There are so many wonderful lines from this book, and its opening is one of the best I've ever seen. But this quote in particular really struck a cord with me:
Ursala craved solitude but she hated loneliness, a conundrum that she couldn't even begin to solve.
I feel like when Atkinson wrote this, she must have been thinking of every writer ever. It's such a short and simple quote, but oh my word does it perfectly sum up the life of a writer. As a writer myself, I identify with this sentiment so much. The practice of writing is incredibly solitary. So much of the work is done completely alone - it's just you and the words in your head and trying to figure out how to get them onto the page. It's a difficult process for sure, but most of us who choose this path are like Ursala: we crave solitude. We have so many thoughts and feelings, such a rich internal life that we need to be alone with ourselves, trying to create something out of the tangled mess of our innermost beings. It's a daily struggle, and we have to put in so much toil and effort to make even a little progress, but it's so worth it. It's beautiful and kind of magical, to live with stories and characters and experiences that feel as real as anything else in your life and then to see them come alive on the page. To reach into the deepest part of yourself and find the truths that you want to share and then to create something entirely new out of it. To look at that new thing and think, "I made that. Me. All by myself." Solitude can be so divine.
But it can also be lonely. The flip side of being a writer is that most of us also want to not only talk about the world around us, but to share our writing with others. So it's kind of strange: the act of writing, of creating something new is so solitary, but it is driven by a desire to understand and to be understood by others. Even when we writers are delving into the deepest and most personal parts of ourselves, we are often searching for something universal, something that we can present to the world so that others may connect with our thoughts, our feelings, our experiences. This desire for connection, to understand and to be understood, it's such a huge part of the writer's process, and it's strange that something that is meant to be shared must be created by a single individual who is often completely alone. And this loneliness can be profound. It's an odd thing to sit at your desk, all by yourself, and to try to create something that is meant to be shared, to imagine and think about an audience that is not there. It can make you aware of just how lonely the writing process can be.
This passage also makes me think about our society's general anxiety about being alone. It's something that I myself have struggled with, craving the sort of solitude that Ursala describes while also being so afraid of being lonely. I think that a lot of this has to do with how much our society values extrovert ideals, and my own anxiety in this area has been amplified by the fact that I have lived in some of the busiest and most populous metropolitan cities in the United States, places where you are expected to have a full social calendar, where the value of your life is often measured against how many activities you have planned and the number of friends you have.
For me, as both a writer and a person, I want to find the balance between solitude and loneliness. I want to continue to cultivate deep and meaningful friendships, investing in those people who love and accept me for who I am, who listen when I have an awful day and celebrate with me when I have good news. I think that when you have these kind of relationships, solitude isn't such a scary thing. You know that you're never really alone, that your friends will still be there and totally understand your need for a little solitude. Sometimes there's just nothing better for the soul.
Also, cats make solitude so much better.
Has anyone else read Life After Life? What's one of your favorite quotes?