I'm generally not one to run from the bittersweet angst of loneliness. I don't think those are feelings to be cured or symptoms of something wrong. In fact, I think they're something we should all create space for the feeling of. Because I believe those feelings are as true and real as joy and that it's in that full spectrum that eudaimonia lies - the idea of a good life (as opposed to a merely happy one).
Last week, this Louis C.K. video about cellphones went viral. At the same time I was thinking a lot about my apartment, the sometimes small desolation of coming home to its emptiness after a long day, running a bath and trying to sleep, feeling so beat and so alone. The part of the video that struck me the most was where he mentioned that we reach for phones as props to kick to the curb feelings of loneliness or aloneness or general fear.
"You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That's being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it's all for nothing and that you're alone. It's down there."
I thought about my home then too. It's my safe and cozy place: Only people who matter get to come in. I keep things just so, uncompromisingly. I love this place and living here alone feels essential and right. It doesn't make me stop feeling those feelings, but there's no other place I'm more comfortable feeling all there is to feel than here. The safety of home is a prop too and a comfort from those forever empty feelings.
But my home also reinforces my own aloneness. It is unshared. Although I open it up to dear friends, company's not always there when I crave it. I fill my home favourite things; talismans, treasures, tokens that are, in a sense, just other props. I always know underneath all of that it is a shell. And if/when I move out, I will pack all of that up and I will look around and be unable to see what that "home" was.
Living alone is beautiful. I think everybody should do it for some time, really. Maybe some people are wholly at ease with others around, but there's a deeper "being you yourself" when you're fully alone. Not just for a day, but for days. How you eat, what you watch on telly, what you laugh at when you're laughing alone; all the minute things you choose without the burden or support of others. I can't imagine not knowing those things about myself.
Living alone also means coming home to aloneness. For introverts like me, that's often a relief, a sweet salve. But even for introverts like me, that can be a lonesome thing. I often want to share all these things I've chosen. And I want sometimes not to have to do all the choosing; every meal, every evening's activities, every picture hung and spoon washed.
Living alone is both like a cellphone and not like a cellphone. It is where I strain to be to soothe the forever empty feelings. It's also the place where I'm most alone. But I guess I want to say that both these two extremely opposite things can be true. As they're true for phones, blogs, this internet thing, friends and all relationships. There's both the belonging and the loneliness, not just one or the other. There's also the reality of who we each are, reaching into and out of ourselves.
I don't agree that cellphones are bad, really. I think it's a category mistake. I think what we're really talking about in these conversations is living with awareness; of self, of others, of place, of time. What we're really complaining about is not that we reach for those things, but when and why and how we're reaching; when we reach unreflectively to chase the forever empty away, instead of digging deep down into the beauty of it.