Loneliness versus Aloneness
I’ve been obsessed with remembering my childhood from the age of 7 – 10. I think it’s because I was the most content at that age. I hadn’t yet gone through puberty, that time when suddenly everyone else’s voice is louder than your own. Once that happened, my equilibrium was thrown off.
Back then, my sister and I would play with these two brothers down the street, W and K. But we only played with them if we needed an occasional diversion. It wasn’t a requirement. We also had two friends who were girls – D and F – each one (respectively) about the same age as my sister and I – and we would see them, too, but even less often. Maybe once every few months.
But somehow I was still content. Content enough with my family, my room, our animals, our house, my imagination, the grass, the clouds, time. I don’t know how I filled my time but somehow (without gadgets except Saturday morning cartoons when chores were done) I was fine. No after school soccer practice, no constantly revolving stream of extra-curricular activities. Nope. Pretty much nothing except my imagination, a few people, and nature.
And I want that feeling back.
Of course, I can’t totally get it back. I have a house now, kids, a job, bills, but I think it’s possible to get closer to that feeling.
Loneliness is a word with a lot of shame, but the problem is if you can never admit that you’re lonely (just like if you can never admit you’re an alcoholic), it’s hard to change. So I’m admitting it. For the past – I don’t know… 25 years? – I’ve been lonely at least some of the time. Not all the time, but sometimes, and I haven’t always filled that void with the healthiest of options. And the reason I can say this is… I know I’m not the only one. Ok maybe some people have all their shit together 120% of the time, but the reality is we’re all human and that feeling happens sometimes. So what do you do with it? Eat too much? End one relationship and begin another the same day? Become a people pleasing workaholic?
Loneliness is akin to boredom. If you’re bored, you want someone to play with (whether you’re 9 or 49). But the truth is, if you’re bored then you’re probably also kinda boring. You want some new gadget or person to amuse you. Maybe it’s a new boyfriend, maybe it’s switching jobs, or the town that you live in. Sure I can get a new job, a new town, or a new spouse, but can I try out new parts of me? Can I learn Spanish? Can I go square dancing? Can I start delivery pizzas and run into my students who will look shocked when I show up at their house? Can I start talking to strangers in checkout lanes at the grocery store? Can I do a social experiment where I eavesdrop on people in Walmart not because I’m a creeper but because it’s fun to watch people when they don’t think you’re paying attention?
When I was about 25, I was living in Denver and I decided that the reason I wanted to be in a relationship was because I was “bored being alone.” I told myself: “I already know myself really well and the only way to grow as a person is to be in a relationship.” What a crock of shit. Ok, maybe you do grow as a person in a relationship, but seriously. What I’ve learned since then is that if you are going into a relationship because you’re bored, then eventually you’ll get bored again once the novelty wears off. So you might as well learn how to not get bored on your own. Boredom leads to loneliness, but curiosity about you and your world turns loneliness into contented aloneness.
So I have a theory. All good friends are really the same friend in a different form.
So this is a story about one friend but she is really all the friends I’ve known.
I had this friend in high school. M. M and I didn’t have a lot in common in many ways but somehow… at some point… something sparked and we always had fun together. It didn’t matter what we were doing. Stuck in LA traffic. Procrastinating doing our homework. Sitting on a bus for hours on end. We always found the fun in it and laughed laughed laughed.
We went to different colleges and over the years saw less and less of each other but whenever we did, it was the same. The same love of little things, the same silliness.
Here is an example of the little things that would make us happy. We would go to a coffee shop in the valley and, to save money, get the cheapest coffee cup size available. And then we would go to the ‘coffee accessories’ area and put in the fixings. And we’d deliberate over whether to include nutmeg and/or cinnamon and/or honey vs. sugar and/or half & half versus soy milk. Or maybe a little of everything? We’d taste test and mix things and sprinkle things to get it just right, taking as long as we felt like because… why? Because it was fun.
I’ve made other friends since M and other people, of course, have other amazing qualities but somehow or another… I always beeline my way to that quality when I see it in people. In my experience, it’s the seed of happiness.
So I was telling my friend the other day about how I’ve gone through this long period of time – maybe 5 or 6 years – where all I’ve done is try to keep up with new music. I’m not totally sure why but I think it has something to do with the fact that when I would listen to older songs, I felt as old as the song. If I played a song like ‘Friday I’m in love’ that I listened to like crazy back in 1993, then I felt like I was one of those people who only listened to oldies stations whilst driving in their car and I never wanted to become one of THOSE people. So I figured I better stop listening to old songs and I did.
But now something has changed. When I listen to older songs, I feel my power surge back inside me. I feel like the parts of myself I discarded along the way to keep up with ‘the new’ are coming back and I finally know why those ole fogies listened to their old songs on their car radios. I don’t want to be an old fogie….EVER…. but that doesn’t mean I can’t love the old and the new.
*Disclaimer: I have nothing against people of the older variety. You could be 20 and be old in spirit (i.e. clinging to the past and refusing the present or future).
preaching to the choir (which is myself) moment #45: is it all about getting what you want all of the time? nope. is it all about getting what you want some of the time? nope. is it about seeing what you have and accepting it unwittingly? nope. is it about making the most of what you have? kinda. is it about seeing something better and staying open to it? closer. is it about having a sense of humor no matter what happens because in a moment you could get hit by a bus? yes. is it about being totally selfish and not taking care of yourself because it’s all about living in the moment? nope. is it about having a long term plan some of the time but living in the moment most of the time? yes. the end.
i want to know the etymology of the term ‘BenGay.’
procrastination is the single greatest contributor to my creativity.
you know those male ballet dancers who stand there while the ballerina does all the pretty and graceful moves? that’s how i feel as a parent of teens. but come to think of it, that in a way is what all relationships are like. it’s just that when you get older, each person takes turn being either the holder-upper or the pirouetter. back and forth. but it’s all good. it’s just my turn to do what somebody else did for me once. the end.
brilliant idea #544353498573490: last night, going through the drive-thru at taco time, we came upon a vision of the future. one day there may no longer be fast food restaurants where you buy food that is then put in a bag and handed to you. maybe in the future, you’ll just drive up and there will be a steel tube that reaches out to your car window and you open your mouth and they just shoot the food paste into your mouth. more efficient, n’est-ce pas? less wrappers, less time, pre-masticated…
whenever life gets to be too much – too boring, too stale, too stressful, too stupid, too cheap, too expensive, too nonsensical, too logical, too blech, too bigahsldjgalk, too too – i look at my hands and think how lucky i am to have hands and then i start playing with my hands and i remember being a kid playing with my hands and how i’d construct little plays out of nowhere with my fingers. and then i’m back in the present again.
The reason why spotting a penny is lucky is bc it indicates that your mind is peaceful enough to see it.
Less drama offstage. More drama onstage. That is my current philosophy and I’m sticking to it.
Men need a fancy store to buy special underwear and it should be called “Victor’s Secret.”
i am determined to seek out magic wherever and whenever i can… and where there is no magic, i am walking away.
you know how they have those videos of people who take like the same one second shot of something for a year and then compile all the shots together? if i had balls (instead i have ovaries… which are really the same thing…just inside), i would take a photo of myself as soon as i wake up every morning and post it each day as my profile pic.
if you ever find yourself in middle school (or a similar social dynamic in your life), when someone calls you a dumbass, just call them a smartass to get them back. a perfect riposte!
Can u be alone without feeling lonely? Yes I can. More and more. And here’s how I do it. I walk. I notice the pavement under my feet. I hear the birds. I go a new direction. I think about my legs and how good they feel to move. I think about how it’s not winter anymore thank god. And I can be outside without dreading it. And I think about the interesting people in my life and I hear remnants of our conversations. And I realize that I used to do this as a kid. I didn’t need much to entertain myself. I can do that again.
I can’t handle it when strangers are nice. Well sure I can. It just always surprises me.
i’m extremely intolerant of judgmental people. hmmm. let me untangle that a moment…
i’m extremely intolerant of judgmental people. hmmm. let me untangle that a moment…
Just saw a woman wearing a button that read “Porn produces pollution.” Ummm. The world gets a little weirder every day.
My dog Gizmo puts his paw on my leg.
The air smells sweet again this morning.
I feel empty and yet complete. I see the bigger picture and I’m fine.
I realize that you need to listen to the whistlings of your soul and my whistling is singing a tune that says ‘Sit. Relax. Draw. Daydream. Do a little work now and then. Doing nothing sometimes is the best something.’
And when you’re ready to be your silly self, the person who can easily forget herself and get lost in the moment, the person who can laugh at herself and not lose herself, the person who loves to help people laugh at themselves, too, the person who doesn’t care if she does push-ups in the classroom as long as it gets people to loosen up, the person who doesn’t care if she dyes her hair black because at least it’s a fucking change, the person who takes risks, the person who has been through all kinds of shit and still lets go of the bad and lets in the good, the person who would rather sit down in a restaurant and watch people than watch TV, the person who thinks about ‘the end being nigh’ every day not because she’s morbid but because she wants to live life to the fullest Buddha way, the person who is going to keep writing about her life because she is still trying to accept self-love and she’s going to keep doing this until it doesn’t feel so awkward and weird… and when you’re ready to be that person, then be her.
no matter how up or down or around or sideways a day has been, i go outside and i smell the air and i realize there is something bigger and better than all of the petty little concerns that can take up too much space in one’s brain at times. i smell campfires and grass and leaves and moss and i feel the cool air on my nostrils and i realize i’m more alive out here than in a house and life is wild and when you connect with that then it doesn’t matter where you’re at. it doesn’t matter who you’re with. it doesn’t matter if you’re alone. you’re already a part of it all and that’s just fine and dandy. and the trick is to stay open no matter how much circumstances conspire to close you up. stay open. and free.
why do i write so much gobbledyguk about my past? because i’m a woman in a culture (in a world) that tends to want to define me before i have a chance to define myself. for all the good in religion (and there is some – for example, i learned about karma or ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’), i also absorbed that stupid notion that self love is a bad thing. so between culture trying to tell me who i am for years and a religion telling me that i have to put everyone else’s needs before my own all the time, i have a lot of self actualizing to do.
beautiful moment #1: driving down a road in sequim that i’ve never been down before and realizing that this place has nooks and crannies that still surprise me.
beautiful moment #2: realizing that my strategy of grading a small chunk a day (rather than waiting for it to pile up and then i start hating life) is paying off and actually do-able.
beautiful moment #3: the feeling of freedom is awe-inspiring, scary, and magical.
beautiful moment #4: slowing down is what reaps in the magic.
beautiful moment #5: getting reacquainted with my favorite pen.
beautiful moment #6: freedom means carving out your own destination/destiny.
beautiful moment #7: people will always buoy me up if i’m around them long enough.
When I am – not to get morbid here but I guess I will – laying on my deathbed, there will be two memories that stand out. One is, the day I discovered Natalie Goldberg.
I was visiting this older lady named Maude. She was very small, very old, and she had a beautiful horse and she lived alone in a tiny studio apartment and she drank a shot of tequila every afternoon. She had lived with an abusive husband for years, but she eventually divorced him. She had a nice son. And she was happy with her life as it was with her horse. I don’t know how it came up but she handed me this book Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and it was one of those books in my life that I couldn’t put down until I finished it. Like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
I loved it for many reasons but mainly because it finally gave me permission to write. Write my drivel. Write whatever came out of my brain. But write. Up until that point I knew that writing could lead me in positive directions. I had intuited this on my own. But to hear this come from another writer was spectacular. And writing has become such a huge healing part of my life since then that I would not be who I am if it weren’t for that day.
The other memory is an exercise she wrote about in her book where she asked a classroom full of kids to each unwrap one Hershey’s chocolate kiss and put it in their mouth and close their eyes and only open their eyes to write down the sensations and thoughts and feelings that came over them as they let the chocolate melt (don’t bite it!) in their mouth. I loved that image and I use it from time to time with my students.
Savoring the little moments since that’s all we really have. Knowing what you love. That’s all that really matters.
Even at the age of 13, I was obsessed with cats. And a lot of other things, too.
At this age, I was way into dieting, Scott Baio, and being preppie. My cousin and I attempted the Scarsdale Diet. It was awful. Like you only got 750 calories a day. I remember lasting about one day. All I remember eating was boiled chicken, unbuttered toast, and plain grapefruit. About a day and a half of self-imposed starvation later, I dramatically lay immobile on the couch. I was convinced I was going to die. Barely able to lift my head, I was determined to last more than a day, but I just couldn’t so I remember crawling on my arms and legs to the kitchen to make myself a bowl of forbidden oatmeal and break the fast.
Scott Baio was my next passion. I used to peruse my cousin’s collection of Tiger Beat magazines and see his angelic cheeks (face!!! Face cheeks!) glisten across the glossy pages. His sweet grin would send waves of happy zings in my belly as I gazed into his eyes and melted to Air Supply’s “All out of love” tantalizing my eardrums. If I had a new picture of Scott (or if I hadn’t looked at him for a long time) and I had the music timed just right, I could close my eyes and literally feel Scott Baio holding me in his arms. Not a harmful passion per se, just a tad unrealistic.
And being preppie. I discovered the Preppie Handbook with the help of my friend, Margaret, in Connecticut. I had to have the khaki pants in order to complete my outfit one day, so I remember giving my dad the cold shoulder treatment in the car for a long time until he agreed to buy me a pair. I must have acted morose until he pulled the truth out of me.
“What is it, Lara?” Silence. “Come on – what’s going on?”
Finally, I replied, “Oh, I don’t know. It’s just that… well… nevermind.” (sigh).
“Come on, now.”
“It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it…. It’s just… oh, you’ll never buy me these so it doesn’t matter…” I got the pants, but I also got a good dose of guilt since I still remember that fateful day I lorded it over my poor dad.
One thing I’ve realized now that I have teens: the teen years are all about passion. Highs and lows. Extremes. I’m kinda glad I’m not there anymore. The drama is a bit much. Passion is fun but I think the trick is figuring out how to be passionate about healthier stuff. Like it’s probably better to be passionate about exercise versus snorting cocaine. Or being vegan versus gambling. I guess Scott Baio and Preppiedom weren’t all that bad. Scarsdale and his diet though can suck it.