All my life I have liked spending time on my own. Though I’ve only lived on my own for short periods I did enjoy much of those times, whilst also experiencing some days, evenings and even whole weeks of acute loneliness. Longing for the company of humans I either didn’t know well enough or was too shy to reach out to. So I well know the difference between loneliness and alone.
Yes, for me ‘alone’ is pleasure. ‘Alone’ is time for me. To care only for me, follow my own instincts and the selfish wants of me alone. Time to listen to myself, literally listen. As often when I’m alone I’ll find I’m talking to myself, like I’m doing here. Sat here early on this Saturday evening working out why it is I so like to be alone sometimes and what I like to do when I am.
Well as for ‘why?’ It’s a deep and instinctive need and I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t feel it. Not so much a need to get away from other people as a need to be only with me. Oh well I suppose it is about getting away from others too. Neil Young expresses it best on his ‘On the Beach’ album:
‘I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day.’
From much earlier in my life than anyone would let a child do this today I would wander off on my own. To see what all the roads looked like and where they led. The beginning of ‘the walking’ that has stayed with me all my life. Sometimes with a friend, back then, but more often alone. A seven, eight, nine year old, miles away, inside my head, looking out at my world and working out what I made of it. My North Liverpool was huge. On a sunny day it could stretch to Ormskirk.
I never went in cafés on my own then as there weren’t so many and anyway I ‘d have had hardly any money. But as I grew cafés became a regular and welcome part of my alone time. Not restaurants mind, I’ve never been that comfortable in them on my own, trying to be at peace while some waiter pesters you about what you want next. No I like a good daytime café, where people are welcoming enough but they’ll never intrude into my time alone with my book or my notebook. Or just watching. Watching café society as it gently gets on with its day. I’ve got a degree in watching.
Though much of the time, in cafes or out on walks I’m barely watching at all, but writing and thinking, either meditatively or practically, and what’s the difference anyway? Although I CAN be forthright and quick with my opinions I’m more often slow to work them out. And so need time walking or sat on my own, so I can enjoy myself thinking all the way around an issue or a problem before approaching any kind of conclusion that feels right for me.
In fact I find that if it’s been some time since I spent time on my own then I really couldn’t be said to be completely myself. And so I’ll steal time, I’ll disappear. If you know me you’ll know these are the times when I’ve gone missing, times when no one knows where I am because I’ve gone somewhere with me. To think, or just to be alone. I do have ritual and planned times on my own each week, but sometimes there need to be these emergencies too. It’s the way I am.
Travelling is good for being alone. I enjoy a good train ride for this now I’ve pretty much given up on cars. Once I can let go of being ‘in contact’ and simply turn the phone off there can then be the luxury of, say, two hours alone to lean into. To look forward to. To do something…or nothing with. Even if I’m travelling for work, as I did earlier this week when I went to Stoke, I’ll do no work at all on my way there. Storing up the alone time to see me through the busy time.
In fact, on Crewe station, a glorious piece of alone time happened. It turned out that my train from Liverpool had arrived nearly 40 minutes before the connecting train would deign to begin dawdling off to Stoke. I was well early anyway, so there was nothing at all for me to do but sit there and wait. In the quiet peace of Platform 3, on a Tuesday morning in Crewe Station. It set me up for the day.
I’m alone now, obviously. It’s Saturday evening and Sarah’s away this weekend, as she often is. Her work as a funeral celebrant means she often needs the emotional relief of going and doing something entirely different at the weekends. Like sometimes she’ll go on ‘Walking Women’ holidays where her time is pleasantly, geologically or horticulturally organised. She likes it that way. I’d hate it. I flee from being organised and just need a pen, a notebook and time alone for my weekend.
(Oh, and a wi-fi’d up computer to type it all into and send it out to wherever, obviously.)
So there we are. I’ll get a glass of wine now, put something not too intrusive on the record player, maybe Neil Young since I was thinking of him. I might read my current book in a bit – ‘Reappraisals’ by 20th century historian Tony Judt. Or I might do nothing at all but let the time go by. It’s up to me, and me alone.