Longing for loneliness: a writer on the beauty of solitude
The memories that stand out the most clearly, in vivid detail, are moments when I felt lonely. As if the loneliness somehow made those memories etched in really beautiful fine lines in my mind.- Miciah Bay Gault
Miciah Bay Gault had a very unique upbringing, much of it spent alone on 350 acres of land. She lived with her single mother on the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Southern Maryland. With her mother nearby, Bay Gault was granted access to wander the woods and did so regularly. As an only child, she often longed for a sibling and to be part of a large family. But solitude was her main companion.
Sometimes the sense of loneliness was comforting. Other times, it was frightening, particularly when she was in college in her early 20s, facing an uncertain future. Eventually, loneliness took on a more positive, energizing quality. Bay Gault recalls one particularly stark moment of clarity for her, when she was taking a ferry from Ireland to Wales by herself.
"I wandered up to the uppermost deck in the night and it was windy. The sky above was this sort of complicated pattern of clouds. And I just realized that no one knew where I was. I was so very alone and very lonely. And experienced this total exhilaration….
That might have been the first time that loneliness felt like a large, kind of wild, interesting emotion. Not something to be feared or avoided. But something more complicated and beautiful."
Today, as a teacher, writer, and a married parent of three children, she is thrilled her days are filled with people and activities. But she has realized that loneliness is instilled into the essence of who she is.
"It seems so interesting to have spent years feeling lonely and longing for intimacy, and now to have it and long for loneliness. Without knowing it was happening, I equated loneliness with other things like creative impulsive, connection to nature and even ambition."
"I think that feeling of longing is how I know myself. That's who I am. So when I'm not feeling that longing that intensely, I miss it. I don't know how to recognize myself."
Miciah Bay Gault is a writer and a teacher at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut novel, Goodnight Stranger was published August 2019. She has written for Salon.com, The New York Times' Modern Love column and The Literary Review.