In My Solitude
“In my solitude you haunt me, with reveries of days gone by. In my solitude, you taunt me, with memories that never die. I sit in my chair, and filled with despair, there’s no one could be so sad. With gloom everywhere, I sit and I stare, I know I’ll soon go mad.” –Ellington, DeLange & Mills
I used to often play piano in the dark. “She’s weird,” I would hear my mother say, before turning on the light, closing the door and going back to the kitchen. I would wait a few moments, and then turn off the light and continue playing in the dark. I would be feeling it and making it up, so I didn’t need to see the keys or notes. It did sink in that perhaps I was weird, and weird definitely had a negative connotation, but I always felt different and I really loved to play piano in the dark. I could play for a half hour on an instrumental or sing my heart out on one of the fifty songs I had written by seventh grade. Usually the door was closed to the kitchen and the rest of the family, and it was my own time. I have two sisters, one of which I shared a room with for ten years, and two loving parents, and otherwise my schedule was jam-packed with school, sports and music. I have always loved writing, singing, reading, and wandering (I used to meander in the ravine behind our house for hours), however, and these things required solo time. Outside of the crowded classrooms, team sports and family time, I found solace and happiness in my solitude.
By grade nine, I was really into Jazz. I played Jazz tunes in my spare time at home and sang in Vocal Jazz in school. On a five-state US tour, I bought my first Billie Holiday cassette (yep, it was the ‘90s). I put on my headphones, pressed play, and for the next two days tuned the bus and the rest of the world out, listening exclusively to Billie. After performing, our group was adjudicated by Western Michigan University’s “Gold Company” Vocal Jazz instructor. Apparently he was impressed with my ability to improvise on demand, and my instructor said he had noted a bit of Billie in my inflexions during my solo. Three years younger than all the other soloists, and despite singing happy lilts such as S’Wonderful and I Got Rhythm, we walked away with the Outstanding Musicianship Award, Billie and I.
When I think of Billie Holiday, I think of, In My Solitude, Good Morning Heartache, and Ain’t Nobody’s Business – songs about utter lonesomeness, broken hearted pining, and forlorn love. Usually low self-worth and surrender were involved, and one who didn’t treat you right, but you loved just the same and you wanted back, after all, it was better than being alone. There seemed no end to Billie’s blues. She sang so beautifully, emotionally, honestly, and when she sang, you felt it, you knew it, and you were not alone because Billie, too, had obviously deeply felt your pain.
I soon found Ella (Fitzgerald), Miles (Davis) and Chet (Baker). Ella was incomparably smooth, thrilling and exuberant, but her renditions of Good Morning Heartache, Blue Moon and Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered floored you and your heart every time. Miles, without even singing, could be heart-wrenchingly blue (Try listening to Blue In Green on a dark grey afternoon, or with the lights off before bed) and Chet was incredibly soft yet commanding in his resignation to life and love (just listen to Almost Blue or My Funny Valentine). I am not discounting the drug habits of some Jazz greats, nor whatever impact the drugs may have had on any of them or the true melancholy they seemed to tenderly espouse, but no one can discount how compelling and masterful their ability to translate deep, dark lows and relentless hopelessness into absolute sonic beauty: Here was pure heart & soul in music form.
I am considered by many to be an extrovert. By those who know me well, know I am more introverted than extroverted, seeking and needing more solo time than most, and maybe even a bit of a loner. Despite my shyness, I have always had many friends. Yet it is music that has been my most steadfast, unfailing and unfaltering friend. From a young age, I was honest, serious and sensitive. I felt and loved deeply and the hurt of misunderstanding, rejection and unrequited affection were always nearly unbearable. Perhaps this is why Jazz artists, more than others, sang out to me. We were all forsaken – we had loved and lost love, we all found solace and a lifeline in music, and I was not alone, in my solitude or agony: – the Jazz greats got it – they had had it bad, and it wasn’t good, but, in their empathy and understanding, had turned the unbearable into enduring music perfection.
Maybe my love affair with solitude is due to my love affair with Jazz, with identifying with the Jazz greats and their pain and hurt, their longing and sadness, their understanding and compassion, and their amazing capacity for musical eminence. I wonder how much my love of Jazz has impacted and infused my outlook, sense and need of solitude; or, how much Jazz appealed to me, from a young age, because of a predisposition for loving and pursuing many things that require solitude. Both cases are merely testament to the power of both Jazz and solitude. I used to play many team sports, and throw in a few group activities, but now mostly do solo sports like running, hiking, biking, and the gym. I have lived with 25 people, but have mostly lived on my own. I am a singer, songwriter, writer and blogger. I am also a traveler – and have often done so solo.
Solitude is frequently associated with unhappiness, loneliness and lost love. Definitely, the Jazz lyrics highlight these aspects. And popular health and culture are touting the negative impacts of not enough social contact and ties. But it is also commonly thought that the number one “Creativity Habit” (Leo Babauta, zenhabits.net) is solitude. Writer Joe Fassler (theatlantic.com) claims, “Great artists need solitude:” that, according to award-winning author Dorothy Nors, “It’s not drugs, wild lovers or poverty that make a great writer. It’s discipline and time alone.” Psychologist Rollo May concurs, stating, “In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.”
I think there is a general fear of being alone, and that darkness and loneliness ensue. I think there is also a general idea of how social we, human beings, should be. But how much social time is enough? How much social contact do we need? How much solitude is acceptable? It depends entirely on who we are and what we love to do. Artists, writers, and those pursuing creative paths, I think it’s safe to say, require more solitude than others. I don’t advise constant solitude, I don’t advise constant anything. Some age-old adages are age-old for a reason: It’s about balance, moderation and what works for you. Find your bliss in whatever amount of solitude works best for you.
*Originally written for ANALOGUE MAGAZINE, Issue 6 (May), Victoria, BC