Monday, May 27, 2013

Aloneness and Loneliness

Isn't it fascinating when everything you read seems to connect together even though chosen - apparently - at random? I am having one of those days, and wanted to share with you three things I watched and read today which I found fascinating. The first is this gorgeous video & poem called "How to be Alone"



Isn't that beautiful? I watched it this morning, I found it from this fascinating website, Rewriting the Rules, which is about love and relationships but from every angle, including loving ourselves, which is where being happily alone comes in.

Then, as part of an online poetry course I am taking part in which brings in philosophy and physics (and so much more) I was pointed towards this very interesting article on the science of loneliness - an excerpt:
Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. ... The psychological definition of loneliness hasn’t changed much...  not what the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard characterized as the “shut-upness” and solitariness of the civilized. Nor is “real loneliness” the happy solitude of the productive artist or the passing irritation of being cooped up with the flu while all your friends go off on some adventure. It’s not being dissatisfied with your companion of the moment—your friend or lover or even spouse— unless you chronically find yourself in that situation, in which case you may in fact be a lonely person. ... Loneliness - and this will surprise no one—is the want of intimacy. [The full article is here]

I also just finished reading an astonishing novel, The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud, which I devoured and which left me shaking by the end, so perfectly did it seem to address everything I am thinking about right now. It is about a woman my age living alone and feeling unseen, and her struggles about her anger at the way her life has gone, her desire to be an artist, friendship, family, relationships. It almost feels trite to try and summarize it this way, let me just recommend it to you highly, I think it's a masterpiece.

For me, all three of these - the film, the article and the novel -  tie up: being a creative person, I have a deep need for the proper kind of aloneness that enables me to delve into myself in order to write, and this never produces loneliness. But I have to watch out that I do what is necessary to avoid it tipping over into loneliness, if I don't ensure that I get enough social contact of the right kind  - as an introvert - with the people who feed me rather than deplete. It's quite a difficult thing to navigate, I am finding right now, living on my own without even a beloved pet for the first time for 16 years, alongside the promise that I will be able to immerse myself in writing in an entirely different way living alone, which both excites and somewhat scares me.

What do you do? Do you have strategies for "good" aloneness and avoidance of loneliness, whether with others or by yourself? How does that fit in with/feed/inspire your writing?

16 comments:

Julia Bohanna said...

I am certainly writing more since finding myself alone - as I dedicated a lot of emotion in particular in helping my partner and his career. I didn't seem to have the energy to push us both and he needed a lot of direction. Initially, I was rudderless and lost - but I do have my daughter, my animals and a number of astonishing friends.

I joined things. I am a joiner. But I am coming to terms with the fact that now, I genuinely want to be alone. it would have to be an incredibly beautiful (in 'soul' terms although that sounds like bad poetry) and unique human being to break through those defences enough for me to love them. Moreover, I have barriers up against people loving me - so I am fiercely alone now - by choice. I don't think that I am particularly ugly and I have had male interest - but it all seems a bit meh and I am not shallow enough to want just human contact. I want the whole intellectual Russian novel walking by the lake intensity. It would be hard to find.

Sue Guiney said...

I find the difference between being alone and loneliness to be vast. And one thing has little to do with the other. One of my lonliest times was walking down a crowded Lexington Avenue in NYC...but I think what you are doing is brave and will produce all sorts of important and wonderful results. And anyway, so many people out here love you, you can never really be alone. xo

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Oooh, this post seems to be in stereo!

I have sought aloneness for some years now, in order to write properly. In order to be able to just be the creative person I now know myself to be. I seek that aloneness in writing retreats - mainly the wonderful Anam Cara, in Ireland, as you know.
My times there, anything up to three weeks at a stretch are periods of intense creating, alone - during which I sometimes feel real resentment at having to break off and meet people, over lunch, for example. I try to go in 'low season' when there is no one else there, apart from Sue. (The owner, for those who dont know...). I don't want to have to natter abut other people's work, sometimes. Just immerse in what I'm doing.
Its intensely 'selfish' if you are judging by societal norms. But I dont think we can judge this thing by those - they seem irrelevant.

I know that at home, with my family, who I love dearly - the writer-part of me is dissatisfied. It leaps up and down wanting to know why I'm "wasting my life" even thoguh I am not, at all... - because I'm not allowing it, the writer bit of me, the aloneness it needs. A real dissonance - and its good to have these discussions - so thank you!

Rebecca Alexander said...

I crave solitude now I'm in the middle of a relationship and a family. I can't concentrate on my writing with someone, no matter how loving, popping in with a cup of tea of the post. I was single fthroughout my thirties and those were productive years. I love my people, but am looking for a space away from them. Maybe a caravan parked somewhere for a few weeks at a time!

Freya Morris said...

You're so right! Loneliness and being alone are such different things. I love to be alone, but loneliness is devastating.

The weird thing about loneliness is that the pain of it is instantly forgotten by people who no longer find themselves lonely. In that sense it's a lot like childbirth, but I'm not sure I see the evolutionary significance it would have with loneliness.

But I've never forgotten that pain of being lonely (which makes me worry about child birth!). It is so devastating. I remember the sting, the tears, the silent begging to the universe to send someone to save me, and quick.

I'm not sure how it fitted with my writing, if at all. My writing back then was all very ego-centric anyway. :)

But, friends helped me - good ones though. They were tactile, inappropriate in humour and love, and it's exactly what I needed. Now a days, we don't hug and cuddle our friends enough or tell them how much we love them after they've made us giggle uncontrollably. I must remember to do that more too. It goes a long way...

I can't imagine how hard it would be without your cat! I've been periods without having my cat around and it felt weird not having another living thing around the place. Even at my parents, I thought I would see her out the corner of my eye even though she wasn't there. I love squeezing her to pieces (even though she hates it) and it would be hard to replace her. But I would have to get another cat - it wouldn't be the same, but it would be another heart beat to squeeze and love. I'm always reminding myself that she can't be here forever. So in her memory, I would have to go and find a cat that needed saving. We picked her because she was the only one hiding in a corner in a rescue place. So I'd make it my aim to be a hero for a cat, and in turn that cat would probably be a hero for me too.

So maybe loneliness in part is about not being able to love. All that love, and it's got nowhere to go!

Anyhow - so in summary I would have to say I would need a cat to love in order to write. I'm not entirely sure why. It just is. And I would need a really close, silly friend to share things with when I see something silly happen in the garden whilst writing and need to share desperately!

I'm going to go now - I feel my problem solving has trivialized it a bit... :)

Caroline M Davies said...

Such a rich and thought provoking post Tania. I was delighted to discover that Meg Barker who works at the OU had won an award for her book.

"Good" aloneness is always something I've chosen and these days I do seek out solitude in which to write although it can be a struggle to achieve. If only writing poetry made money like being a plumber then I could justify the time spent on it!

Tania Hershman said...

Julia, thank you so much for sharing that here in such a candid way. I hear you completely, about the energy that had been put towards others that can now be focussed on your own projects, and about the delights of aloneness that mean that you would be unwilling to forgo those except for Russian-novel-intensity relationship! Yup, yup.

Tania Hershman said...

Sue, it's so true, for me too, I am often loneliest in a crowd, but am finding now that if I talk to someone in the group about it, I find that they too feel the same way, especially in groups of writers. On a recent poetry course I brought up the idea of the introvert and it turned out we were pretty much all introverts, which made being together intensely over a week much easier, because we all instinctively understood each other's need to disappear without question.

Tania Hershman said...

V - it is good to have these discussions, isn't it? Not something I think perhaps we are normally "allowed" to talk about, the desire not to be with other people, even loved ones. (This ties in somehow to the Clare Messud book, the author is being attacked for creating an "unlikeable" angry female character, she isn't being allowed either). Anyway, I do like your use of the word "selfish", this is something I've struggled with, our society seems to imply that enjoying your own company is selfish, self-indulgent perhaps. It is odd, isn't it? How do they expect us to get any work done? This does fit into the contemporary culture of open workspaces, everyone supposed to be fine and happy in crowds. This surely is going to backfire. Thank goodness for us that we've found those spaces that nurture us and we can go there (Ireland, ahhh) on a regular basis.

Tania Hershman said...

Freya, thank you so much for your wonderful, brave, far-ranging comment, not trivializing at all! You are spot on about great friends, making us laugh, and also the hugs and physical connection which is such a part, i think, of real and deep loneliness. That is something that can be difficult, in our culture especially. And the cat, yes! I love that you chose a cat who was in a corner... that really speaks to me, my beloved cat felt so much like me in his need to be left alone, we could be in the same room just experiencing each other without snuggling, without having to do anything but just be. He was definitely a very talkative introvert cat, and if/when I get another feline companion, I suspect I might be drawn towards someone similar. I also can't imagine writing without a cat there... Yes yes yes.

Tania Hershman said...

Caroline, thank you, I was feeling/am feeling so strongly about this, and since everything I am reading seems to be talking about it, i felt it was important to get it out there and see how everyone else feels. Good aloneness, definitely! And here's to poets making as much as plumbers ;) Congrats on your book!

Freya Morris said...

I feel the same about my cat! Like my daemon she is. She's never really got on with my family and always followed me about because I understood her and gave her space. She's very sensitive and you have to wait for her to come to you. She also loves curry like me. She's a funny cat and we are far too similar. I wonder if we go for cats that are like ourselves? Funny...

Great topic to discuss!

peterdomican said...

Reading 'Quiet' by Susan Cain really helps me to understand how my introversion works (I have a number of close friends who absolutely refuse to believe I'm an introvert! - they're extroverts of course!)
I'm starting to understand the big difference between 'alone' and 'lonely'. Generally I'm fine with being alone and my creativity has substantially improved but I find eating meals on my own a low point most days and anniversaries of events are often very difficult days. because I tend to dwell on how things might be different.
I'm learning slowly to pick things to go to that are energising e.g. concerts, writing, photography events and avoid too many things things that wear me out e.g. big parties or meals where I only know one or two people.

Thinking said...

hmm...its nice to read about loneliness....people think that if someone is alone or not seeing people means one is sad...however I am quite happy with my loneliness all the time...never mind the people....perhaps they are afraid of being alone because loneliness gives you plenty of time to consider your mistakes and to some extent wants you to repent...hmm...

Anyways...writing is a lonely job.

Laura said...

I like spending time alone a little too much I think! But then I've been like it all my life, despite also being fairly sociable. For me it’s a necessary freedom/escape, and especially, headspace. Three days is about my limit, though - after that, I start feeling disconnected in an antsy way, as if I'm missing out on something; adrift from the world, I guess. When I first lived on my own after many years of not, I freaked out for weeks. It is a huge adjustment . Now, I honestly wonder if I can ever go back...It's different when you’re missing someone or something though. Aloneness just is a state of being, it doesn't have to have an emotion attached. Whereas loneliness is all emotion; a feeling of absence I think...

Tania Hershman said...

Freya- your cat loves curry? Wow!

Pete, you know how important "Quiet" was for me too, what an amazing book. But I guess knowing "what" we are doesn't fix everything, and perhaps it is those feelings of loneliness that you talk about that make sure we introverts do get out into the world just enough. Maybe.

Thinking - nice to meet you, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. You are spot on about us having time to think about our mistakes, I do seem to have become primarily a thinking machine over the past while, I mull over absolutely everything and yes, do try and learn from it. But we also need those who are different, don't we, because I suspect I spend rather too much time thinking.

Laura, I like your distinction very much - aloneness is simply a description but loneliness is an emotion. Yes. And that antsiness you mentioned is probably some kind of defense mechanism in case we never went out at all!