The Marginalian
The Marginalian

Alone Together: An Illustrated Celebration of the Art of Shared Solitude

Alone Together: An Illustrated Celebration of the Art of Shared Solitude

“One can never be alone enough to write,” Susan Sontag lamented in her diary. “Oh comforting solitude, how favorable thou art to original thought!” the founding father of neuroscience exulted in considering the ideal environment for creative breakthrough.

All creative people, however public or performative their work may be, yearn for that contemplative space where the mind quiets and the spirit quickens. The ongoing challenge of the creative life is how to balance the outward sharing of one’s gift with the inward stewardship of the soul from which that gift springs.

How to master that delicate balance is what Dutch author-illustrator duo Marc Veerkamp and Jeska Verstegen explore in Bear Is Never Alone (public library), translated by Laura Watkinson.

In the middle of the forest, Piano Bear is performing for a rapt and ravenous audience insatiable for his music.

As all the creatures’ delight in his gift for beautiful music metastasizes into a demand, Piano Bear begins yearning for stillness and solitude. But everywhere he turns, the other animals follow with their incessant incantation of “MORE!”

Finally, pushed to his limits, Piano Bear startles the forest with a great big roar of exasperation, then immediately curls up into a ball of shyness.

Just as he thinks he is at last alone, Piano Bear notices a quiet presence that has been there in the crowd all along — a lone zebra striped with her own gift: words.

As a token of gratitude for all the beautiful music she has been silently enjoying, the zebra offers to read Piano Bear a story. Cautious at first of another intrusion, he comes to see that there is great joy in a shared solitude — a testament to Rilke’s insistence that the highest task of a bond between two souls is for each to “stand guard over the solitude of the other.”

Couple Bear Is Never Alone with Maya Angelou on our responsibility to our gifts, then revisit Hermann Hesse on solitude as the path to destiny and May Sarton’s lovely ode to the art of being alone.

Published November 26, 2023




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