Written around 1981, Stan Weir on feeling isolated.
I am lonely.
I have a wife and family, relationships with them that would hit median on most scales.
I have a number of friends, yet, I am enshrouded by a sense of isolation.
I do not dwell on it, but it overtakes me daily.
It is a political, intellectual-artistic loneliness. I lack a sense of intellectual- artistic community. There are too few in my daily contact with whom I can share thoughts and find legitimacy. Few? None would be a more accurate word.
It might be that a large part of the problem is San Pedro. From a distance, though still in sight, I sense community with the maritime workers I see around me as I move about the area. But this is obviously not enough. Nor, I suspect, is the real problem San Pedro.
In my mind, I list my friends around the country. They're all politicals, either small or large "p." With none of them have I sufficiently parallel depth of interest to supply me with kindred soul company.
What I am really looking for are friends who are intellectuals of the sort represented by Jean Malaquais in War Diary; Harvey Swados in "A Story for Teddy" and "Coney Island Uncle"; by Gide of The Journals of Andre Gide; by Rilke, Goethe, Dzerzhinsky, Max Sterling, Albert Goldman, Clement Greenberg, James Jones of From Here to Eternity (not the succeeding books); Yasunari Kawabata (all titles); by The Harp of Burma, of an earlier Clancy Sigal in Weekend in Dinlock and Going Away; Ignazio Silone, his unrevised Bread and Wine and Fontamara; Andre Malraux of Man's Fate; John Fowles of Islands (especially); Jimmy Baldwin of Nobody Knows My Name (and other essays); and Carolyn See—her reviews in the LA. Times on Mother and Son, Her Side of It (Thomas Savage), and Mary.
Of the above, Malraux and strangely enough Silone fall into secondary places. C. L. R. James could be added. The greatest authors explain the human condition in a way so that none turn up as villains, so that no matter the depth of corruption of the people they describe, all are understandable as part of the total human condition.
Some of those mentioned above I have known personally. I have failed with most of them. I found that while they were able to provide the nurture I am seeking in their writing, face-to-face it was not possible. Sterling, Goldman, Baldwin are the exceptions. Why was that sense of kinship possible with them and not with the others? It seems to me that in each case they were more concerned with how they lived their work or political life than with how they lived among those in their circle of reach.
Baldwin provides examples of both. Exceptional communication was possible before he became a superstar, not after. C. L. R. James was always too preoccupied with building his grouping. He made new friends, but once it was clear they would not join, they were cut off. Harvey was completely swamped by the necessity to make a living as a writer. To a slight degree the same is true of Clancy. Who knows what category the people I did not list would fall into? Probably the lesser one, for most of us are dogged by the necessity in some way to get involved in the market: the commercial market as writers and academics, the political market as sectarian politicos.
From this it appears that the pitfall that one must try to avoid is being swept up in self to the point of preoccupation, wherein one has little or no time to devote to friends, to give freely, to display intellectual generosity when there is no publication reward or political advantage to be had.
Selfless? No. It is absolutely necessary to have this high sense of responsibility and generosity. Neither sacrifice of self to the point where one loses one's own hold on one's potential nor sacrifice for that potential to the point where one loses sight of the human condition. For that, more than anything else, distracts from one's sensitivities and "career."
The crisis of loneliness within me has reached that point where I must sometimes seem to some to be uncool. Yesterday I phoned Carolyn See. I do not know her, but simply got her phone number from information. On my second try, inhibited but driven to make contact, I got her. It turned out that she had just returned from her father's funeral. I told her that she did not know me, that I had read her reviews and was thrilled with her ability to articulate the most complex of human conditions. I read for her some of her own formulations from the reviews. I told her that this ranked with the best of what has come from the top French intellectuals. Also, that she obviously understood the effects of work on people.
From that point I went on to let her know of Single; ack and what kind of an effort it is so that she could see the motivation on my part. I told her, "this is not a lonely hearts club call, I'm married and not looking for an intellectual singles club, etc."
"Gee whiz" . . . she was overwhelmed and that was all that came from her at first. Finally, she said that it would be best if we could meet by my attending the writing class she teaches. (I had told her that I wanted to meet her.) I was now a little embarrassed and inhibited with what I had done.
"I know it's strange to get a call like this. I may come out to your class, but I don't know. If you are ever down this way, please let us know."
Overnight I dangled in my own embarrassment some more. Today I sent her all our books and the promo material, and gave her some explanation of how we got Singlejack going. She may now understand a little better.
In that phone call I did something not usually done. All out front and no reserve, almost. Just here we are out here and we think that you are someone we want to list among kindred souls. I do not think I would have handled it that way unless I were in the crisis I described.
It used to be that I counted Kim, our older daughter, in on the closest circle. I always knew she understood what I was about. Now, or for now, that is, in large part, not there. She has to develop her own independent life and can't spend a lifetime being one of my support agents. Laurie, our younger daughter, understands it all, is living it more and more as she sees the intellectual jungle that surrounds the architectural artistic community. But she, too, has to live her own life. Just thank the gods that I know that there are two young people out there who do understand even though they cannot be in my immediate circle.
If, among my friends all around the country, there was the real thing potentially anywhere among them at this time, it could be sustained even by correspondence. But no, it is not in the cards. They are all taken up with their own race towards . ..
What I am really saying here is that the condition in society has all so sewn up that the quality of life is deteriorating.
I am also afraid that in part it is age. When younger, we all had more time. Those who still survive of my generation are into the race all the more because they are on the last laps—and know it.
There may be something that I can do from here to get in with a grouping, but I doubt it. Better if I lived in New York City or even on the West Side of Los Angeles, if I could stand what goes with it out there. Frisco
would be a halfway house. For now, I must work and look and watch and wait for opportunities as I develop something on my own.