I am one of those people who delights in getting time alone like a child receiving a giant ice cream cone – my eyes widen, I get giddy, and then usually make quite a mess of it but leave the experience satiated, even a little wired.
Things I adore doing alone (rarities for me, as person who cares for a small one):
1. Going to the movies, preferably a matinee. I’m currently dying to see Gravity, but I think it’s more of a date night movie.
2. Doing the dishes – often where I get my best creative thinking done, oddly enough.
3. Writing – even though I could do my job anywhere with wifi, I usually end up writing in my rocking chair, with candles lit and altars set, listening to the playlist I create every season.
4. Reading – I’m deep into Tana French’s first novel, the inaugural to the Dublin Murder Squad series, In The Woods.
5. Dancing – dance breaks from all of the above activities are frequent and imperative.
6. Walking in cityscapes – window shopping, checking out new graffiti, imagining myself living in different apartments/houses – as long as it’s paved, I’m loving it.
7. Having a drink and reading a book or writing a letter by the dim candlelight of a dusty bar.
I could go on, but the point I’m trying to make is – all of the items in that list have an -ing ending. I am incredibly talented at doing things alone. But what about being alone? Just being? Sweet Summer Sausages, what’s that?
I first got a bolt of this cognitive dissonance – that my idea of myself as someone who enjoys her own company is totally predicated on constant action – came while reading Equals in Print, the beautiful book that landed in my mailbox this week.
My story, The Last Days of Disco, is printed in this lovely book, but I was eager to read the rest of it, knowing it had been carefully curated by Elisabeth + Miya, the Editors of Equals. I wasn’t disappointed – each article is well-crafted and subtly beautiful, and you should buy your copy here.
But one piece from Equals in Print Volume 1 has stayed with me far past the first read – The Practice of Solitude by Nina Sovich. I was instantly assaulted by the pull-quote from the piece, “Most ‘solitary’ activities that American women pursue are actually entertainment or work in disguise.” At first I was insulted – I love being alone! It’s a huge part of my coping mechanism, something I fight for and feel restored by. However, as I read further, I realized I was completely being called out. “Somewhere deep inside you don’t value solitude and so you are multitasking.” Bullseye.
My daughter’s wave of anxiety at all the changes in her life has transferred to me quite fully, and I am having trouble sleeping. I’m spreading myself really thin with work and volunteer responsibilities, in addition to the very parent-heavy quality of presence my daughter needs right now. It’s too much.
This week I got inconveniently, incontrovertibly sick. I tried to limp through most of my activities anyway, which at times had hilarious results (leaving the flour out of the pumpkin muffins I tried to make with my daughter, signing my own name wrong in work emails, not being able to figure out how to zip up the sleep sack of the toddler I was babysitting), but mostly just made me feel kind of depressed. And my body kept coming up with new weird symptoms, ways to scream at me GET IN BED, LADY! So finally, I acquiesced.
I sent an email to a friend who is better at letting go than I am entitled, “How Does One Relax?” She didn’t reply. I was stuck with myself. I figured people take a bath. So I made myself a smoothie, got my novel and drew a steamy bath.
After awhile, I knew I needed to put down the novel and just soak. It felt kind of good, like non-being. “Is this how it feels to be at ease?” I said aloud, to no one in particular. I took to carefully shaving my legs. I was tempted to sing or play music, but I decided I needed to become engrossed in this task of self-grooming. I recalled how monks engage in the practice of the present moment as a way of praying unceasingly, and tried just to focus on what I was doing, letting myself unknot slowly. Still, all the thoughts came, but they seemed clearer somehow.
I do recognize the irony of writing to you, dear readers, about learning how to be alone. But I suppose I need some help. My husband has been bugging me for awhile now to learn to meditate, but it has seemed … just not for me. Until now, as I’m realizing that all the ways I know how to relax are actually active, not restful, and not truly solitary. I’m starting to get it, and I’m going to try it.
I’m also looking for other suggestions, so tell me, how do you manage to simply be with yourself? Do you find it makes you less or more anxious when you do? I am making myself sick with activity, so I need some pointers here. I like myself, but sheesh, not that much.