautious about rejecting the painful—I shall anticipate pleasure everywhere and find it too, for it is everywhere! I shall involve myself wholly...everything matters!"
It was amazing to read this book and get an insight into an incredibly dedicated and motivated writer, since I found myself feeling like I had a mentor in her (or at least in her intellect). She takes an athlete’s attitude towards learning her craft, planning what to read in order to develop and grow, and she’s giving her life to becoming an author. I have a weird thing for reading about these kinds of people, who are so disciplined on their mission. It definitely made me want to step up my own game, to develop a more disciplined self-study plan to become a better writer and musician.
Again, it’s a very different read from Anne Frank or other diaries, but if you’re interested in more ”hardcore” notes from an incredible writer, this is it.
“The fear of becoming old is born of the recognition that one is not living now the life that one wishes. It is equivalent to a sense of abusing the present.”
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The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
I guess I’m pretty known for my loneliness, and if there is anything that sums up my own three books it is the solitary feeling of being alone in a city full of people. To be completely on my own,
in my own hands. Lately I’ve been increasingly interested in going deeper beyond just the word ”loneliness”. I started to wonder what it actually does to someone, to spend so many years with this melancholy loneliness eating inside, and I wondered why so many of my favorite authors seemed so inclines towards loneliness. I stumbled upon Olivia Laing’s book The Lonely City while going down the rabbit hole and as I started to read more into her and her books it felt like she was writing a research study of my whole entire life, even though it was about her own story.
“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged. It hurts, in the way that feelings do, and it also has physical consequences that take place invisibly, inside the closed compartments of the body. It advances, is what I’m trying to say, cold as ice and clear as glass, enclosing and engulfing.”
Through different visual artists such as Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, and David Wojnarowicz, Laing meditates on what loneliness means to artists, why some people are so drawn towards it, and why it ”happens” to people. She’s kind of disguising some very heavy research under this incredible prose language that floats like poetry, and she’s telling it all through a narrative of herself as a lonely soul in New York City where she ended up after a broken heart. I’d describe it as art criticism blended together with poetry and prose.
It’s not a book to get lost in or to read as a fiction book, but if you’re interested in creativity and more non-fiction thoughts about artists and especially loneliness, I recommend this book wholeheartedly.
”This is a strange story, perhaps better understood as a parable, a way of articulating what it’s like to inhabit a particular kind of being. It’s about wanting and not wanting: about needing people to pour themselves out into you and then needing them to stop, to restore the boundaries of the self, to maintain separation and control. It’s about having a personality that both longs for and fears being subsumed into another ego; being swamped or flooded, ingesting or being infected by the mess and drama of someone else’s life, as if their words were literally agents of transformation.
This is the push and pull of intimacy”
AMAZON UK // AMAZON US
The Portable Beat Reader
After stumbling upon On The Road by Jack Kerouac right before I moved to London at 18 years old, I pretty much based my wandering years on these beat writers. Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs… I love their raw and decadent language; their absolute ignorance towards classy eloquence and fancy living; their rough lives and real stories. What I love about the beats is that they’re experts at taking just a plain, ordinary moment, often lying a little in the dumps, and turning it into this captured moment in time that is worth writing about. A drink at the bar talking about their drunken troubles, a hung over Monday, a lonely walk home cursing the world. Charles Bukowski showed me how words and poems can be shaped in ways I never thought was possible, and the wandering mind of Kerouac showed me that life is yours to invent and create.
If you’re into these writers I’d say that any companion or collection of the beats will do. This one was just another great one to keep me company during my vagabonding. It’s not a book you read from start to finish, but you keep it close to heart to read a few pages here and there, as a companion.
AMAZON UK // AMAZON US
As an end note I also have to share this wonderful piece on loneliness and writers in The New Inquiry >>>