Leave me alone!: women and solitude

As I sat in one of the sessions at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week, listening to William Powers talk about the importance of solitude in our increasingly connected age, I couldn’t help but put a gender lens on it. All of those he was quoting and invoking as models of solitude, whether self-imposed or imposed by external constraints, were men: Thomas Merton, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela.

Most of the women I could think of, who might be considered models of protecting and cultivating their own solitude, didn’t exactly have happy endings: Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf etc. It doesn’t take a highly sophisticated mind to figure this one out. Women have largely been responsible for the kind of care taking that makes solitude a pipe dream.

So it was with great interest and excitement that I read this obituary in Sunday’s Times (weird, as that sounds). An excerpt:

The gratifying struggle for Anne LaBastille was how to balance her yearning for the serenity of solitude in the wilderness with her mission to let the world know, as best she could, that it must preserve wilderness. Preservation could not be accomplished from the tiny log cabin that she built and lived in by a remote lake in the Adirondacks, far from even an unpaved road. And so, time and again over more than 40 years, she set aside her hermitlike existence and traveled around the world to document the fate of endangered species, to help create preserves and to raise her voice against environmental degradation.

I love that her struggle was characterized as “gratifying” and that a woman was described as “hermitlike.” This kind of complexity rarely shows up in the mainstream media, as far as I can tell, when it comes to women and their quest for the meaningful life. LaBastille seems like an amazing woman, and one that I will conjure up when I’m trying to carve out critical space for my own precious solitude.

Please add your own heroines of solitude in comments!

Join the Conversation