I mentioned my love of solitude in an earlier post. Love is probably not the right word. That’s like saying I love to breathe air. It’s much more about need. If I do not have enough silent space, besides becoming a bit grumpy (to which my husband will attest), I cannot think, see or hear as clearly, and then there is no art. I have the following wonderful and lofty quote taped inside the cover of an old journal:

Retirement is the laboratory of the spirit; interior solitude and silence are its two wings. All great works are prepared in the desert, including the redemption of the world. The precursors, the followers, the Master himself, all obeyed or have to obey one in the same law. Prophets, apostles, preachers, martyrs, pioneers of knowledge, inspired artists in every art, ordinary men and the Man-God, all pay tribute to loneliness, to the life of silence, to the night.” A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life.

It is a very grand statement and any personal participation I may have in its truth is very, very small - but important. Painting is like going alone into the woods. It is the leaving behind of all clutter, both internal and external, all duty and demands - a determined hike to a secluded, quiet destination that is conducive to intense focus, to hearing, to joyful or plodding or difficult work. Depending on the stage of the painting, interruptions can be knot-in-the-stomach painful. Being unexpectedly called out of “the woods” entirely can be so unpleasant as to require a little prayer and deep breathing before responding so as to avoid, shall we say, regrettable behavior.

Days often feel like a tug-of-war with “the woods” pulling on one end of the rope and the rowdy crowd of everything-else tugging fiercely on the other. Not including the serious life issues which emerge at times, there are still the growing to-do lists, doggie drama when the mailman arrives, and any number of annoying twists in the day, all clamoring for attention. But most interruptions come from my beloved fellow humans - those eternally important beings, fully deserving of my attention - and are not lightly dismissed. They are those whom I love, who inspire, support and teach me and for whom I am inexpressibly grateful. Without them, there would be no art.

Unending solitude is a barren and unnatural vision. Nevertheless, the war rages on…well, that robust game of tug-of-war anyway. In the end, the fair distribution of my time and attention is often achieved only by my secure grip pulling firmly and diligently on the always-outweighed “woods” end of the rope. It only seems right to cheer a little for the underdog team. Go woods!