…What’s your take on the romantic notion of the artist in isolation? Is a Henry David Thoreau laughable in this day and age? —KateOf course writers need solitude—that’s where the writing happens—but I’m with MacLeish: if you’re going to have anything worth saying, you’d better start by taking an interest in other people. That means living among them; sexting doesn’t count. The two big dangers for contemporary fiction, it seems to me, are people not reading enough and people not hanging out enough. These dangers were unimaginable in Thoreau’s time. His solitude is full of remembered texts and remembered conversations. His clean slate is a palimpsest. But to spend your days alone and online isn’t just bad training, it also makes for lousy material.
References to my “Thoreau-esque” existence have become a bit of a running joke between me and a couple friends. I always feign annoyance at being compared to a poser when it comes to being a hermit, quoting Edward Abbey in response:
Henry was no hermit. Hardly even a recluse. His celebrated cabin at Walden Pond – some of his neighbors called it a “shanty” – was two miles from Concord Common. A half-hour walk from pond to post office. Henry lived in it for only two years and two months. He had frequent human visitors, sometimes too many, he complained, and admitted that his daily rambles took him almost every day into Concord. When he tired of his own cooking and his own companionship he was always welcome at the Emersons’ for a free dinner.
So, yeah, what’s “laughable” is the fact that Hank is still an eponym for austere isolation (the virtues of his prose aside). I live three miles from town! I’ve been in this house in the woods for four years so far! I can count the number of friends I’ve had visit me here on one hand with fingers left over! And I’ve only left the house once since last Tuesday! Where’s my recognition?