The Joy Of Solitude

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone
…” from Alone by Edgar Allan Poe

Today I received a text asking me how I was enjoying my time off now that my book was finished. I never know how to explain it’s not a job. It’s who I am. It’s like asking me how I was enjoying not being part of myself. But It’s one of those things that unless you live in the same kind of skin, you’ll never understand. I just tell them I’m having fun.

In between writing other stuff, I’ve been filling my digital sketchbook with future paintings. It’s my latest obsession. I want to turn the digital and other resource heavy art into more organic elements. But a return to a purer form loses its intent if I replace one with another that takes the same amount of resources, only from another source. So I will be exploring “painting” with existing resources, maybe fabric scraps pressed flat, dirt, ground up leaves. It’s just one of many projects on my want to do list.

But no matter what art I do, I always have to write. For me it is more than putting words on paper. It’s how I process myself and the world around me. I write it. I always have. During the hardest times in my life I wrote it away for a few hours. I could create any world, any reality, any person I wanted. It’s what allowed me to live in the other world, the one outside my imagination, the one I didn’t understand and that didn’t understand me. I knew I could write a better one. I could make it kinder, more tolerant, less judgmental, more loving, and best of all I could write myself completely understood. I wouldn’t feel like the weird kid on the block. I wouldn’t stand out. I was comfortably me. The other world simply could not compete.

My comfort with solitude allowed to live only part time in the other world. My ability to write away my pain, my despair, my bouts of depression allowed me to survive. My art exposed too much of me, but my words kept their secrets. That’s why I must write. It’s not a choice. It’s who I am. It’s who I have always been. So in between the art, I write.

When I was writing all three books, I made word sketches of each character in my novels. It allowed me to get to know them, to make them consistent from one book to another, and it still allowed them to change without losing their basic character.

This last week I expanded those sketches to share with those reading my books. I’ve lived with them for a long time now, longer than some of my relationships or friendships. They were at times more real than anyone in the flesh world. So I’m introducing you to them as my friends, the people I’ve held dearest to my heart for several years. They can be found in this blog in several posts, along with my daily art.

These different projects allow me to do art and words every day. When I do this, when I make the time for just me to make that happen, I grow more centered, more content, more in tune with myself. It’s hell on my social life, but that’s nothing different. I’ve always been my own social life. It cuts way down on the bullshit.

My new novel When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor’s Art and Books Ursine Logic

Pandemic Fiction As Truth

"These were the testaments they left behind, the harvests from  the beauty and despair they drew from their depths. They gave the monsters and demons equal say, and the result of such courage was an overlying stark beauty of emotional honesty." 

WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES (coming in October)

I was almost finished with the final book in my series when the pandemic hit. In one of those strange twists, I was reading BIRDSONG, the novel by Sebastian Faulks, during editing breaks. I started out reading it as a novel about the first World War that focused on the psychological trauma of war. Fiction is much better at describing such trauma than the sterilized "professional" accounts. 

It was one in a long list of books I read as I tried to understand what happened to the mind when confronted with previously unimaginable horrors. IF THIS IS A MAN by Primo Levi set me on this path when I first read it several years ago. It gave me insight into a part of the human psyche that was indestructible. But I already knew such indestructibility came with a price. I saw first hand how human beings far too often chewed off one or more of their limbs to survive. I wanted more.

And I got more when the times I was reading in changed. Like most narrowly focused readers, if it wasn't for the pandemic hitting when it did, I might have finished BIRDSONG with yet more understanding of war trauma, but completely missed the significance of another event in the book, the 1918 influenza. 

From the perspective of a modern reader who lived with the global reality of world travel for most of my life, I suddenly saw something in what I read that I didn't see on the first reading. The returning soldiers who helped spread the virus all over the world. In the global world that is part of our reality now, it was easy to see this, so I saw it clearly. But the book focused more on the psychological damage of war, the brain damage, the disabled who lost arms and legs in battle, and the permanent lung destruction that also came home with the soldiers.

I clearly saw my blind spot then, and it became more prominent when the pandemic became personal instead of an historical event from the past.  Along with most of the world, I was suddenly quarantined. My life changed little as I already lived on a small island with few people, and I have always been pretty much a loner who prefers my own company.  Now I was facing an extended isolation with just one other person and a cat. I prepared for it by making a long list of books to read as I finished editing my book. I bought new goodies for my art box. I added supplies to my already adequate earthquake stash. I was ready.

What I wasn't ready for was history repeating itself. My reading of news accounts of the day and the politicizing of the virus began to merge into one miserable truth. As a species, we humans are damned stupid. The 1918 pandemic had the same anti-mask plague rats infecting each other in the name of freedom. The same people called it a lie, a plot, a hoax for the same reasons they did in 1918. The same excuses, the same manipulations, the same conspiracy gulping cultists rose up like flies seeking the same communal shit pile to wallow in together. All hail polio, smallpox, and Caesar!

But I was saved from utter despair when I began digging into my stack of books from the writers of that time. They left us some damned good insightful fiction into what it was like to live during a pandemic. As did the art of that time, the music, the fashion, and the ideas that were germinated during isolation and blossomed when the quarantine ended. 

Along with the fiction, I read post-pandemic criticisms of the hedonism, the outright disdain for social rules that no longer applied, the anguished cries of woe that portrayed the excesses of the 20's as the whole taste of the time. I also read the petty moralists of our time who squawked of the doom to come, the collapse of society, the debauchery, oh yes, the debauchery to come. What they really feared, every damn one of them was something that was seeping through the cracks of our isolation. 

As the quarantine grew from weeks to months,we became more honest. The isolation nibbled away at our social skills. It made us less reluctant to bite the words from tongues left alone too long. We began to share ourselves in weird and wonderful ways. But it wasn't so much the famous paintings we recreated with ourselves as the subjects and then posted online to share with the world from our phones, often with only our pets to play the parts of missing characters.  It was the need to share.

Many times as I viewed the contributions from all over the world, I broke down in tears. The zoom orchestras where everyone played from their living rooms. The demonstrations on how to make your own face mask. Videos for those learning to bake bread for the first time. The world was sharing the same experiences, at the same moment in time, from the same depths of our souls. The world of people, the world of human beings, the world of emotional, weeping, laughing contributors were leaving a record of their humanity.

The changes crept in so slowly that at first they went unnoticed. Little things like around month six I started to have phone conversations with friends that not only were longer than all the ones before, they were more satisfying. The artifice was eroding. The need to pretend to be someone else was wearing away. We began to speak truth to each other. We began to let others see who were really were underneath all the superficial social skills that once defined us.

Those I loved before, I loved even more because I knew them better now, and they began to know me. We began to grow into more appropriate human skins together. My friendships deepened. I grew more comfortable with telling people I loved them, something I've never been very good at. The pandemic gave me an opportunity to get better at it.

But I had to approach all this new reality realistically. I've never been someone who could distance myself from the emotions and traumas of others. It's probably why I needed so much time alone. Sponges needs wringing out time or they will drown willingly, happily, sacrificially in other people's drama pools. I'm working on something I've never been good at, the middle ground. I know it's there, but it's just not as satisfying anymore.

The important thing I was left with was the hope that what I saw happening to me was also happening to others, because honesty, both emotional and intellectual, is a vital thread we need to stitch together new truths, whether it's in our relationships or part of our shared visions for healing the planet.

And of course, after all this, I looked at the book I was editing and realized I needed to start over. My dystopian world was suddenly not a distant fantasy but a quickly evolving reality. I also felt, as a writer, I had an historical responsibility to describe a piece of the emotional truth happening all around me.

That's why I started my book over. I needed to put in the art, the music, the new awareness of self, the need to connect, the global village as a real thing, but most of all, the ability for human beings to get so comfortable in their own skins that saying I love you to a friend, a lover, or themselves, was as important as anything else. I wanted to be part of that mark on history. 



My personal website:
Ursine Logic's Books and Art