Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One Toothbrush, One Set of Keys, and Undies Drying in the Lounge

You know, I wanted to write a thoughtful, in depth post on all the teething problems involved in learning to live alone, but that isn't to be. The year being as it is, there's too much interference from the rest of my life for me to tease out that which is relevant.

Did living alone make it harder to deal with everything? Would I have coped better if I'd been back home and putting on a brave face? I can only ever fool myself if I'm fooling someone else in the process.

Did living alone keep me from falling apart any further? Maybe being able to collapse as soon as the door locked behind me and just be a fucking wreck without fear of discovery was the only way I could retain any ability to carry on.

I don't know, and I suspect it doesn't matter.

Learning to pass through each day without acknowledgement was hardest, and something I've only just mastered. I don't think I need much attention, but I'm insecure enough to need my existence validated in some form or other. All these little things that go on within my walls, my private earthquakes and rainbows, my mundane little accomplishments and failures, they're all unseen. When I get home, there's no one about so that I can debrief and offload the day. There's nothing in any of these things that is important, meaningful or lasting, and yet the fact that no one knows of them but me raises some faint moth flutter of panic, that if no one knows of them it is because they are not worth knowing (and they're not), and it's only a short skip, hop and jump on a bad day without the strength to fight off bad habits and I've reached the conclusion that this is because I don't matter.

This was hardest living in the city, without any sign of life to be seen out my window, and no means of contacting anyone, anywhen. Having a window with a view, here, has given me more peace of mind that I would have credited. It's better than TV. Any time of day I can look out, and yep, the world is still there, carrying on just fine without me.

Finally getting an internet connection killed off the tear gas blanket of isolation in one night. Marvelous thing, the intrawebz. Made for introverts who're more comfortable with the written word, made for people who keep very strange hours. All I need do is check my email in the morning and hey presto! My existence is validated. I can carry on with the rest of the day.

And as a result, loneliness billowed like a mushroom cloud. It isn't that surprising, really. It's always easier to be alone when you are alone. The internet is not being alone; it's a niggling itch that there are all these other people with whom you have contact, but they're not here. To lift wholesale from this article on the pitfalls of twitter (and the internet as a social medium);
…I think it's worth a critical look as opposed to an automatic connected-is-always-implicitly-good response. UCSF neurobiologist Thomas Lewis claims that if we're not careful, we can trick a part of our brain into thinking that we're having a real social interaction--something crucial and ancient for human survival--when we actually aren't. This leads to a stressful (but subconscious) cognitive dissonance, where we're getting some of what the brain thinks it needs, but not enough to fill that whatever-ineffable-thing-is-scientists-still-haven't-completely-nailed-but-might-be-smell. He didn't make this claim about Twitter... I attended his talk at The Conference on World Affairs, and he was addressing e-mail, chat, and even television (brain recognizes it's looking at "people", and feels it must be having a social connection (GOOD), but yet it knows something's missing (BAD).

Dr. Lewis cited a ton of studies which I didn't write down, so you can take this with a grain of salt. Plus, I'm extending his issues from e-mail and chat to Twitter. But part of the reasons he talks about are that our brain has evolved an innate ability to interpret body language, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. so the brain expects these channels of information and becomes distressed when the social interaction appears to be there, but these innate, legacy-brain pieces are missing.

Again, this doesn't mean that it's not worth it and highly valuable for people TO stay connected to far-flung family and friends, I'm just saying that it's worth a look at whether that might be lulling some folks into a false sense of "I'm connected" at the expense of real-life connections.

It felt like eating a chips to slake my thirst; didn't matter how much I consumed, I was still thirsty, and getting more so by the day.

I can't say I've increased my actual face-to-face socialness much – for all I talk of needing other people (I do), I still have no social stamina to speak of. It doesn't matter how much I enjoy a person's company, there's nothing in the world that gives as much relief as saying "goodbye". I'm not made to be company. I'm no good at being me.

If I've learned anything, it hasn't been new lessons at all. I've merely rediscovered that I am at my best, my most calm and happiest when in pure solitude. Turn off the computer so the internet can't reach me. Turn off my phone. Stop looking for something that can't be found online. Sit and look out my window at the birds, the loading truck, the passing trains, and not be myself at all. When there is nothing present that requires the entity of "Tessa" to manifest, I can almost taste love.

In hindsight, perhaps I should have bet on my weaknesses when it came to choosing between living alone and going into a share house. Being good at being alone just means that when I do need company, I need company so intensely I'm afraid to ask for it, because the denial will be too much. I can manufacture the Great Wall of Tessa when I’m surrounded by friends and family, I can make my own space in my mind, I can find solitude in all situations.

I can't make company to save my life. Not being able to wander into the kitchen for an inane two minute chat about milk has caused me more trouble than you can imagine.

It's been a year now. I don't know if living alone is good for me, but I’m good at it, and more importantly, I love it.

Here's to being a grown up hermit crab.