A Clear Eye and a Full Purse

“Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in the doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your one presence rather than the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.”

Alice Koller

I spent this evening relaxing and redecorating my bedroom. Earlier today, I took all the objets d’art from above the bed and installed them in a shop window as part of the installation for the holidays. When I came home tonight, my bedroom looked remarkably naked, so instead of passing out on the bed (which is what, for a moment or two,  I wanted to do), I dug into bags and boxes, pulled out all the mussels from a mussel-hunting day last week, and…

I made my bedroom new, again.

Using mussel shells, periwinkles, flickering candles, antique wooden boxes, a branch that fell into the garden of one of the summer mansions, sea urchin skeletons, and dried hydrangeas, I re-made the bedroom. As a friend of mine said a few days ago, “everything is artistic“…

After finishing the re-decoration, I read some more about Alice Koller. It always makes me laugh with wonder and a sense of bewilderment how sometimes things or ideas are thrust into your path to make you take a moment and reflect on what is happening. I stumbled across Alice Koller tonight when I was looking for thoughts about solitude. I found the quote above in my search, and then began looking for deeply for information about her.

Lately, I have spent a lot of my time on the phone with friends; this is because I spend the majority of my time here alone, and seek connection with my friend-family who are far away. This solitude is a first for me; I have always been a decidedly social person prior to my incarnation as the lady in cowboy boots who walks through Northeast Harbor, Maine.

It turns out that Alice Koller, at one point in her life, moved from the city to the country, to Nantucket. She moved with a puppy, while my animal companions are the crows, blue jays, and doves that fly outside my windows and in the garden below. Animal friends who I don’t have to own: the best kind of animals. Here is what Alice said, in 1983, about her short life in a small, small New England town, on her lonesome:

My urgent need was to find out what I believed and wanted and felt independently of what anyone else believed or felt or wanted me to believe or feel. Two factors were working for me. First, I knew how to think: I knew what should count as the statement of a problem; what evidence was persuasive and what inadequate; what a pointed question was and what was mere idleness; what fit well with matters whose outlines were already in hand and what conflicted outright with some other view of the facts so that one or the other had to be discarded (but which?). I subjected everything I had done that I could remember to that kind of thinking and I placed every conclusion I reached alongside one single question, “But is it true?”. I kept raising that question hour after hour, even though I had no criterion for what true would mark out until I was about halfway through my task.

The other factor was that I was at the same time learning what the shape and texture and focus of my daily life had to be. I was living in the country for the first time, and although Nantucket can scarcely be called a wilderness, Siasconset bestowed upon me great spreads of space and silence. To be outside I had only to open my door and take one step. With no people to have to thread my way around, my personal living space was without boundaries. I could go out into the low flat landscape and let the night display the patterns of the stars. At the edge of the moor no artificial lights illuminated the night, and I, a city girl, was astonished to discover that objects are cleanly visible under the light of the full moon. The beach, accessible to me on foot extended for two miles; there only Logos chased the gulls who dared to land, and only I walked. I acquired a taste for wildness and silence almost immediately.

By having removed all socially imposed regulations of my activities, I began to notice the natural rhythm of my day. I was changing almost imperceptibly each day, and I’d suddenly realize that the small increments had coalesced into something wholly new. Although I could not have given voice to it at the time, I was providing myself with the context in which I most naturally flourish…

I was then free to resolve that each moment of each day had to be lived in whatever way my then very weak understanding grasped as being right for me. I would not let it matter whether anyone else agreed with any of my decisions: I alone would judge the fittingness of everything I did. When any action I was considering or belief I was entertaining threatened to conflict with my most basic sense of what was right for me, I would do what I understood in the light of what I saw, no matter what the consequences were. It is a way to learn to consider consequences broadly and carefully so that you don’t unnecessarily visit harm upon yourself or others. But it’s also a way to teach yourself what you can and are willing to endure in the name of your sense of appropriateness.” [New York Times, 1983]

Fishermen here call sea urchins Whore’s Eggs – I have a few spines embedded in my thumb tonight