“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
― Honoré de Balzac
On Monday night I decided to give my veteran bicycle one last ride before I sold it onwards. Like a man playing with his beloved dog before it gets put down I felt a real bittersweet release for the venerable vehicle. The two hour ride to Heidelberg, along the Neckar river, through green and gold fields and past mouldy riverside homes, was just as lovely as I remembered it.
And to arrive in Heidelberg to see it in the full swing of Christmas markets, all lit up and colourful and full of people, was an absolute treat to make the day. I ended up stretching my stomach some by consuming basically every kind of salty, savoury or sweet European snack I could find and drinking my fair share of Glühwein. It was great. Gluttony feels grand.
But as I walked through the dark town with couples and families and tourists bustling this way and that I came to realise something… something hard to deal with.
This solo trip to Heidelberg, taken after a long solo trip to Vienna, Budapest and Hungary, before an upcoming solo trip to Barcelona came as a realisation that I’ve actually been just a teeny bit lonely. Well, maybe more than a “teeny” bit. It doesn’t hit harder than spending a day alone in a Christmassy setting, after finding out old Facebook “friends” had deleted and blocked you, that your new exchange friends are all leaving for their homes in the next two weeks and that even your family is 6,000 kilometres away. It’s tough, it’s invasive and once these black feelings get a hold of you it’s hard to find a way to escape the pain.
It’s got me wondering if there’s a wall between myself and others and if that wall exists within or around all of us; I’m wondering if solo travel is normal; If the pleasure of freeing solitude is really worth it; If isolation is beneficial in any way and how I can get over this lousy feeling that somehow I’ve gone the wrong direction. I’m hardly an extrovert, but I’m also someone who loves meeting new souls, sharing ideas and generally spend quality time with my fellow travellers.
The most important thing I’ve tried to discover over this past semester is how to make the most of it and try to be happy with loneliness. I’ve recognised that the solo journey through life can be hugely positive. It allows you complete freedom to do anything you’d like in your own time. It challenges you and forces you to depend on yourself. It gives you time to be creative and reflective (great if you want to write a blog).
Sometimes I compare my recent travels to those who have been limited by companions. I say “limited” only in the sense that, inevitably, there are compromises to be made when travelling with others. Of course, this is usually fine and totally worth the lovely company, but I’m concerned to hear tales of all those who have never struck out on their own, either for personal reasons or other. Do they not know what solo travel offers you? Am I just trying to stop myself feeling bad?
“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
― Arthur C. Clarke
The truth, although hidden by this black veil of negative thinking that I’ve battled against in the past, is that I’ve hardly been alone. I’ve met some incredible and talented people, connected with other creatives, worked hard with determined German students and travelled with new and old friends from all over the world. In fact, most of my travels further afield have been in the company of others. I can hardly complain that I’ve met involuntary hermit-tude. Just because I’ve been striking out against the wild alone recently doesn’t mean that I’m alone. There are always people around, always strangers to talk to and glances to meet. By forcing oneself and taking the leap to just talk you’ll find that it’s incredibly easy to turn isolation on it’s head. Of course, feelings of loneliness can become embedded in a person all to easily. It’s a simple matter to convince yourself of your low-worth. Harder is to convince yourself that you’re worth it.
You could channel it into creative, Kafka-esque colours and patterns on the page. You can transform your problems and channel them into troubled beauty. I’ve been trying to do that as best I can, turning my energies to more creative pursuits, and I feel like it’s worked to some extent.
One important lesson I must talk about briefly as well is to not let Social Media speak for you or to you too much. I mean, I work in the media, it’s my trade and my tool, but oftentimes it’s all too easy to forget that what people put out there is a painted and glossed up version of the truth. It’s a struggle, but you can’t use it as a tool for comparison. Likes and reblogs, no matter how much you (or I, for that matter) may think, are not points used to determine who’s winning the game of popularity and life.
There’s still a long way to go on the Electric Holy Road into the Weird and Wunderbar. Some times the road is wrong and lonely. Sometimes is full of light and friendship. Other times its just crazy, chaotic and confusing. In any way, this is a road all of us travellers, writers, artists, singers must walk on at some point. Just keep on truckin’, following the path that your gut drags you on, and you’ll find your way in the end.