My Photo
Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Being Alone

I think that Some People--meaning people who don't have the need to spend time alone--suspect that we're sitting in a room by ourselves reading porn and picking our nose. Plotting to poison the oatmeal or run off with the dwindling 401K to marry a Jamaican dancer hiding out in Oxnard. You know: doing something we don't want anyone else to know about.

But that's not ever really it, is it? What we're doing--and I'm speaking for myself here but am guessing that I'm not alone (snort), not by a long shot--is: thinking. Just thinking. Now, that might sound like nothing. But if you're us, that's everything: we're thinking and dreaming and imagining and plotting (but in a good way!) and planning and figuring and wondering.

Yesterday I went for a walk, as usual. And, as sometimes happens, one of the women I know along the way came out for a chat. She's someone I know, a neighbor--a Midland Democrat! Yes! Who knew?--and I should be happy for the company, right?

My heart sank. Sure, I was alone. The house is empty except for me and the cats. I'd been working all morning, doing an interview. I should have been happy for a chat, indeed.

But I wasn't. I was sorry to be interrupted, because I wasn't just taking a walk. I was writing an introduction in my head, figuring out what the artist had told me that would be the most interesting to the people who are going to get to read about her to find out about what she does. And so I had stopped, just around the corner, to take out my little notebook and pen (because none of us ever leaves the house without those, right?) and made some notes, rescuing the ideas from The Sieve That is My So-Called Memory. And then I rounded the corner, and we talked; and of course my train of thought was gone and the ideas that hadn't been written down were lost.

I know we're supposed to value company, and I do. I like people. I enjoy talking to people who like to talk about ideas and art and making stuff, who like to laugh and bounce ideas and inspiration back and forth. But, truly, I like to be alone, too. You know how it is. We're not anti-social. We don't hate people. We aren't always shy and introspective and some weird-ass lurker/Uni-Bomber kind of a person.

No. We just have Things to Think About, things we want to do, things that require not being interrupted.

I'm very lucky to live with someone who Gets It. If I'm at the computer, or if I'm somewhere else but have that Look on my face, he doesn't say a word. (In the next book I talk about this some, as I know this isn't the case for many people who live with people who do NOT Get It and constantly interrupt, but that's another thought.)

Why is it that it's considered selfish to want to be alone? It's not like we want to be alone all the time, or that we're demanding to have our meals pushed under the door to us, on a tray with linen and silver.

No. We just need room to think. Without that, we can't breathe. We can't function. Our brain shrivels up and dries out.

It's like if you go to a restaurant or a coffee shop, and you've got your book or your journal or your knitting or whatever, and you spread out and relax and are perfectly happy. Invariably, someone is going to come along and think you're lonely, that you need company and conversation. Sometimes we might. But generally not: we've got pretty much everything we need right there to keep us occupied for days.

We need t-shirts, our own slogan (and I suck at writing slogans, since I don't really like them) that say something like "Being Alone is Not Lonely" or "We Need Solitude, Not Censure" or "Give Us An Hour Alone & We'll Love You Forever." I don't know: just something to let people know. Not always, of course--then you could wear the one that says, "I Need Company!" Wouldn't that be great, if we all had little signs when we were out in public, signs that would tell each other to back off or come talk or help find my keys? My usual sign would say, "Just Because I Don't Remember You Doesn't Mean I Don't Love You Dearly." Because I hardly ever remember people but, when reminded of who they are--well, honestly? I still don't remember them. But that doesn't mean anything, because most days I find myself, on at least a couple of occasions, standing in a room in my house, looking around, going, "Why the hell did I come in here?" (I'd worry about this, but The EGE and my friends (who are, ahem, around my age) all do the same thing.)

So we need signs, and t-shirts, ways to communicate that we're not horrible just because we need a little space, please. Very sweet little signs.

Of course, sometimes we just want one that says, "Go the Hell Away!"


Claire said...

You could always just say "I'm having some time alone right now, could we catch up again soon sometime?"

But then again "Get The Hell Away From Me!" sure gets the point across!

Rob said...

I used to find that solitude on my very early morning walks. I'd toss on some sweats & my iPod and hit the pavement around 5:45 - 6 a.m. and my brain could just percolate on whatever for 30-45 minutes. Nobody is around to disturb you when you're roaming the streets in the pre-dawn dark.

But I confess that I've been unsuccessful at working that luxury back into my routine now that there's an extra person to get ready in the mornings. But that's on my short list of goals...

Chris said...

There is a book about this. It's called Party of One and the author's name is Rufus (last name).
I haven't read it yet, but another Lone Stranger like myself has recommended it.

flying fish said...

Small smile on my face...I love being alone so much there isn't room for a second person in my 3 bedroom house! You are so lucky to have a partner who Gets It.

Lisa Gallup said...

Thank you for posting this! At the moment, I find myself "hiding" from my neighbor, because everytime my dd goes to school, he thinks that means I'm FREE to do stuff with him. Sheesh! She's only at school twice a week, and this is MY time!

aimee said...

i think i'd die without time alone... and heaven help the person that interrupts me once i'm there...

Sue said...

I certainly do understand...constant togetherness, along with noise (or lack of quiet) just fries my soul. Unfortunately, my DH is not one of those who gets it. However, even he understands the wish to not constantly interact with people. When we moved to Cleveland (big city by comparison to...) from a small southern town, we could go out to dinner and know NO ONE in the restaurant. NO ONE to interrupt our meals, no one to help themselves to the spare chair at the table, no one with the latest gossip. We would get back in the car after dinner, sigh and smile and say "ahhh....blessed anonymity."
As to the sign...I used to have one of those bird clamps on my office desk - the one with long springy legs that holds a sign or notecard in its clamp mouth - hey, it was the 70s - and everyone in the office knew if the sign said "go away" I meant it...I was working on a project and wouldn't welcome interruptions.
I'm not really a grumpy anti-social thing, I swear. I just want contact on MY terms, LOL!

Ricë said...

that bird sign--what an excellent idea: we all should have one with us at all times.

Sharon said...

Another great post, and I'm glad to see that I have kindred spirits about alone time. I relate to so much of what you wrote. I have explained it to my family and friends several times, but none of them seems to get it. They just make me feel selfish and guilty because I'm not doing what they want me to do with them all the time. It gets frustrating. :)

There is definitely a difference between alone and lonely. Sometimes I'm the lonliest when I'm with people, and when I look like I'm doing nothing my brain is problem solving on some project. I am not lonely. :) Thanks for posting this.

Sharon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.