When I lived alone in Manhattan, a married friend with three sons once said to me, “Enjoy your solitude.” I did. But I was lonely, too.
Later, in Vermont, waiting in line to be seated at a diner with my three young children while my husband was working, a different friend greeted me and said, “You’re here alone?”
“Hardly,” I said, shifting the baby in my arms, and trying to move toward our table with the two toddlers clinging to my legs. As a young mother, it seemed I was never alone. But I was still sometimes lonely, and I craved a moment of solitude. Or two.
Those family years of managing a family business, keeping a household afloat, and raising children, were also years when I spent almost all my mental energy planning time alone, to write. Occasionally, I managed it, either by waking before the rest of the household, by hiring babysitters, or by sending the kids to visit their grandparents. Twice, I went to weeklong writing retreats, which were fantastic, and connected me both to my writer’s voice and to other writers, so I didn’t feel so alone. But then I’d return to the hectic world of office work and carpools and teaching and – somehow – writing, too.
Once, to meet a deadline, my husband took the kids away on vacation without me. It was incredibly luxurious to be able to write in the solitude of home. But by the end of the week, I was lonely, and eager for my family to return. I wanted to be with my family, and I wanted my solitude, too.
Now, my kids are grown, and I have the solitude I always longed for – and more. My husband still works long hours, and so do I. For the first time in my life, I can spend all day at my desk. On ideal days, I never leave home. I can do this for days, until something triggers a switch forcing me to look up, see that my cats are pets and not friends, and I realize I’m lonely again.
I’m finally catching on that too much solitude leads to intolerable loneliness, and too much social time distracts me from writing. And the one thing I know is that I have to write.
So I’m learning how to walk the line between being alone and being lonely. Here are ten ways I keep my balance:
- I breakfast with a friend – my husband. It’s the only meal we’re sure to have together each day, and it’s a good time to reiterate what we each have planned.
- I don’t “do lunch.” I find meeting friends for lunch too disruptive to my morning thought process. Instead of focusing on my work, I start thinking about what I’ll order, and I’ll keep checking the time so I know when I have to get ready to leave.
- I exercise daily. Most days, I walk alone and work through narrative problems on my feet; sometimes, I walk with a friend. I like the flexibility.
- I attend a weekly writing group, where I write with, listen to, and socialize with other writers.
- I date. While my husband’s usually my first choice, he’s not the only one I go out with – to hear lectures or music, view art, attend plays, readings or just talk. Generally, I like seeing friends one-on-one or in small groups, especially if I want to return to my solitude the next morning. Big groups and rowdy parties make it harder for me to pick up my narrative thread.
- I take time off on weekends. Depending on the season, I pursue outdoor adventures like snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, boating – always with friends.
- I volunteer. I serve on a Reparative Parole Board at a local restorative justice center, and I engage in activities that help build social capital and promote community in my town – a subject for a future blog.
- I dine, usually at home. On weekdays, this can be a solo meal or another one shared with my mate; weekends, it could be a meal for the family and friends.
- I schedule time to write. Basically, I protect my mornings, making no appointments or plans until after noon. I used to just block this time out in my planner; these days, I write down what I’m going to work on each day.
- I schedule time to play. This is hard for me, and I am often at risk of letting my writing life bleed into play time, evenings, nights, weekends. But I’ve just made an appointment to have the piano tuned, and it’s time to tune up my bicycle as well.
How do you manage time with others and time alone?