Note: I forgot that I wrote this post on a message board for gifted adults earlier this year. I wrote it February 7th of 2012. Someone recently posted a comment on it and I re-read it and felt I’d like to share it here.
Preface: While this might seem like I’m whining, or I expect anyone to ‘fix’ this problem for me, I don’t. I’m just sharing some thoughts as I struggle, like many highly sensitive, gifted individuals, to navigate through life. Perhaps you can relate, perhaps not.
I take some wisdom from one of my favorite authors: Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian lyricist and novelist.
Each human being has been granted two qualities: power and gift. Power drives a person to meet his/her destiny, his gift obliges that person to share with others which is good in him/her.
With that in mind, I want to share with you something I’m learning about loneliness.
I am desperately seeking something but in all the wrong places, expecting to just go out into the world and find like-minded friends in the general population.
I’m too intellectual for my own good. I always have been. Being intellectual has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years as I tried to get my fill of a certain kind of input and the thoughtful exchange of ideas I crave in my interactions with others in real life.
If you are one of the voraciously intellectual types, you perhaps know what I’m talking about. You usually come across as too intense, too inquisitive, too interested in generating deep, intellectual discussions about your pet interests (my top ones are: existential philosophy, Jungian psychology and literature – this week, anyway).
Ask me how many times I’ve been able to have an intense discussion about Hermann Hesse in the middle of the blue collar American Midwest suburban subdivision I live in? None.
How many times I’d been able to parse Nietzsche with my siblings, or parents? Also none.
And what about biotechnology, chemistry, or physics? After I left the lab 8 years ago…this doesn’t come up in casual conversation.
My husband once read Hermann Hesse’s Demian, but it did not resonate with him like it did with me so when I asked him if he liked it, he said, “it was okay”.
Friends in real life? Actually, once. I have a relatively new (to me, not to my husband) friend* but he’s struggling with leukemia. He just underwent his second stem cell transplant. But one time when a few of our college friends came back to town, we all met for dinner. He quoted Nietzschean aphorisms to me over beer and pizza. Yes, that was amazingly cool (especially when I knew this guy to once be a big, bulky bodybuilding guy with “tats” (not the kind of guy you’d expect to know Nietzsche). He grew up to be a chemist and loved philosophy. And, what’s more, he, too was lamenting the decline of the intelligence of people who he knows went to college…which was kind of funny, because I was asking my husband on the ride over why I am the only one of our rather large group of college friends that seems to have retained any kind of intellectual bent 15 years later. It was funny and ironic…and a little more than a bit sad.
I deal with this penetrating loneliness on a nearly daily basis.
Writing helps some.
As a gifted stay-at-home mother of gifted daughters, I find myself struggling with isolation from my peers. I still have trouble with this, even though I’ve kept in phone contact with some of my colleagues from my old labs. They live about an hour away and I get together maybe twice a year with them.
I have a few friends I correspond with and it helps somewhat…but face to face contact is so much more what I desire.
I read something today from the introduction to the 35th anniversary edition of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged –
Man, at his highest potentiality, is realized and fulfilled within each creator himself…Whether the creator is alone, or finds only a handful of others like him, or is among the majority of mankind, is of no importance or consequence whatever…
It should not matter to a creator whether anyone or a million or all the men around him fall short of the ideal of Man: let him live up to that ideal himself, this is all the “optimism” about Man he needs. But this is a hard and subtle thing to realize – and it would be natural for Dagny always to make the mistake of believing others are better than they really are (or will be come better, or she will teach them to become better or, actually, she so desperately wants them to be better) – and to be tied to that world by that hope.
Adjusting expectations are hard.
Being one’s own friend is hard too.
I am trying to apply Zen mindfulness to the sharp pangs of loneliness I feel and pay attention to things like Rand’s writings. I can’t change others or expect them to meet my needs…I can only change me. I am trying to embrace the loneliness and allow it to teach me something. I know a few people who write…but none compulsively so…as if they only feel alive when writing. I know all creative people dance a fine line between sanity and madness…and maybe that’s why I feel a little out of step from most people too. In addition to being intelligent, I’m a writer and artist at heart too. A triple dose of weirdness.
I find some comfort in reading the letters and journals of famous prolific writers like Jack Kerouac, Anais Nin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Slyvia Plath and artists like Van Gogh. Aside from the fact that I’ll probably never get around to publishing anything, my thoughts and feelings are not so different from them.
Sometimes it comforts me, and sometimes it does not. Most of them have been accused of some mental illness/personality disorder. Yes, I realize many of my writings are not far off from being completely bat-poop crazy. It’s okay. I still like me.
Among all the other things that I am…I am an outsider. An an observer of life…but not a full participant. When people read what I write online, I am frequently told how “transparent” I am. I think that’s supposed to be a compliment.
Yes, I am. I don’t have any energy anymore to shroud myself in mystery…to hide or hold back who I am or what I struggle with. I’ve been forced to do that most of my life.
And anyway, aren’t all good writers transparent? They write to be seen, heard, and hopefully to be understood. I think a great deal of them write to combat loneliness and depression too.
I recently realized I am a lot like Mark Twain, without the history of publishing anything. He too, processed life and grief through writing.
I read an article about him in Newsweek magazine in 2010 called Our Mysterious Stranger and shortly thereafter, I had felt compelled to write about it on my blog. I’ll share an excerpt here:
His last writings were of the death of his daughter Jean, who died of after an epileptic episode on Christmas Eve 1909. He wrote for three days as he processed his grief.
I lost Susy thirteen years ago, I lost her mother – her incomparable mother! – five and a half years ago; Clara has gone away to live in Europe, and now I have lost Jean. How poor I am, who was once so rich!…Jean lies yonder, I sit here; we are strangers under our own roof; we kissed hands goodby at this door last night – and it was forever, we never suspecting it. She lies there and I sit here – writing, busying myself, to keep my heart from breaking. How dazzlingly the sunshine is flooding the hills around! It is like a mockery.
Seventy-four years ago twenty-four days ago. Seventy-four years old yesterday. Who can estimate my age today?
I wrote this passage afterward describing how it made me feel:
The tears are welling up in my eyes as I type those words, my empathetic nature and sensitivity is triggered by the imagery his words convey, one hundred years after he wrote to articulate and process his grief. Here I sit on the couch with my laptop, transported in time, peeking inside his mind and feeling the pain of Twain’s grief upon my heart. I don’t have to lose a daughter to taste his pain. I’ve witnessed significant loss in my life too.
I don’t see what’s so mysterious about Twain. He seems like someone I’d like to have known. He seems a lot like me and someone I really, really wish I knew.
So yeah, I am learning a lot in this season of loneliness. I keep thinking I should focus on my vocation…and not worry so much about not being able to share it with anyone in my real life. I have a great wealth of companionship and a rich source of creative inspiration and wisdom in the great minds that came before me.
I hope, really hope, that will be enough.
*That amazing human being/tatted up bodybuilder/chemist/philosopher I described above died last week. I’m going to write about him soon. I already wrote one post called Letter to a Dying Man. I just haven’t been able to write about his passing just yet. It’s just one of those things I can’t look at too closely right now. I just got over the rawness of his passing and I need more time before I revisit it.