This is not the same as the road getting bumpy. (Is it not?)
A bumpy road has tangible solutions — available, if not always easy, solutions. A road full of obstacles can have the advantage of testing your wits and strengthening your resolve, leading you further toward those heightened moments of “Aha! I triumph again!” that only fuel your fire forward. Testing grounds allow you to “vanquish your enemies” and keep sailing toward your own mystical island only you are 100% certain exists.
A broken string of lightbulbs need repair – aha! I will go to the hardware store. A period is misplaced – aha! I will replace it! A friend starts a fight with you – aha! It may be unpleasant but I will a) talk it out b) find a solution c) do some self-discovery d) realize I am better off without them.
All in the name of — The Big Vision. You will do whatever it takes to do what needs to be done. You feel in your bones a gripping, relentless motivation to keep moving in a certain direction and with the power of this behemoth courage, you will boldly carve away what doesn’t belong. Your mother’s nagging? Don’t need it. Your old friend’s constant bullshit? Why pretend you can’t see through it? Even your own self-doubt — do away with what does not serve your ultimate purpose. Chopping down trees of doubt as they come to plant a richer forest in its place.
Because — you are practically bursting with purpose, a staunch resolve thicker than blood that compels you to spend as much of your energy as possible on propelling you in the direction you know you must go in. If this realization is new, sometimes, first, the path must be cleared. And, sometimes later, cleared again.
So, okay, what happens when you’ve “vanquished” all your “enemies” and cleared space in your head to truly do what it is you’re meant to do? Well, then comes the terrifying part of actually having to… do it.
The bumpy road gives you something to focus upon — either give up and go home or fight harder than you’ve ever fought before to pave a path to later create a world you’ll be able to enjoy.
Loneliness, however, is a different sort of battle — the one with yourself and only yourself. Once all the heckling debris is cleared, or at least clear for the moment, you might catch yourself looking in all directions around you and noticing that in clearing away all the distractions from your work space, you’ve also done a pretty good job of clearing out those simple things that used to give pleasure. Have you forgotten about fun?
As it turns out, you realize, simple fun is very distracting. Once you felt your drive ignite, people who provided simple fun were naturally cleared out of the way. People who couldn’t see or understand where you were headed, who couldn’t get on board with your vision, but who may have filled a Friday night in nonchalance, are now nowhere to be found.
And what is left in their place? Just an echo of your obstacle-clearing battle cry. An echo of it must be. No distractions. Remember you cleared away all the distractions? Silence. The impossible takes shape in the realm of the possible and you are the only one to witness it.
Except now, after all the hard work of clearing an unfettered avenue for you to sit down and make genius on, all you want to do is call back into play the colorful distractions — we writers call this type of procrastination “every morning.” Creating is often a solitary path with no reward but what you afford yourself. So — this is a quick 10 step primer of reminders for when the big bus of lonely hits. (Skip to bottom to just see how Marge Piercy says it better than I ever could.)
So, when the day is spent and you feel too tired to do the work you have to do and almost at the point of mental exhaustion, and you just want to bullshit with the bullshitters, when you start to wonder where everybody went —
What To Do When The Open Road Gets Lonely
(A 10-Step Guide To Accepting Solitary Expansion For Visionaries)
NOTE to all current and future visionaries in any field: Choosing a path of big work that may as yet be unpaved will not net you a hoard of fun, familiar friends (not necessarily, anyway, and not, usually, at first). Fun, familiar friends tend to like to go to already established watering holes and splash and splash, and from your vantage point, you may very well miss the splashing, but as you’re out in uncharted waters learning how to swim and duckroll and tame sharks, you must remember to ask yourself, would it ever be worth it to go back to only splashing?
If the work you’re doing is truly soul-fulfilling, the answer will always be no.
So, when the road gets lonely and you suddenly find yourself in what seems like a vast, deserted landscape far away from all the people having all the fun, first, remember your work. When you remember your work, you step above your physical longing for easy companionship and see that what you are doing is much greater than the present moment. You are already fulfilled. There is nothing missing. Focus takes effort, sacrifice, and nothing is free. Feel into your work. Acknowledge it.
Second, ask yourself whether what you have given up would be worth undoing all the progress that you have made. Would you really want to retreat? Do you really want the easy fun as badly as the present moment alludes? Or can you see above temporary longing to the greater horizon ahead–
Third, ask yourself, really, if you have actually given anything up. Or whether old things that used to delight you just don’t scratch the itch anymore.
Fourth, dive into the itch. The feeling of missing something, of distancing yourself from simple pleasures that used to reward you, is a signal to explore what you really need to be doing in the grand scheme of your big vision. For example, if you are itching to party vacuously like you did when you were 21, you can either realize that you are not 21 anymore, that brain chemistry changes your perception of desire and you will need to move forward, or you can continue to party emptily until your skin reeks of alcohol and your wrinkles stink like cigarette smoke and you have accomplished nothing trying to live in the past. This moment could just serve as a reminder to be where you’re at.
Fifth, realize that focus does not negate pleasure. In fact, focusing on and actualizing a big vision begets a greater sense of fulfillment than the momentary senses. And also, bonus point: you can still party. Who says working hard makes Jill a dull girl? From here on out, the parties are just going to get bigger, better and more interesting as the real magicians start doing more than party tricks.
Sixth, because you’re not partying quite yet, do something to alleviate the temporary fixation on missing the easy, empty, already paved road. Maybe call a friend who understands and is riding with you on the big sassy bull of creation that keeps trying to buck you off, or maybe go running so that your thoughts have something else to do than simply bounce around in your bowling ball head of misguided misery. Sometimes, the right kind of distractions can be great.
Seventh, remember that “conformity proves nothing” and choose your fork. No one said breaking out from the mold would be easy, but you can bet it will be worth it. So, decide to keep on the path. I say it like it’s nothing, but every moment that loneliness or conflict or dissent rears its common head, you are given a choice to succumb to the pressure and give up, or to reinforce the positive thought patterns that will ultimately weave you a rich blanket made from the threads of deep, soulful satisfaction that come from living your life in the way that fits you best. The decision is always being made. (Yes, there IS a way out of a bleak Marxist post-modernism, and it’s being formulated as inner truth.)
Eighth, because you’ve now remembered why it is you’re choosing to go forward in the rambunctious way that you are, also remember that suffering is universal, yet, you have the power to choose whether to make it a productive or stagnant sort of pain. Choose productive. Do something tangible to reinforce the decision you have made. If you are a painter, paint. If you are a dancer, dance, a singer, sing. If you are a writer, by all means, write.
Ninth, congratulate yourself on overcoming another obstacle — because it is –, and give yourself a reward. A cookie maybe! Seriously, cookies. How about a third eye cookie? Chocolate, too. Maybe a brainlessly funny TV show. Whatever works. It may not feel like you just did a lot, but you did. You’re the one training yourself here, so you’ve got to do it right so it sticks. This is scientific positive reinforcement we’re doing here to lead to greater results – because, even though it looked like the road was cleared, perfectly cleared from all your hard work and ready for you to seamlessly, effortlessly stamp your imprint onto the world in one smooth motion (we wish, right!), loneliness often appears unexpectedly as the most profound, yet often seemingly invisible, obstacle that there is.
You have succeeded in clearing a path into yourself. And only yourself. Doing something new or unusual or bold won’t make you instantly popular — in fact, it usually does the opposite, and it’s not until later you get the recognition for all the wanton moments of stress and hardship. But, do remember – no matter what sort of success affronts you later on down your path, these private moments of sweat and heartache — they are yours. Not anybody else’s. You can do with them what you wish. Because you’re the one who’s created the pathway toward that future moment.
Tenth, appreciate yourself and others for the effort and the crazy maintenance of this abstract vision that calls. Even though it may seem like your social circle is shrinking in upon itself when time after time you have requested time to be alone, remember and appreciate those close people, supporters and collaborators around you who are with you as you chip new grooves in the grid — even if they are holed up in their rooms doing what they are doing, and not clinking glasses with you every weekend. Winner’s secret: That’s the way shit gets done.
And finally, take solace in this poem if it strikes you. It may be the singlemost shining-est beacon of light that I can always, always, always rely on to give me courage and motivation whenever the bumpy road tends to get lonely, too.
It’s not an easy path, but it is a rich one. Proceed.
“For the young who want to”
BY MARGE PIERCY
Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.
Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.
Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.
The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms
is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.
The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.
You have to like it better than being loved.