The Virtues of Solitude - Ralph Cissne

RALPH CISSNE

For decades I have worked from home, social distancing alone with my thoughts. I write so I am familiar with rejection, disappointment and moments of triumph. During the COVID-19 isolation, our time of great unknowing, it became clear that my days are numbered. So are yours, unless you are Betty White or Keith Richards.

There’s a time to be alone and a time to come together, to consider other points of view beyond the veiled pretense of outward appearance. There’s always something deeper and more meaningful waiting. Artists examine form and function, the play of shadow and light. Being open-minded is a beloved liberal idea. Each of us represents a work of art, a product of willingness, biological destiny and, most likely, a few cocktails.

Censure and condemnation will crush your spirit. If you grew up around friends with alcoholic parents you may have heard the rage: “Sit down. Shut up. Who do you think you are?” I have file boxes filled with a lifetime of random notes, reference material, story drafts, and publisher rejection letters. Cleaning my office during sequestration, I discovered a Los Angeles Times article from June 29, 1988 in which Paul Ciotti chronicled how poet and novelist Kate Braverman dealt with the summary rejection – from friends, agents and a dozen publishers – of her second novel Palm Latitudes. Years earlier at a writer’s workshop Braverman had warned: “The pain you suffer is enormous. If you can be anything else but a writer, be it.” Her novel was eventually published by Simon and Shuster’s Linden Press to favorable reviews.

I never met Kate Braverman, but her warning had a profound impact on my becoming. In 1988 I was roaming Hollywood comedy clubs and Bohemian coffee houses, writing poems and short stories. I am grateful for Kate Braverman and that I saved the article as a reminder of the sacrifice required and how even close friends may think you have lost your mind. You learn to embrace being alone, working quietly through the night in a parallel universe of your own creation. Our days are numbered, but I have many days ahead, encouraged by the thoughtful readers who ask, “What happens next?”