This morning as I sat at the table with the sun streaming through the kitchen window, sipping my freshly made smoothie, I came upon the art section of the NYTimes which had a full page painting from 1644 of a Ming dynasty painter. The Asia Society has just opened an exhibition featuring works by reclusive artists so many years ago.
I was taken by the concept since it resonates with so many of my values and perspectives, including the search for Taoist hermits in the mountains of Sian that I had read about earlier. William Porter, nicknamed Red Pine, described his travels seeking reclusive Taoist priests and priestesses who lived alone in huts, subsisting on very little food, rainwater and sitting among pine needles. It was a romantic search, buffered by humorous encounters with some hermits, “hiding in plain sight.”
Living in solitude has long held an appeal for me and the journals of May Sarton, especially “Plant Dreaming Deep” and “Journal of a Solitude” struck a familiar chord with me when I had three kids at home and no solitude as such at all. I tired of reading Sarton after awhile because her writing became more whining and complaining amidst a lifestyle that included a home in New Hampshire and then on the coast of Maine, a multitude of flowers, inside and out, her loyal pets and friends who showered her with care and gifts of food, even as she continued to wring her hands about not being recognized sufficiently as a poet. That’s probably because her journals were her tour de force with women readers during her generation of writing–not poetry. In any case, her writing about the everyday was different from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s but there was a common theme of domesticity around houses, flowers, food and gardening that appealed to many of us at the time.
I don’t ask myself any longer why living inwardly is appealing. It just is. I have no desire to go on a cruise (esp. when many of the ships keep breaking down) where you’re trapped with hundreds or thousands of people whom you can’t avoid running into. Henry Beston wrote many years ago about living in a small shack which he wrote about in his famous book, “The Outermost House” during the 1920’s in Eastham, Cape Cod. To preserve those areas, the Cape Cod National Seashore reserve came into being in the 1960’s.
I guess if you’re artful or not, taking time alone can allow for a space for reading, rumination, creating and making things that reflect one’s inner senses and individual skill. At least, there’s a possibility to nurture and inform one’s spirit if taken.
For me, the last few weeks of winter have been filled with knitting, the amaryllis and orchids blooming, the canary singing, and I’ve even taken upon myself to (finally) read Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” having picked up a used, boxed three-volume Pleiade edition. Come to think of it, Marcel Proust was a reclusive artist too, writing 4000 plus words in his dimly lit cork-lined bedroom describing the mores and human vagaries of French society which are so universal that they may mirror our own.
Let’s see how far I get with THAT while being grateful for peace and quiet, and most of all, time.