May 29, 2003

Are You Alone(r)?

I had planned in my mind a longish post, more polished than the usual off the top of my head approach, with lots of good links, to the topic of solitude. Now, I doubt I'll get to it. While I've been pondering this, I've run across a striking number of bloggers who allude to the role that solitude plays in their writing lives... sometimes in passing, sometimes at greater length. In uncharacteristic style, I failed to bookmark those sites for my potential 'magnum opus' on the topic. And this I regret.

So, if you are one of those posters who has written or has thoughts on this, there seems to be a goodly number of ears out there who share your perceptions and would love to hear your expression of the double-edged sword of solitude. Please do let us hear from you with a snippet from or link to your thoughts.

I've just spent the most 'alone' year of my life. The second place winner in this category was 1997... the year I moved back here to southwest Virginia to start the little PT clinic in Floyd, while Ann remained in Carolina to become Dr. Ann. I lived alone (well, there was the cat) in a small cabin on the perpetually foggy edge of the Blue Ridge. Yes, I was in the presence of people at work, but even that was a kind of isolation; patients do not, can not fulfill the same role of personal interchange as friends, or even neighbors. There is a professional detachment and separation that necessarily must stand between therapist and patient, and I struggled to hide my aloneness from my patients that year. Had I not been one who is innately tolerant of his own company, that year would have been a sentence to solitary confinement. It was indeed punishment at times; but I found I coped with alone-ness better than I might have thought. Even thrived in it at times. I could live reasonably contentedly, if I must, shrouded in the fog and my own thoughts with one small cat in my lap.

This year wins the prize as the most alone year of my life: a year in which I have spent five days a week home with myself (well there is the cat, and now Buster). Apart from the nameless drivers of the five vehicles that pass the house each day, I might as well have been on a desert island. There have been moments in the short gray days of winter, when I thought I might go mad. But only moments. Mostly, the time alone, severely alone, has been a blessing... a creative solitude. It has become a part of my life I wouldn't want to give up entirely. I am ready and willing to intersperse alone-ness with contact with people and human activity, and welcome this little job I have now, and a growing number of involvements in things in town and at church. But in all this isolation, I have been much more happy than oppressed. I hear some of you saying the same kind of things. Finding the balance is so important, isn't it?

So. Are you a 'loner'? Would you call yourself 'antisocial' or an 'introvert' because you value your time apart? How does your willing detachment from the noise of life influence your writing, your creativity, and 'recharging your batteries'? Have you found that balance?

Today, on the other hand, there will be Buster, and the cat, and the wife sharing my bubble of existance. It is dreary and drippy outside, and I hear the pleasant white noise of the baking of cookies coming from the kitchen. To everything there is a season, and today it's good to have another soul sharing my personal space. I'll ponder about solitude another time. Now, I think I'll have a breakfast cookie!

Posted by fred1st at May 29, 2003 07:21 AM | TrackBack

Have you ever come across Barbara Holland's book One's Company? It's a great meditation on living alone, and in fact I think she lives alone in your area somewhere.

Posted by: steve at May 29, 2003 09:06 AM

Mornin' Fred!

Like you, I can handle solitude reasonably well, so long as I have some sort of creative outlet to pursue. It doesn't hurt a few unread books lying around either.

Give Buster a scratch behind the ear for me. I hope the two of you are feeling a bit better these days.

Posted by: ronbailey at May 29, 2003 09:12 AM

Oh, I meant to tell you, I like the Katy-did picture in the header, (At least I think it's a Katy-did, let me know if I'm wrong...)

Posted by: ronbailey at May 29, 2003 09:16 AM

Solitude is good when it is chosen. I am an only child. I grew up in rural Georgia with very few playmates. I have felt that I have been conditioned for solitude all my life. In truth, I would rather be myself during the day. I don't mind eating alone in a resturant or going to the movies by myself. One of the hardest things I have had to learn is how to let people into my world. I can count on one hand the number of people who have been inside my house in the last year. My Virginia cabin in the woods is like the inside of my brain and I have a hard time letting people inside. It seems in the rural life solitude is part of the package. I think the most important strength in solitude is learning how to be alone and still. I know plenty of people who sit at the computer all day or surf the tv for hours by themselves. This is a weakness in solitude. Of course these things can make you alone when you are with those who love you.
I think I will go back outside and sit in my rocking chair on the porch to watch the rain hit the pond and think about this. I have been doing this all morning.

Posted by: Seth at May 29, 2003 10:48 AM

I've always been alone in one way or another... an only child, and we traveled more than just a lot. Not long ago, a happenstance of geography and spiritual need brought about much solitude. I find, however, the older i get, the more desirable solitude becomes. There's more time to think and ponder, more time to enjoy simple things. With so few distractions, one learns the fine art of patience and prioritizing, notices the smaller things that normally get overlooked... bugs, flowers, water - Life. Solitude also affords one the opportunity for self-exploration and the time to share the knowledge gleaned. I've been fortunate to find an almost perfect balance between solitude and "aloneness" and to share this balance with my grandchildren. The best two pieces of advice i've ever heard came from the same man, Henry David Thoreau. The first: "Simplify, simplify". The second: "Be not simply good; be good for something."
And so goes my life.

Posted by: Anne at May 29, 2003 02:59 PM

There are many roads to solitude. Mine is not so noble or wise.

I have always held a job, kept a neat apartment, and done extremely well in school. But I could not get past progressive, chronic depression and anxiety. It kept me from having any real friends and from being able to function for more than 5 minutes in social situations. Being alone has always been a profound relief from being in the world. I tried psychiatrists, new age healing, even 12 step programs. None of it worked. After struggling with this for nearly 25 years, I almost didn't make it.

About 10 years ago psychiatric medicine made huge breakthroughs and today I take prescriptions that allow me near total relief. It has taken nine years to bring the new me forward, and I suspect it'll take another 5 or 6 years to learn social skills as opposed to coping skills. But the freedom of being alone is still powerful.

Posted by: vachon at May 29, 2003 09:14 PM

A good post, Fred. I'll think about this one and probably write something about solitude and creativity...I'm curious how many of us only-children are out there pondering these questions!

Posted by: beth at May 29, 2003 09:47 PM

I spent last year almost completely alone. While some of that time was exceedingly lonely, I enjoyed the freedom I had with the solitude.

Of course, I missed my kids and interacting with others at times. But, I needed time to recover from my illness and surgeries. I needed to sort out a variety of things for myself.

Now, I have a live-in boyfriend. My son's here almost all the time. It's good. The time I have alone, on occasion, is treasured.

Posted by: Da Goddess at May 29, 2003 11:34 PM

I don't have much to add that hasn't already been well said, but for an actively creative person, solitude is a very good thing. But at the same time, so is friendship very much. I don't have much of any friends that coincide with my interests at all, so solitude becomes very important. But I would much rather have more of that time with others of similar interests and thought and others who are friends in the deeper sense of the word.

Posted by: Josh at May 30, 2003 12:01 PM

I'm an only child and rarely minded it. I'm not antisocial but I love to be by myself. When I was single, being alone was also great, but it would suddenly "flip" and become a frustrating loneliness if it lasted all weekend. I love being married without children and while I'm not working, I absolutely adore being alone all day on the weekdays. I love to see my day develop and flow from one activity to the next. I spend a lot of time on the computer, a lot of time in my garden, and a good amount of time out riding my bike.

Posted by: Fran at May 30, 2003 07:31 PM

This is neither eloquent nor profound goes. I like being alone because people aggravate the heck out of me. I'm a fairly social person. I have a few acquaintances that I see on a regular basis and fewer friends. But, honestly, I prefer to be alone with an entire day stretched out before me that requires nothing special. This could be, simply, because I have noisy boy children and the thought of quiet is deliriously alluring.

Posted by: Lisa at May 31, 2003 08:28 AM

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