The perfect day for barley and mushroom soup. To avoid the stodginess of winter soups, I use small quantities of pearled barley, a mix of sliced chestnut mushrooms and dried porcini soaked in water, and sprinkle finely chopped flat-leaf parsley on top at the end. Generally, I don’t freeze much because I don’t have much freezer space (oh the irrefutable logic of it!), so there’s only enough for a smallish second helping or a bowl of soup for the unexpected guest. All my vegetable soups have a flavour base of chopped onion, carrot, garlic and celery softened in a little olive oil. We have many local olive oil producers growing plump black Calamata or Mission olives, so autumn is the time to buy large cans or bottles of just-pressed peppery green olive oil. The cans keep well in a dark cupboard.
So back to meditations on fear — and last night, looking up at a solstice sky powdered with stars, I was thinking about the fear of loneliness.
…how much of life is about loneliness and efforts to cure or soothe loneliness, and how much of art is about loneliness and efforts to cure or soothe loneliness; and how loneliness is a word — easily enough spoken or written, like death or love – but really it’s a deep sadness, which is also a force, driving so many of our desires and actions, and at the same time shameful and hidden and nearly impossible to live with, out in the open, in any authentic way.
David Foster Wallace is often quoted as saying that fiction is about what it is to be a fucking human being, and so I guess what I am saying is that there are days – not every day, but often enough – when it seems to me that what it is is to be lonely; to be in this state of deep sadness and estrangement, and to know – not so much on the intellectual, conscious level but on the level where shame and fear live – that there is something terribly wrong about this loneliness on the one hand, and on the other (in knowing the wrongness utterly), something also potentially beautiful.
Paradoxes about loneliness stay with me. I have never been lonelier than when I was in love, living with another, that physical and emotional proximity like an anguished reminder of the untouchable distance between lovers. Each tender intimacy followed by separateness. We cannot live in one another’s skins, we cannot know one another as we would want to be known. We are only human, finite, estranged and wounded.
The loneliness of drinking to assuage loneliness, knowing you are going to open that bottle on the counter and pour a glass of alcohol and stand there drinking it like a medicine that is also a poison, drink to numb the loneliness within, that you will cease to feel lonely but that is because you will cease to feel anything, and then the loneliness will return. And you will need to do it all over again.
The loneliness of the long-distance drinker.
And then in sobriety, a certain kind of loneliness ends and you come to have empathy for the loneliness of others, reaching out, fingertips touching across the void. You embrace another kind of loneliness, sometimes lit by the name solitude, sometimes to do with loving others and missing them and feeling helpless in the face of their pain.
The lonely fill the world. Homeless, in exile, bereaved, divorced, Godless, loveless, overlooked, forgotten. The lonely walking crowded streets, calling phone numbers and hearing no reply, waiting for a letter or birthday card or sign. We cannot hide or run from this essential loneliness, it may be what makes us human.
Listen to the loneliness within, let it echo.
Night is a cistern. Owls sing. Refugees tread meadow roads
with the loud rustling of endless grief.
Who are you, walking in this worried crowd
and who will you become, who will you be
when day returns, and ordinary greetings circle round.
Night is a cistern. The last pairs dance at a country ball.
High waves cry from the sea, the wind rocks pines.
An unknown hand draws the dawn’s first stroke.
Lamps fade, a motor chokes.
Before us, life’s path, and instants of astronomy.
|—||Night is a Cistern by Adam Zagajewski|