The Power of Solitude

My dad doesn’t like to spend a lot of time alone.  He doesn’t enjoy solitude.  He loves companionship, sports, parties, and having fun with people he enjoys.  I think he’s not unusual in this way.  I have a friend right now who admits to not being good at self entertaining and who prefers to be in the company of others as much as possible.

I need the company of others as most humans do, but it costs as much as it pays.

I need solitude.  In an ideal world I would spend at least fifty percent of my time completely alone.  I have lived extremes.  The year I lived alone in an apartment in the upper tenderloin of San Francisco was so lonely I actually cried a lot over it and ended up talking to the cockroaches.  My main friends were three really dysfunctional men, two of whom slept with the same woman periodically and one of whom was a pot dealer and so spaced out he had to be tied to earth with a string.  We bowled a lot and drank plum wine and Anchor Steam beer which I now despise.

Now I am married, have a ten year old, and live with my mother.  I am almost never alone.  Since my kid has been mostly sick for a month and a half and has been home a lot, I have had so little time to myself I am shredding.  This summer I had to pull back from things, social media, friends, family, everything.  It helped me recenter myself.  I am now in need of recentering again but I don’t need to disconnect from social media to do it.

I need more alone time in real life.  Real life.  What a strange thing to say.  As though any part of life isn’t real.  We exist everywhere we exist and so all our actions and interactions are real, whether or not they are conducted online.

I have come to this place, again, where I’m not hearing myself first every day.  There is so much noise around me from other people it’s difficult to pick out my own voice.  There are so many people who have serious expectations of me: my son, my son’s teacher and everyone he tangles with at school, his psychologist, his Kung Fu teacher who is also mine and who expects things of me both on Max’s behalf and on my own, work, my mom, my pets who are riled up by all the change, my husband, and my works of fiction.

And then there’s me.  There’s what I expect of myself.  It’s become so tangled up with what other people expect of me that I hardly know what I’m actually asking of myself anymore.  The only thing I was asking of myself that no one else was asking of me was to get cracking on the third draft of my novel.  I am stymied.  Paralyzed.  People keep telling me I need space.  “Take a break” they say.  “Walk away for a while and let it breath” they suggest.  I fought it because I feel the fire of ambition and I’ve never been so close to achieving the thing I’ve been driving at for most of my life.

This week slammed into me with an explosion of noise, emotional torture, and crisis.

It was important for what it revealed.  A meeting with Max’s teacher, principal, special ed instructor, and a random other teacher who had a complaint about him culminated in the very clear message that everyone in an official capacity now agrees with my assessment that my son is not only different but is facing enormous challenges in his future.  It has been suggested that Max needs an IEP, a tool that can be very helpful for kids with disabilities but which officially marks them as people with legal disabilities.  I know it’s silly to know my son has serious challenges and then freak out when everyone agrees with me that this is something that needs to be addressed legally and more seriously.

I did freak out.  I cried in that meeting and I don’t care how natural it was of me to do so, I couldn’t let go of my shame for that for three days.

There is so much, so much crowding my head for explanation that it’s too much.

What it comes down to in the end, the real message for me this week is that if I don’t minimize the chaos around me and the expectations being made of me I will go down that rabbit hole of doom otherwise known as a nervous breakdown.

It all comes down to this:  I will do anything to have more time alone.  I will do anything to listen to silence.  I will do anything for the comfort and peace of solitude.

I walked the dog yesterday.  It wasn’t as peaceful as hoped because there was too much stimulus everywhere: people walking their dogs that Chick is forcefully interested in, cats that Chick is forcefully interested in, and no white noise of music to blot the world out for reasons too dull to explain.  Even so, getting away from human voices and the surroundings that feel trapping set a little part of me free.

Today I took the dog out again.  This time I had my white noise.  The air was soft and comfortable.  Chick didn’t pull on the leash, attempt to chase other dogs or cats, she fell into immediate rhythm with my pace and I stopped to stretch my calf muscles four times (still experiencing strained calf muscles) and the distance from other people, the needs of others, and the expectations that dog me was blissful.

I am taking a hiatus from Kung Fu.  It isn’t important to explain why now, but I felt lighter and coming up from the deep was my own connection with my body.  Everything needs to slow down.  I am still the same size but since taking Kung Fu my body has changed and so much progress has been made- but too fast.

I need everything to slow down to my natural pace.  I’ve made too much progress too fast, asked too much too soon, both in writing and of my muscle and bone.

Today I took the fresh air deep into my lungs as I walked and paused to stretch and I let myself feel the freedom of only answering to myself.  I may be a task master but I am always compassionate when I let myself out of my cage, when I let go of what others expect of me.  I felt my stride lengthen and my muscles warm with movement.  I took in the color of the crocuses and daffodils unfolding shyly in the gardens I passed, not on mass display yet, just white, yellow, and purple peeking out of borders and underneath trees.  I saw how the sun fell on cars and lawns and old men trimming hedges.  It felt benevolent, calm, quiet.

I crave solitude.  I crave an empty house.  Empty rooms.  Places where no voices rush through skin.  Places where the color is louder than thought.  I crave silence of mind and absence of humans.  It’s how I recharge.  Sitting in complete solitude for hours on end.  This is why I have spent so many hours fantasizing about becoming a nun or a monk.  Or taking vows of silence.   Impossible for a person so verbal, I know.  It’s my constant fantasy, to have no actual voice that isn’t paper and ink.

To be alone and hear the air moving is delicious.

To be alone and lost in the details outside of oneself is meditation.

I am taking a break from the book to recharge.  It’s ironic that the first book is now haunting me and pulling me forward.  I will not press, I will not push.  I am taking a break from my ambition and my passion, to listen.

I think this is all part of my necessary pattern.  To listen to it, to acknowledge it, to accept it is absolute.

I am aware that sometimes my distance, my choices, my absence, and my silence can be hurtful to others.  I don’t rejoice in anything I do causing pain to others but I know that if I don’t give myself what I need then it causes even greater pain to others.

Walking is powerful to me.  Solitary walking is prayer.

I will walk my dog more often to give her what she’s been missing and desperately needs.

But I will walk myself without her too.

I will walk myself until I can run because it’s the only way I can find solitude.

All the answers may be known if you are willing to be completely alone with yourself.

7 comments

  1. jay says:

    Well said

    I don’t know if the picture on this one is current or an “archive photo” , but it too matches the mood of this one.

    I would agree with those that say “catch your breath, girl”

  2. Skye says:

    “I need the company of others as most humans do, but it costs as much as it pays.”

    This is the most accurate description of being an introvert that I have ever read. Thanks for this.

  3. angelina says:

    I am definitely drawing lines and taking some time to regroup. I have been taking more walks in the fresh air and even though I’m not in Kung Fu class for a little while, I am endeavoring to practice still, but here at home. The walks are great for alone time. I really need to walk often, it has always been a way to meditate for me.

    My friend Lucy has taken the second draft to read (thank you Lucy!) so hopefully she can give me a little outside perspective and help point to the things that need the most work in the book. I think I’ll be less daunted by the third draft if I have some definite direction and specific things to work on.

    I can say without hesitation that chapter 18 is abysmal. It will need considerable rewriting!

    Skye- most people don’t think I’m an introvert because when in company with people I am generally very gregarious and loud.

  4. amy says:

    I just recently remembered that wanting to be alone is not bad there is nothing shameful about it. Time alone helps me and makes me a better person. I love quiet. When I used to work full time I would come home and read or watch tv and not answer the phone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone after talking all day. I too have unnoticed almost extremes of solitary and quiet to more outgoing. I have to be more outgoing now that I have children I have noticed but in turn I think it makes me need solitude more. It’s amazing when you are alone how much information or clarity you can receive.

  5. angelina says:

    There’s definitely nothing bad or shameful about it. I think there’s a real culture of “selfless” motherhood which is causing a lot of women to think that wanting to have time away from their kids is somehow selfish or means they don’t love their kids enough or give enough to their family. Being alone is what replenishes most people. There are certainly people for whom being alone is very difficult and not something they actually crave or desire but even in those cases it’s important and helps to fill the well of creativity and also gives rest. I’m glad you’re remembering this because you really are such an amazing and creative person but to keep that up you have to give time just to yourself for quiet and alone thoughts.

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