Fenton Johnson (on solitude, and reclaiming reverence)

[3-minute read]


The main article appealed to my loner tendencies, but there was eco-writing, a call to end high schools, and a basketball feature. A must-have.

The main article appealed to my loner tendencies, but there was eco-writing, a call to end high schools, AND a basketball feature. A must-have, absolutely killer issue.

“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

 — Blaise Pascal

I have never subscribed to Harper’s Magazine, but it’s a wonderful read. I buy it as a gift and a comfort to myself, approximately whenever a cover story leans out from a random magazine rack and says, Buy me now. My love for this smart American publication isn’t timely or disciplined or even remotely organized; for one pathetic example, I’m just now finishing the August 2013 issue, and returning to its cover piece, a writers forum on the lumpily uncomfortable topic “Are You Sleeping?”. This was a Must-Buy because  my nights have been harder work than they should be for a long time. (I’m trying to try easier.)

A year ago last spring, I was forced to kidnap (and to pay the $7.99 ransom for) the April 2015 issue of Harper’s, whose cover story was the long and deeply thoughtful article “Going It Alone: The Dignity and Challenge of Solitude”, by Fenton Johnson. (You can read the whole article here on the magazine’s archives for free.) The piece begins with the quote from Pascal, the 17th-century French polymath/genius, which Johnson follows with a more homely conundrum. He invites us to consider the average bookstore, or daytime TV lineup, or any number of therapists, clergy or Internet advisors, all counseling us on how to figure out our relationships. He compares that to the scarcity of public comment about being by ourselves:

Continue Reading >>

Blaise Pascal (on solitude as virtue)

I bought the April edition of Harper’s magazine — you can’t get it at the supermarket checkout (except in FantasyHowdyLand), but my chi-chi grocery emporium’s mag-rack wasn’t that far away — and, well, I bought it because it was Harper’s (and I was hungry), but also because of a perfect storm of stories highlighted on the cover. (I felt fated, head-spatially profiled, chosen.) “American Hustle” features basketball (good news for this hoops-head) and how hothouse youth coaches exploit African kids (possibly even more attractive to this highly conflicted coach who loves the game, loves excellence, hates what is done in the name of religion sport). “Rotten Ice” is a story of Arctic melting, not only for me but for EcoBride. Rebecca Solnit writes, perhaps just for this career English Creature, an op-ed titled “Abolish High School!” The cover piece, though, was both the initial eye candy and the clincher: “GOING IT ALONE: Fenton Johnson on the dignity and challenge of solitude”.

It starts well, pleasing my expectant reading tastebuds. I haven’t finished.

Continue Reading >>

Maria Popova (on solitude)

“The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance…to all human bonds — even Emerson, perhaps the most eloquent champion of friendship in the English language, lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude, the very state that enabled him to produce his enduring essays and journals. And yet that choice is one our culture treats with equal parts apprehension and contempt, particularly in our age of fetishistic connectivity. Hemingway’s famous assertion that solitude is essential for creative work is perhaps so oft-cited precisely because it is so radical and unnerving….

Continue Reading >>