For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed being alone. Maybe it’s because I was an only child. Or perhaps it’s a matter of disposition. Or both. Whenever anyone asks me if I miss having a sibling, even now, I think, What a ridiculous question! A sibling would have inevitably interrupted my much-cherished alone time.
With regard to my respect for solitude, my attitude has changed very little over the years. For me, solitude has always been a space of rejuvenation. Of self-care. Of learning and imagination. Long bouts of journaling and daydreaming. Tea drinking. And otherwise reveling in the spoils of inactivity. I am by nature an introvert. Still, I imagine that, regardless of one’s place on the introversion–extraversion scales (a dichotomy that, in many ways, I still can’t help but be puzzled by, but more on that below), a bit of solitude is good for the soul. Is necessary for growth, reflection, and self-acceptance. For the art of conversation. And, of course, for the flourishing of creativity.
Here are some thoughts on the importance of being alone:
Creativity is born of solitude.
It, perhaps, goes without saying that we need solitude to create. And not simply for the act of putting our pens to paper. For sketching, painting, collaging, sculpting, or music-making. But for the many imaginative exercises that must happen first. For immersing ourselves in the aesthetics of a harmonious space. For daydreaming. Designing. Plot-making. Performing various rituals to coax our imaginations. To engage with our inner worlds. The rites of creative activity.
Indeed, I have long believed that some of us—creative people, in particular—experience our thoughts, our mind’s images, as if they’re too close to the surface. Somehow immanent. As if we have these great, vibrant, lush inner worlds that are exploding with life, that exist just beneath the skin. And that the routine activities of our daily lives do nothing but steal us away from. It is in solitude that we unleash their magic.
Solitude is necessary for balance.
For as much as I cherish alone time, I could never be alone all the time. And whenever I do spend too much time alone, the rejuvenating effects tend to dissipate. And are quickly replaced by restlessness. Boredom. Agitation. Loneliness. I crave interaction just as I crave periods of solitude after too much social interaction. And feel myself to be horribly out of balance if I go too far in either direction.
It is, I think, a point worth making that, for many of us—creatives, especially, or so says my research—introversion and extraversion represent muddy ground. That is, they’re more like moods, flexible or transient, than fixed personality traits. Sometimes, for example, I feel very sociable, chatty, friendly, even gregarious and behave in those ways. I may even feel energized by social situations. If I’m in the mood. And if I’m not in the mood, which I’d say, is just more than 50% of the time (and used to be more until I landed my first sales job, which forced me to actively work on being more outgoing, engaging, and assertive), I feel stressed and easily overwhelmed by social interaction. And how I answer questions related to this dimension of my personality is entirely dependent on my mood when I’m being asked. I’ve been labeled both I and E on different personality tests. And always smack in the middle of the scale.
On the whole, I see myself as both introverted and extraverted. Or, rather, I have a near equal propensity for both (with a slight bias in the introverted direction). Based on my experience of myself, the concept seems a rather fluid one. Malleable. And all a matter of seeking internal equilibrium. Each knowing for ourselves what it means to feel balanced. With solitude, in varying degrees, for different people, always acting as an important antidote to our fast, often noisy and action-filled, daily lives.
Solitude is required for self-acceptance.
Whenever I go out alone, I try to be cognizant of how and how much I am using technology. That’s because there is something inherently disconcerting to me about being in a roomful of people—say, in a café, bar, or in line at a grocery store—and having my face buried in my phone. But I catch myself doing it. And when I make myself put my phone down and look around, I catch a whole lot of other people doing it, too. But, we’re isolating ourselves even more, I think.
When, in reality, I don’t believe any of us is trying to be more alone. We are instead engaged in the business of distracting ourselves from our aloneness. From our self-consciousness of it. From the anxiety of being singular and alone in a roomful of people, many of whom are also alone. And are likewise seeking comfort in the appearance of being busy. Of being too busy interacting with others elsewhere to treat the present environment like anything more than a nuisance. Half of us in these moments, I imagine, are filled with a false sense of self-importance. The other half with fear.
To reach the point of self-acceptance, I think, is to bear the anxiety of being alone until it dissipates. Because it does. But if we never allow ourselves the luxury of solitude, of the intimacy of our thoughts, feelings, and desires, of listening to ourselves in our moments of conflict and sorrow, we’ll never know it. That it’s still possible to stand comfortably, lock eyes with the stranger standing next to us, and smile.
A Quick Congratulations and a Thank You
…to T. Blake, the artist whose name and work have appeared on this blog, now, a countless number of times, for having his work accepted into the Hauntedwood exhibition at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts in Colorado Springs, CO this month. I am excited that he asked me to participate in his project, a much larger display, which includes the poem below:
You can find more of his work (and more of my poetry, of course) in my chapbook, Seven Road & Other Poems.