A recurring theme in my life these days seems to be the idea that good can come from bad, that great beauty can be born from great adversity, that even the most oppressive rain clouds possess their silver lining, if you’d only look for it. Several days ago when I was having a particularly tough day, I returned to a poem called Roll the Dice by Charles Bukowski. It was introduced to me several years ago by my friend Barbara and I’ve leaned on it many times over the years when I’ve needed a lift (If you’d like to read it, it’s pasted below, at the bottom of this blog). The poem is about dedicating yourself to your passion and being so committed to it that you’re willing to suffer through any hardship in order to make it happen. A couple lines in particular stand out: Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.
Isolation is the gift. It’s tough to be alone. It’s more fun to be with other people, to be social. But it’s also a distraction. My acting teacher said something in class a few weeks ago and I wrote it down because it really hit home. Anyone who’s trying to do something wonderful will suffer in loneliness. He was talking about artists – actors in particular – and the art of creation. But I think it’s true for most people. As much as we are social beings, we need time on our own. To do our work. To figure out who we really are without the opinions of others reflecting back upon us like mirrors.
I have a complicated relationship with my aloneness. I hate it because it makes me feel just that: lonely. But I also need it. There was so much to do after my mother’s death, that I didn’t have time to grieve. My dad was ill and he was alone. My grandmother was ill. Bad things kept happening and crisis management stretched on for months. And after both my dad and grandmother passed, I threw myself into work, co-producing a play festival and a film, and just keeping so, so busy.
At the time, I think being busy and distracted was what I needed to do. I had to keep moving in order to get through. But now – finally – I’ve arrived at the place where in order to get better and to heal, I have to sit with myself and let the feelings land where they land. No one else can do that for me. No one can grow for me, or process my emotions for me, or get healthy for me, or make the changes I need to make for me. That’s my job. And like it or not, it’s a path I’ve got to walk alone.
It feels paradoxical to say that because throughout all the tough stuff, I’ve been surrounded by wonderful, loving people who’ve buoyed me up, who’ve supported me, and without whom I never would have survived the darkest of the dark. I don’t want to slight them or diminish their crucial importance in my life. I’m eternally grateful for every helping hand and kind word. But now I’ve got to scour the depths of my soul for what’s next and the only one who can do that is yours truly.
We don’t walk into the great unknown willingly because change is uncomfortable and, at times, terrifying. But life, through circumstance, will drive us to change. It pushes us to be better when we won’t do it on our own. It shakes us up when we need to be shaken; it creates obstacles that we must overcome, so that we can surprise ourselves with our resourcefulness and stand in our own strength. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ has become such a cliché I almost hate to type it on the page, but clichés are anchored in our vernacular for a reason: they’re true.
I’ve survived a lot of traumatic life events over the last two years, but I’m starting to see the gift in what has happened to me. It’s tough to admit that because it almost sounds like I’m grateful for the bad stuff, or that I somehow wanted it to happen. I’m not, and I didn’t. But I’m grateful for what it has taught me, for what it is teaching me. I’m grateful for the ability to look at my life through different, wiser (and yes, sadder) eyes and appreciate how truly beautiful it is, and what a gift I have indeed been given.
Isolation is the gift. For me, right now, it is. I’m surrounded by amazing people who love me and whom I love back. I’m lucky. But – at least for the time being – I’m on a path that, on a fundamental level, I must walk alone. To grow. To explore. To write and to do my work. And to just come home. To me.
Until next time, friends.
Roll the Dice by Charles Bukowski:
If you’re going to try, go all the way.
Otherwise, don’t even start.
This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind.
It could mean not eating for three or four days.
It could mean freezing on a park bench.
It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery — isolation.
Isolation is the gift.
All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.
And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds.
And it will be better than anything else you can imagine.
If you’re going to try, go all the way.
There is no other feeling like that.
You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire.
You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.
It’s the only good fight there is.