How To Be Alone

My good friend Leigh posted this on google reader:

I like the video (even if it is a little crunchy, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing). It makes me feel proud of myself that I’ve done all the things the video mentions to do alone. With the one exception of going to a bar alone, I would say I have a pretty stellar record of being independent. I relished my independence in Philly when, boarding a bus from North Philadelphia to Center City, I would arrive back at my apartment to concerned roommates who would ask, “Where have you been all day?” I traveled Rome by myself, even against my mother’s greatest fear that I would get lost (which happened) and be kidnapped (which didn’t happen).

I eat out alone. I go to movies alone. This is one of the many reasons why I crave city life. In the city you can be alone. No one looks at you funny when you travel sans boyfriend, friend, children.It’s perfectly “normal” to board a bus alone, go shopping alone, sit in a cafe alone, go to a museum alone, sit on a park bench alone.

For the first time in my life I am living alone. I’ve always wanted this, and now that I live alone I can’t imagine ever going back to living with roommates. But, even while living out your dreams challenges present themselves. It’s hard to be alone for long periods of time. Think of all the ways America’s consumer culture has taught us how to avoid it; laptops and wifi internet so that when you sit for a cup of coffee you can “do” something, cell phones and text messaging for moments on public transportation, televisions in restaurants for when you are eating alone. There are even televisions in elevators and by the pump at the gas station because G-d forbid you aren’t distracted long enough to realize you have your own thoughts to analyze. It’s clear that our culture wants us to think that spending a moment, or maybe five, alone with your own thoughts is so anxiety provoking that you should do everything within your (credit card’s) power to avoid it.

It was a very conscious decision on my part to not have television. There was a short period of time when I first moved in to my current apartment when I received two channels: CBS and AMC. It was a strange combination to have and it held my attention for different reasons. I watched the news  and a few prime-time shows on CBS, and would click to AMC every now and again to see if anything interesting was playing. After I exhasted my attention span clicking between Big Brother and name-a-random-Bob-Hope-movie-here (whose work is -surprise!- really misogynistic), I would eventually turn off the television to read.

My parents always told me, “If you want to be a writer you have to read.” As I’ve grown older my reading habits have gone from noncommittal to insatiable. With all my options for television pushed off the table, I began reading with a voracious appetite; it started as a means to settle my loneliness in a quiet house by myself and grew into wanting to bring myself back again into the fictional world the story created around me.

It’s still difficult to live without television. When the clouds turn a sickly yellow, my immediate reaction is to turn on the television to see if I’m the only fool in New Orleans who is ignorant to an approaching hurricane/tornado/some catastophic disaster involving fire and ice (and possibly the Mesiach?)It’s also unnerving when I come home at night, with no plans, and it’s just me, left to my own devices. The last couple of times this happened I literally had to walk myself through the emotions.

Yes, Janine, it’s ok to feel lonely.

No, Janine, you are not the only one in the world who is sitting alone in their apartment.

Yes, Janine, there are still people out there who love you.

No, Janine, you will not die old and alone on your kitchen floor, surrounded by a handful of cats and a spilled ashtray.

Even through moments like that, being without a television has really helped me learn how to be alone. (Side note: I’m still deciding whether listening to a radio or reading a book or chatting on the phone at home is allowing me the same crutch as a television would. I haven’t really decided on that yet.) Instead of filling my time up with commercials and thirty minute comedies, I’m taking in my day without interruption. I’m reading stories I wish I could have written half as well. I’m writing. I’m thinking. Isn’t that a scary thought?

I’m sure at some point I’ll buy a new television. But until then, I’m trying to learn how to entertain myself without all the advertisements.


6 thoughts on “How To Be Alone

  1. Lacey says:

    I live alone too. After spending four days on vacation surrounded by family, it was strange and unsettling being alone again in my tv-less 400 square foot apartment last night.

  2. Melia says:

    Being alone is such an important skill to maintain. It’s when all the crazy can bubble up to the surface and force you to have a hard look at it. As tough as that is, it’s a cleansing process, like a sauna that leeches out the toxins in the body.

  3. Chris Park says:

    I need to visit your blog more often, Janine! Even when you’re not writing a poem you write in juicy, rhythmic verse. I remember having many of these thoughts myself but never had the courage to put them down on paper, much less to put them on the internet for everyone to see. I feel like I should say something profound and meaningful but am at a loss for words after how completely and aptly you’ve captured everything in your post. It sounds like you have a good handle on things. I think you’ll be very happy with the Janine you find at the other end of your “alone” period.

  4. G says:

    J- Thank you for your prose.

    As a separated and soon to be divorced parent, I can empathize with your thoughts. I recently found myself suddenly living in a strange house filled with other people’s items and keepsakes of a life that has passed. With only a few items of my own, I was surrounded but not comforted.

    I decided not to purchase cable, which means that there is no tv except for the occasional dvd, but otherwise the box is silent and black.

    Others have told me how their lives improved and their time seemed to practically explode as they broke their chain to the television, but I have not experienced that elation or increased productivity. Perhaps I am naturally inclined to sloth (which just means that I can add a deadly sin to the multiple commandments that are habitually broken – the Talmudic teachings? – forget it). Perhaps I am emotionally wrecked and I am too intent on self-flagellation to embark on something more meaningful. Perhaps I am just tired, but the excitement is not there.

    While it goes without saying that I miss my kids terribly when I don’t get to see them every day, I do enjoy being on my own. I enjoy not having to be somewhere at an appointed hour. I enjoy letting my thoughts simmer and stew until they reach the right temperature. But I miss coming home to someone. I miss sharing the day. I miss having fun with others. I miss having fun, period.

    I wondered how I could reconcile the desire to be alone and with others at the same time. But then I recognized that I have been alone for many years while in the company of others. I have been surrounded and lonely at the same time.

    Like a television news show, there was much sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    The only answer that I can see is to grow, learn, love, and find a way to give myself to others without reservation or expectation and learn to accept the result whether or not they give back.


  5. G says:

    UN – SE – CURE

    Living life this way
    is such a drag,
    But how to resolve it?

    Every high
    has a billion lows,
    I know that I have caused it.

    If every comment’s
    a slight,
    And every action
    a dig…

    If everything
    is black and white,
    And black
    is twice as big…

    Then how can I
    fight this cloud,

    That is cold and so impure,

    When I’m full of insecurities
    And cannot fathom the cure?

    Perhaps the question is how childish and self-indulgent could I possibly be to write such a simplistic and immature ode to myself?

    I always tell people not to feel bad for feeling bad. Of course, I also tell them to do as I say and not as I do. Today, actually, I did neither, choosing instead to work in REO Speedwagon lyrics whenever possible into conversations to make people giggle and stare.

    Being true to form has its merits, I guess, even if my statements are often little more than lies wrapped in a candy coating that looks and tastes like Truth but, in the end, is nothing more than unfulfilling, chemical crap that sits in your stomach like a rock. Nasty.

    And I am here, which is nowhere, treading water and saving my strength with a dead-man’s float. I wonder if it is safe to swim, or if I will exhaust myself. And sink.


  6. G says:

    Why is it so important for us to feel needed and loved? And why is so hard to accept it when it is finally given to us? It feels like some cruel and cosmic trick that we yearn for the unattainable, and we covet what is not ours. And sitting right there in front of us is heaven, itself.

    Why is it so hard for me to agree and give in and prostrate myself to those I love? And why do I let rage and self-pity rule my better self? It feels like I am not in control as waves of negative emotion hold back the loving and caring impulses, which are present but feel as though they are being seen from a great distance. And the end result is anger begetting more anger.

    Why are other people so ready to believe the worst? And why do they take such glee in seeing me hurt and in pain? It feels like I am destined for scorn regardless of my actions, and it hurts that the ones that I try to help the most seem to appreciate it the least.

    * * *

    This troika somehow rules my world. Maybe bad timing is in there too, but I don’t know the word for ruling by a gang of four outside of the Cultural Revolution, so we can leave it at three. I curse myself for my own reactions to both imagined and real slights by other people while realizing that it is in so many people’s nature to fail to notice what is right in front of them. It gives me little comfort, however, to recognize that often others are in the wrong. The result is the same.

    I look forward to the time when I can let go of what once was and accept my role in this world for who and what I am. I believe that one day it will happen. I have to.

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