On the art of being alone

“for I myself am best,
When least in company.”- Shakespeare, Twelfth Night Act 1, Scene 4

I had one whopper of a migraine yesterday. It was a nice follow-up to a panic attack that left me exhausted…just drained of all my reserves. But as I recovered, I found the thought of spending one more minute in my cave of a bedroom (if you suffer from migraines you understand the importance of a dark, quiet space) just as nauseating as the migraine itself.  So I packed my battered psyche and went to the Detroit Institute of Arts this morning.

The DIA is a very soothing place to me.  And as I wandered around amongst the art I started to feel better, physically and mentally. One thing struck me though: how much I love doing things alone.  Coming from a known introvert and loner this isn’t a surprise. But as I stood there viewing Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with Shaded Eyes I felt…at peace. Even with crowds of people milling around me.

Going to places alone is actually something I’ve done my entire life. But only lately has the act had such a profound effect on me. Perhaps because introverted personalities and loners are gaining more acceptance in society, and if not acceptance, then at least extroverts and gregarious persons are more aware of our existence. Or perhaps it’s because I recently had to comfort a waitress at my favorite restaurant and convince her that it was, in fact, okay that I was having lunch alone. She still looked at me aghast as I paid my bill even after my insistence that lunch alone will not kill me; completely unable to fathom the idea that a person could be alone, but not lonely.

It’s really a fantastic way to experience the world. To be amongst people but to still feel distant and able to be alone with your own thoughts while in a crowd is a special thing. And it’s something I would recommend to everyone. Even if you aren’t a loner take an afternoon to go see a movie, have lunch, visit somewhere that means as much to you as the DIA means to me. But do it alone, with nothing other than your thoughts to keep you company. And in the end I think you’ll discover for yourself the art of being alone, but never lonely.

For an interesting read on the loner personality check out “Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus.

On death, regret and emotional epiphanies

Several nights ago I was making the 45 minute drive from the rural outskirts of the city to my home in Detroit. While driving down a road as dark as pitch a sudden storm broke overhead. Gigantic raindrops pummeled my windshield, gusts of wind buffeted my car and the sole sources of illumination were the frequent lightning strikes that seemed to be mere feet from my car. Any normal person would have been terrified. I was only pensive.

The recent deaths of two family members and a colleague have caused me to think more than ever about death and the regrets of the living. So as I drove down that dark, stormy road I considered things I have never thought of before; or if I have reflected on them, it was in a cursory way.

For example, my mother will tell me that she loves me after every conversation, no matter how many times we’ve talked that day, or what the context of the conversation is. Even if we’re having one of our rare disagreements she will end with “I love you.” I once asked her why and she told me that she does it because “you never know what could happen.” I let it go at the time because it seemed like one of those emotional responses that I may never fully grasp, or agree with, but I’ve always remembered it.

And then I started thinking of that in terms of my beloved grandfather, who just died after suffering from dementia for too long. Before that insidious disease claimed his mind and everything that he was, did he have misgivings? Did he say everything he needed to say to his wife? His children and grandchildren? He was, by nature, a taciturn man and he seemed content with that in life. But did that change near the end? We can only guess at this point.

So as I drove, I thought; if my car gets hit by lightning, or my tire blows and I go careening off the side of the road to die in a fiery conflagration do I have any doubts about how I’ve treated those I love? I am not effusive in my emotions but I would like to think they know, under the veil of logic, and sardonic humor, how I truly feel. So in those brooding moments on the dark road I made a personal promise to make sure I at least make an effort to convey my true sentiments more.

I don’t know if I will be able to stick with my resolve in the long run. Perhaps, my memory of the thoughts I had on that gloomy road will fade, as the lightning faded into the distant background as a drove out of the storm. But, the least I can do is put forth the effort. That’s all any of us can do, right?

On courage and writing

I really don’t want to be one of those writers who writes about writing incessantly, but it’s been on my mind lately.  I’ve been trying to be more fearless when it comes to my writing. Which means a few things: I need to write more honestly, I need to write more regularly, and I need to share with the world. And I keep telling myself, “I’ll try, I’ll try”. But that’s no good. It’s like Master Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” (That’s right; I can quote anything from Shakespeare to Star Wars. I’m a woman of many interests.)

Someone at work asked me the other day, “What does courage mean to you?” I thought that was a pretty random thing to ask, especially in the context of my day job, which deals with loans, numbers, finance and whatnot. But then I started to reflect on the concept of courage a little more in depth. Am I a courageous person? I think so, but only in some things. I pick and choose depending on the circumstance. Like when I tell my friends that I would rather stay home, alone, except for my books; their looks of derision silently calling me loner/loser/recluse.  Or when I travel to new places, and try new cuisine and cultures. It also takes a certain amount of courage to eat by oneself in a restaurant or go to a movie alone in our culture of gregarious social dependence, but I’ve never had an issue or a second thought about doing things like.  But those are all very public acts of courage in my mind.

It seems that I have a problem with sharing parts of myself that I’ve deemed to be private. Writing has always been a very private, very cathartic exercise that has helped me process tough times with perspective or enjoy good times more intensely. Writing has kept me (relatively) sane.  I write things that I would never dare to say out loud. But, it’s not a fear of others’ reactions to my words that holds me back. It’s fear of my own reaction to the world once I open that entry into my mind; how I will process my daily life once there is an open portal. I think it would be like have too great a stimulus, too quickly, and it would overwhelm me.

But, I think I’m ready to try. Or in this case, do, since there is no try.

Fear: The First Post

“It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.”- E. E. Cummings

I’m starting to realize now, at age 30, that I lack courage. In so many things, I have been motivated by fear. Fear has held me back, propelled me forward, or stopped me altogether and I’m trying to end that now. One of the first steps I’ve taken is publishing this. Many of the posts will come from what passes in my life in the moment, some will be a retrospective of the past, and others will be thoughts from my private journals. This will help me overcome what seems to be one of my greatest fears: that I have nothing of value to write. What I’m coming to understand, though, is that the value and relevance of my writing comes, not from others, but from myself. I write because I have to, because the words that have been brewing inside of me for so long will no longer be contained. I write because I enjoy the journey to where the words lead me. And if no one comes along for the ride with me? Well…I’ll still have fun getting there on my own.