One of the blogs I read every day (or as often as it’s updated) is called Making Light. The blog is hosted by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden, both of whom are editors, teachers of writing, and major figures in the world of SF. The subject matter is varied and fascinating, ranging from science fiction and fantasy (naturally), to the business of publishing, to politics and world events, to, well, just about anything.
It’s usually at least an interesting read, but this recent post by co-blogger Abi Sutherland (an American living and working in the Netherlands) particularly set me to thinking. The post was written as a response to one on Roger Ebert’s blog (which you can find here), on the subject of loneliness. Sutherland’s post is mostly about the sense of community one can find at various places on the Internet (something to which I think we can all relate), but it was this passage that really struck a chord for me:
[Ebert] wrote it from the perspective of being one of those happy people who does not get lonely, and I think he goes astray as he does. He wants to attribute it to causes, to lost loves or love never found, but I tend to think that some of us are simply prone to longing.
I don’t even know what we long for. Not necessarily for companionship, or love, or friendship and interesting conversation; I have all of those in abundance. I’ve been married seventeen years, and I know I am beloved. My children adore me the way that children often do adore their mother. I have friendships both in person and remote. And I return all of these sentiments wholeheartedly. I’m not achingly lonely the way I was as a teenager. But still…
An evangelical type might tell me I long for his version of God. Madison Avenue will happily detail all that I should long for, and how much I can save by buying it while it’s on special offer. Many Americans, particularly conservatives, will tell me that I long for liberty, here in “oppressive” Europe. Perhaps any or all of these people are right, but I doubt it. My experiences don’t match their assumptions.
Something in me longs for a place I feel at home; perhaps that’s it.
I may just be projecting here, but it seems to me that’s why a lot of us read, and why a lot of us write: a longing for someplace we feel at home.
One of the things I’ve always loved about the German language (Mark Twain’s’ hilarious distaste for it notwithstanding) is the amazing variety of precise words it contains for very specific and complex emotions and states of mind. One of those is Weltschmerz. The word is usually translated as “world-pain” or “world-weariness”, but I’ve always preferred the definition given by Meyer in one of the Travis McGee books: “homesickness for a place that doesn’t exist.”
How many times have we heard readers tell us that they read to escape? Often, that statement is followed by a story of some wrenching event in their lives, or some horrible time they’ve gone through, and how such and such a book helped them get away from it for a while. It we’re really lucky, the book’s one of ours. But I’ve found that even people, like myself, who are well provided with “companionship, or love, or friendship and interesting conversation” still have that sense of longing to be, at least for a short time, in another place. Some of us feel the need so acutely that we’re driven to build those places in our heads, then invite other people to visit there too. This occasionally annoys our companions, loved ones and friends, because it does at times seem more than a little ungrateful. But it really has nothing to do with them. We’re just, as Ms. Sutherland says, prone to longing.
So, am I off base here? Does loneliness (or longing, if you prefer) drive YOUR writing or reading?