Archives for posts with tag: Loneliness

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When I consider the word ‘loneliness’, Alice Neel’s painting of the same name immediately comes to mind. It is one of my favourite works of art. There is something almost sublime about the sheer emptiness of the image – an emptiness not just of people, but also of objects. The chair stands alone, in a space devoid of all else, even sound, or so it seems. I heard someone say this week that poetry is the closest thing we have to silence. Loneliness reflects a poetic silence, a soundlessness evocative of the emotional experience that it considers.

The chair sits by a window. Through it we see other windows, behind which we suspect are similarly empty and silent rooms.

Loneliness was created in 1970. Neel commented at the time that the painting was as close as she had come to a self-portrait.

Neel’s painting successfully encapsulates that intangible yet almost palpable sense of emptiness, of hollowness, and of visceral soundlessness, thus visually conveying loneliness, an experience that can be challenging to share, and a word that has no adequate verbal synonym.

CQ

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An article in today’s Guardian got me thinking about loneliness (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/21/loneliness-result-britain-economic-model). The journalist, Aditya Chakrabortty, rightly criticises the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s assertion that loneliness only afflicts the elderly.
Chakrabortty supports his point by referring to the 2011 film Dreams of a Life, which is a drama documentary of a 38 year woman who died alone in London, and whose death was undiscovered for three years. No one reported her missing, and no one looked for her during those three years.
I live in the same city, and deliberately opted for its anonymity many years ago, having left a homeland where everyone appeared to know everything about everyone else…

I saw Dreams of a Life twice when it was first released. I was overwhelmed by the pathos of the story, and I suspect I went to see it a second time to reassure myself that I had missed some sort of explanation first time round. Of course I hadn’t. This story cannot be explained away.

Dreams of a Life tells the story of Joyce Vincent, who died in her flat in Wood Green towards the end of 2003. We assume that she died around Christmas as she was found, almost three years later, surrounded by wrapped presents.
Her body, which had ‘melted into the carpet’, was discovered in January 2006, and was too badly decomposed to determine the cause of death. She was discovered because bailiffs broke down the front door as she was over £2000 in arrears with her rent. The TV was still on.
No one appears to have missed her. No one reported the smell coming from her flat or the TV blaring non-stop since her death. Joyce Vincent had somehow slipped through our lives.

A shockingly disturbing, almost unbelievable, but true, story.

A captivating and compassionate docudrama by the director Carol Morley, who did not apparently set out to answer the question of how someone ‘disappears’. Yet Morley does attempt to piece together Joyce’s life to some extent, although clearly there are blind alleys and no-go zones, depicted by post-it notes that crop up throughout on an investigator type screen. There is a strong feeling of trying to make sense of Joyce’s death by piecing together her life.
The film is seductively crafted, vignettes of re-enactments of Joyce as a child and as an adult (mostly silent) against a backdrop of interviews with friends and colleagues and journalists who reported the story initially. Morley interviews friends and colleagues of Joyce, some of whom she tracked down through personal ads and social network sites, people who were close to her at different points in her life. They all need to explain her death, or rather the apparent insignificance of her departure from their lives. The triumph of the film is that it makes Joyce’s death a story. It retraces a path from her death, backwards, to explain a life.

In the end, there is no clear explanation as to why Joyce was forgotten by so many people. She was beautiful and popular. Yes, there were times spent in women refuge centres, suggestions of violent boyfriends, and of abuse. But nothing that explains away the fact that she disappeared and that no one missed her presence in their lives.

In his article, Chakrabortty states that Britain has witnessed a rise in people living alone, from 17% in 1971 to 31% today. This increase is occurring not in the elderly, but in those of working age. A doubling of the divorce rate since the 1960s probably contributes to the observed increase.

And loneliness is bad for your health: ‘excessive loneliness pushes up your odds of an early death by 45%.’

Much to consider…

For now, from Maya Angelou’s Alone:

‘Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.’

CQ