the answers she gave to a New Zealand journalist recently about the effects of loneliness and the “beautiful benefits” of solitude. And here’s her blog about how desperately important connection and communication can be in a time of pandemic.
“I know how distracting it can be if you are having an interesting conversation and have to eat and order as well,” she says. “Although I won’t be eating much. But you must order something that you would really like, perhaps duck or prawns; that would make me feel a lot better.” I tell her that I am happy with her vegetarian choices of golden tofu (which she says “sounds lovely”), crispy dumplings and pad Thai.
Infuzions Thai in Cammeray is our venue because of its proximity to a studio where the Balmain-based Dowrick has been recording the audio book for Intimacy and Solitude. As it happens, recording has been completed, so there is plenty of time to move around the largely empty restaurant in search of the best spot for recording and photography.
Dowrick’s vibrantly patterned dress, in what interior designers would call “jewel” colours, blends well with the richly coloured Thai cushions and warm woods. “Lead, Kindly Light,” she jokes, quoting a famous hymn, as we search for the most flattering spot. In addition to being a versatile author of almost 20 fiction and non-fiction books, and a psychotherapist, Dowrick is an interfaith minister who was based at Pitt Street Uniting Church from 2006 to 2017. More recently she has been co-leading “sacred gatherings” at the InnerSpace Centre in Five Dock.
It quickly becomes clear that the meal is secondary to Dowrick, who I have met several times over the years through her publishing work and journalism. She wrote a popular Inner Life column for Good Weekend between 2001 and 2010, and was a regular guest of both Geraldine Doogue and Tony Delroy on ABC radio. These days she contributes opinion pieces to newspapers, primarily on social justice, human rights and ethical issues. And as she is my friend on Facebook, I am also aware of the joy she reaps as a mother and grandparent – and of her “later life” marriage in 2017 to Darwin-based paediatrician and health activist Paul Bauert. (“Because he lives 4000 kilometres from my home, I can continue to evolve my understanding of intimacy as well as solitude!”)
Today, and perhaps always, conversation and ideas interest her. Dowrick is a woman of intense blue eyes, a direct gaze and gently probing questions; she invites confidence and confidences, and indeed becomes the interviewer as much as the subject. It is fortunate that she arrived with her background dossier.
First published in 1991, Intimacy and Solitude was an international bestseller and has been revised and expanded several times since then. The latest edition was sparked by a recognition that the unpredictable events of 2020 had made the book’s message more relevant than ever. It is an encouragement for readers, a message of hope that blends readable case studies with deeply considered but accessible wisdom. Dowrick is convinced that we all have the potential to respond to both familiar and new situations freshly and creatively, especially if we renew our closeness to ourselves and to other people.
Comedian and author Magda Szubanski, musician Clare Bowditch and politician Kristina Keneally are among her raft of fans.
“If the pandemic taught us anything at all, it is that we are utterly and inevitably connected – and not only with this earth on which we wholly depend in all its brilliance, beauty, fearsomenesss and biodiversity,” Dowrick writes in her new 7000-word introductory essay. “COVID-19 showed us plainly that we protect ourselves best by willingly and generously protecting one another – even when separate or ‘distanced’.
“As powerful as those two potent words are individually – intimacy and solitude – they together describe and evoke a steadiness of inner support and resourcefulness that brings more than resilience and inevitably extends beyond ourselves to other people.”
‘My instinct has been unwavering: that not just I, but most of us, want to do at least somewhat better in our connections with others.’
Dowrick says that in addition to interviewing many people for the book, and “surveying screeds of psychological wisdom for the finest ideas”, she reviewed her own rich catalogue of “missteps” as well as what had made life “most worth living”. “My instinct has been unwavering: that not just I, but most of us, want to do at least somewhat better in our connections with others.
“A relatively healthy sense of self lets you accept what others can give you, even when it isn’t quite what you yearned for … It’s also dependent on trusting that your life matters – whether or not it is lauded by others. And that you deserve to care for yourself as respectfully and supportively as you would a trusted and cared-for friend.”
Dowrick was born in New Zealand and spent some of her formative years in isolated Maori and Pacific Island communities, where her parents were teaching. Her mother, Mary, died in her late 30s, when Dowrick was eight. It was, of course, a truly terrible experience and not one that she wishes to dwell on overly in an interview.
However, in her book she writes of the loss, which has affected the rest of her life: “Unsurprisingly, I was incapable of much self-care, never mind what ‘independence’ adds up to. I had gained immeasurably from the years of unstinting love my mother could give me when she lived. She was also, in her moral and emotional intelligence, in her creativity and pride in her profession as a gifted teacher and her commitment to service to others, an exceptional example to me.”
In the late 1960s, a lack of career opportunities in New Zealand for a clever and determined young woman led Dowrick to head for London where, with delight, she fell into book publishing (where senior women were still a rarity and her colleagues, mostly men from public schools, addressed each other by their surnames).
Her star rose. At the height of “second wave” feminism, in 1977, she convinced British publishing entrepreneur Naim Attallah to back a groundbreaking feminist imprint, The Women’s Press, and became its first managing director. Writers Janet Frame, Andrea Dworkin, Michele Roberts and Lisa Alther were among those who joined the list and, in 1983, with the Commonwealth publication of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple, commercial success was added to its cult status.
Shortly afterwards, Dowrick moved to Sydney and had two children, Kezia and Gabriel, in quick succession; her first novel, Running Backwards over Sand, which tells of a journey of self-exploration by a young woman who has lost her mother, was published in 1985. Subsequently, she worked part-time as a publisher at Allen & Unwin and broadened her writing to focus on self-development and further explored spirituality, most particularly through the work of German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (on whom she wrote a PhD thesis that evolved into a book, In the Company of Rilke).
On learning to live with isolation, the author, an “impatient patient” who fell ill for four months and was in hospital for 10 weeks before the pandemic hit, says that while the lockdown was a crisis of communication for social beings it could also offer “an opportunity to consider with fresh interest how we can more thoughtfully support others – receiving with grace and gratitude what they may have to give”.
While many have been feeling “flat”, she says it is important to be more consciously open to receiving, even when what’s coming your way doesn’t quite fit your expectations of how things should be. Like any change, some detachment is needed to see things anew, as is stillness, which is best achieved by not being constantly busy. (“Being busy is for me a psychological defence.”)
“In illness, our world shrinks. In social isolation, our world shrinks. Yet it’s precisely now that our vision must enlarge. Choosing to be the smallest bit more generous, perhaps more tolerant in both directions (giving and receiving), is itself an act of empowerment, an act of self-respect and even love – for ourselves and for all with whom we share this planet.
“When we’re down, our thoughts leap into a future that’s frightening. When we slow down, by contrast, we can experience this moment and – when we can – infuse it with greater vitality and hope. We can surround people and situations with the energies of loving-kindness and care, rather than anxiety or raw terror. And when we do this, we ourselves will benefit.”
The afternoon is slipping away, but Dowrick proposes we move on to coffee and pavlova. She wants to ask me some more questions.
439 Miller St, Cammeray
(02) 9957 1122
Intimacy and Solitude by Stephanie Dowrick is out now from Allen & Unwin.Save
Shona Martyn is Spectrum Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously the Publishing Director of HarperCollins, the founding editor of HQ magazine and an editor of Good Weekend.Connect via email.
MOST VIEWED IN CULTURE
Archibald, Wynne winner Nicholas Harding dies
Netflix star ‘forced’ to reveal sexuality over accusations of queerbaiting
Five gigs you shouldn’t miss in Sydney in November
The celebrities bailing on Twitter after Elon Musk’s takeover
This is the Jennifer Lawrence we’ve not seen in a decade
Inside the birdcage: $200,000 guests, a giant hat and smelly toilets
FROM OUR PARTNERS
National‘You’re a dead man’: Olympic champ Brooks ‘bashed by bikies’, court told
LifestyleThe day racewear died: The Melbourne Cup is about fashion now
WorldPrince Harry’s memoir a ‘beautiful read’ not a takedown, say insiders
SMHNetflix star ‘forced’ to reveal sexuality over accusations of queerbaiting
Gut SolutionTop doctor: simple tip flushes out years of digestive waste
Health BreakthroughsTwo Gummies Before Bed Might Relieve Years of Joint Pain & Arthritis
VoltModSimple Trick To Cut Electric Bills Takes UK By Storm
Compare Hearing AidsPensioners born before 1962 are now eligible for new hearing aids
Fungus HelperDoctors Amazed: A Simple Tip Against Toenail Fungus (Test Tonight)
Care by VolvoThe new pure electric C40 Recharge. Subscribe or buy online.
Good Life PlusStop Playing Unrealistic Lotteries, With Unrealistic Odds, Try This Instead!
Travelzoo£129pp: Deluxe 3-night central Rome break incl. flights
Thank you for reading the Herald