Feb 13, 2015

Muse: In Praise Of Solitude

Marilyn Monroe, photographed by Sam Shaw (1954)
"I restore myself when I'm alone" - Marilyn Monroe*
Being a singular soul is nothing new for me, after all, I am an only child. Contrary to some lopsided belief, only children grow accustomed to entertaining and relying on themselves. We know what it's like to look to the left and right of us, and see nobody there, and we're sort of forced to be content with that.

Some have pitied me for a lack of siblings, pitied my mother for her "paltry" breeding, others have believed I was a tan-colored Veruca Salt, constantly begging my poor father for golden tickets, a bean feast, and an Oompa Loompa to take home with me. Either way, my fate to be the focal point, my aloneness, my singularity, has bothered people.

When my body became a series of parenthesis and I became of "marrying age", all of a sudden it became oh so crucial for me to lock hands with another.

Relationship-bound friends, and even some overzealous family members, tried (and woefully failed) to set me up on dates with the men they thought I'd be compatible with (A common line was: "He's alone, you're alone, it's perrrfect!" No no, it's not). Strangers have asked me outright if I'm married and have kids, and their eyebrows raise, fall and then they fumble to further conversation when they find out otherwise (Just because I wear jeggings I'm a Mom? Just because I'm not a Mom you can't talk to me?). It's also assumed that I am a lesbian simply because insane logic says that if you're single by my age (late-late 20s) you absolutely must be into the same sex because gayness equates that you're playing a woeful hand of solitaire.

My eyes...they roll right out of their sockets.


While some of my friends and family come with the best of intentions to see me happy, I have wondered why it is so ingrained in our culture that happiness, that love has to be a plural act? From religion to entertainment, we've been taught that the end-all-be-all love affair solely rests on an outside person.

We see ads for online dating services playing on our need (and digging in our wallets) for outside companionship. We're taught in our upbringings that if you don't get married in an allotted time frame you'll shrivel up and die alone, and we're poked with guilt constantly for it if we keep hitting the snooze button on the biological clock. As a woman, I felt that my womanhood wasn't validated because I was coasting solo. We hold the act of marriage and relationships on some pretty towering pedestals, and when we do this it's hard for people to see, well, themselves.

We often shortchange the value of being alone. You see that person attending an event or eating by themselves? What does your mind instantly think? OMG THEY ARE A LONELY, UNLOVEABLE LOSER. OMG. THE FEELS. Then there is the digital device debacle. Don't lie. You rush to flip those things on whenever you find yourself alone with your own thoughts. It's better to play Candy Crush Soda than to muse silently about your surroundings, right?

Okay, true, being alone with your thoughts, with your own person, can lead one into dangerous territory (Taxi Driver, anyone?), but its not always an unsettling deal that leads to shaved heads and thoughts of political assassinations. We think such bad thoughts about being alone because we've made aloneness something of a doom and gloom situation. Google the definition of "alone", and you'll find words like "lonesome" and "friendless" shoot out at you. Look at the images for "aloneness" --- almost every photo is in black and white, with subjects having their heads dropped and looks of dejection on their faces. We've embellished the hell out of aloneness when its really a tool for strength, a tool for peace.

Being alone is an act of salvation. I now retreat into my aloneness to discover things. It allows me to explore what's going on in my brain, with my body, my surroundings. It allows me to tweak aspects of my personality, my style of dress, my personal health. My likes and dislikes are better formed alone without the influence my friends, or whatever herd mentality that can be found online with just a click of a button.

I love shopping alone. I love driving around town alone. I love watching and analyzing a movie alone away from the comments I'd usually hear from family or friends. I love jumping around in my room once everyone in my house has gone to bed and putting on mini-concerts with the headphones on (I suggest listening to live albums to amp up rock star fantasy). And I don't know what Joan was tripping about in that one Girlfriends episode, but eating alone is something that can be done, and should be done often.

Writing is a solo act, and its probably why I enjoy it as a career prospect, because of how much control I have on what it is that I, myself do. There is just a lot of control when you're alone, and often we don't relish in charting the course for ourselves as we're usually always waiting for someone else to make the right move, or are trying to compress ourselves into other people's time. We truly forget how to rely on ourselves for our own fulfillment in this regard. 

I will admit that my anxiety and bouts of agoraphobia led me to truly retreat from being comfortable with myself. Why be alone with the girl who is a neurotic hand-wringing mess? Why do I need to know her?  Depression and anxiety does this to you, it makes you not have control, and it makes you feel as if you'll never have it again. If you're like me, to avoid your state you try to find distractions away from yourself, and those distractions most often involve other people. Strange, considering that social situations are a horror show for a sufferer of anxiety, but for me, I have the opposite effect.

In filling my panic-riddled space, I ended up not being able to go anywhere without someone there with me, and that does more harm than good. I was avoiding myself, making myself obsolete, erasing Jennifer so to speak. So as I get better, clear the smoke and smash the mirrors, I try daily to turn my anxiety and agoraphobia on their ugly little heads by allowing my alone time to be a time for restoration. Bit-by-bit, I was learning to like myself, my own company. Me myself and I was all I had in the end, and I was finally being my own best friend (word to Beyonce). It's rewarding to have finally realized this, even when I didn't think it could be possible.

I sometimes feel we've gotten too comfortable with the idea that loving yourself is a selfish act, that's what probably deters people away from focusing on themselves, because they feel they are neglecting others. True, you can go overboard with the self-love and be thinking you and everything you shit smells like cupcakes and dandelions, but self-love is not selfishness drenched in narcissism batter, and then deep-fried to a hard shell of anti-social behavior. Sometimes to find and even save yourself you have to get a little selfish.

I know that I'm not the same girl who blew out the candles some eight years ago, heck even last year, and that type of change rested solely on me and my will to do so, and to do that I was being about as selfish as I could be. When I say selfish, I'm not talking being a brat, or a hog, or a downright asshole to others. You don't go full Veruca Salt. You just begin to say, "I'm going to do this for me and me alone" and then proactively do it, with your middle fingers raised. Selfishness saw me peeling back the layers to reveal the real Jennifer, and hello! she's in there, and to find her that takes time, and it especially took time away from others.

Right now I know I'd be the worst girlfriend in the world, because of how focused I am on the care and keeping of myself right now and I can safely feel confident in saying that I'm perfectly fine with that. Still I'm not cancelling out marriage, dating, or even love, and you bet if Chris Evans rang my doorbell and whisked me away I'd be all in, but let's get real, at the end of the day its about the joy of whatever I'm doing, and Captain America or whoever will have to just sit in the waiting room of me and flip a magazine till I'm ready.

I thought I knew how to be alone. I am an only child, remember? I knew how to rely and be by myself. I ran this ish. I got this. Nope. I hadn't a clue. Being an only didn't equal to me knowing how to truly love being alone with myself. There was a big difference. Aloneness, I'm learning, is something that should be treasured by the individual. People will come in and out of your life, but you remain constant.

So to all my so-called stragglers out there or those who want to "consciously uncouple" yourself from the swarm, act on your alone time right now. Know that you and only you can advise yourself on discovering true and consistent satisfaction, and get to know yourself, be content with just your own presence. Take the time to do that in bite-sized moments throughout the day. Do an exercise alone. Take a solo trip, whether its to your favorite store or to Fiji. Go see a movie in a packed theater alone or a concert. Or just sit, quiet (not sleep!), with no digital distractions and encase yourself in your thoughts. Nobody else gets to have this privilege but you, so relish in it, and praise your moments of solitude.

[*I don't know if Marylin Monroe actually said this, as some quotes attributed to her have been proven false, but I found this particular one awesome and loved how it coincided with the awesome photo of her and this piece, so there ya go]

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