Saturday, February 2, 2019

Alone, Together


In the 1980s I fell in love with Barbra Streisand’s anthem for that decade, “Lullaby for Myself” from her album “Superman.”  It was the time of celebration of a bleak truth that we are, at our core, discreet individuals, solitary entities, singularities.  The joy of living alone, of owing no one an answer, of not sharing “a pair of pork chops when you crave champagne and cheese” – I was sold.  My friend and I argued about the final lines – was it his interpretation: “If just one damn man could share the need/to be alone with me” a message that she wanted to be with someone else in spite of her cry for independence, or was it mine: “If just one damn man could share the need to be alone/with me,” suggesting she wanted a relationship but she also needed her alone time?  We had several loud arguments over that line ending.

My study
I have always enjoyed time alone.  There’s something delicious about being able to act or speak without being watched.  Maybe that’s what appeals to me about writing, for the act of writing is, for me, a deeply solitary endeavor.  If I’m not physically alone (Virginia Woolf famously said that what a woman writer needed was “money and a room of her own.”) I must somehow shut out all the sound and fury of the world outside me, and disappear into my own isolation in order to hear an inner voice.

Direction sign in an island park
When I go back to the city for a visit, surrounded by traffic and crowds, I wonder how I ever lived there.  I long to return to the deserted winter beaches and forest trails of my island. I love to curl up with my book in a quiet house in front of the fire. I relish my study, where I can close my door and vanish into my imagination.  The trail to nowhere beckons me.  

Walking group
Yet, when I have drunk my fill of being alone, when the sound of my own voice begins to bounce irritatingly around in my head, I have to reach out.  I join the weekly walking group and tramp the trails with 30 plus people instead of alone. I go farther and faster, and I talk non-stop when I’m with them.  I go to rehearsal for the play I’m part of, work on scenes, drink tea and stack chairs and share lives.  I go online and read and respond to posts from my communities.  I invite neighbours and friends for dinner and cook all day in anticipation. Our little island has a thousand ways of being alone together.

Winter Beach
Sometimes I take a ferry to the city, where I walk through downtown streets, craning my neck at the tops of the towers, nodding to strangers on the seaside walking trail, enjoying the buzz on the crowded Skytrain, drop in on old friends and soak up their company.  I’m not sure why, when I embrace solitude, but I recognize that being with others feeds my soul. I return to my solitude overflowing with stirred-up ideas, new ways of seeing, new voices, and the knowledge that the teeming world out there is full of sparks, of sound and fury, of light and delight.

And sometimes, my lullaby for myself sounds better sung in harmony.

6 comments:

  1. “Our little island has a thousand little ways of being alone together,” what a wonderful statement, I’d never thought about it like that! I often find that once I’ve had my alone time, I’m much more engaged and engaging around other people.

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    1. We need to feed all parts of ourselves, don't we?

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  2. Well said, Wendy. I feel for those who are unable to access the luxury and benefit of solitude, for whatever reason. Balance. We all need that in our lives. Sounds as though you're finding.
    Now to go and listen to Barbra...

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    1. True -- solitude and silence are a luxury for many. I am grateful for my quiet forest paths.

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  3. Lovely Wendy. Beautifully put. I think of that song often, and you were the one who pointed it out to me. Enjoy your harmonious solitude.

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  4. Thanks. We have contradictory impulses that pull us in many directions.

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