Last weekend I went to the beach as a part of my need to escape from the stress of day to day life. The beach is always a nice distraction; sometimes I'll get some good thinking/reading done. Other times I'll get caught up people watching and enjoying the weather and scenery. Sounds kind of creepy, but I get to see some interesting things.
For example, on my last excursion I sat on a bench and immediately noticed an elderly man directly in front of me setting up his beach paraphernalia in grand fashion. Clad in a sun hat, dark shades, and a striped tank top, I watched as he erected a massive umbrella in the sand. He set up two chairs and a small table, draping an elegant cloth over the latter. Teapots and an entire pie were set on the table. He then sat down in one of the chairs and watched the ocean. Another man passed by along the beach and amiably wished him a good day, to which the old man warmly reciprocated. He seemed to be the happiest person on the beach.
At first, I thought he was setting up one of those come-and-sit-and-I'll-listen sort of things, like in this Kleenex commercial:
Who is cutting onions in here?
Brilliant as that seemed, an equally elderly lady arrived on the scene after a short while and sat down in the other chair. The pie was sliced and the tea was poured over mirthful conversation. My secret illusion that the old man was there to welcome anyone and everyone to tea was shattered.
Now, it may seem to some of you that that is a generally creepy story, what with my watching them the whole time. You have to admit, people watching is an amusing thing. You get to make up stories about complete strangers. What's better than imagining which one of them will be the next Unabomber:
I often take these forays alone. As an introvert (which doesn't really mean anything these days), I need to take time to myself to recharge my energy after spending time in close quarters with others, or after a particularly rough day. I suppose I've always been this way. As a kid, I used to stay inside all the time, drawing my own Where's Waldo? scenes or constructing a Lego metropolis. According to legend, as an infant I would methodically push a pile of Jenga blocks into the corner to sit and play with them by myself. Even today, two of my favorite passions are typically enjoyed best when alone - reading and writing.
Sometimes seclusion works against us introverts. It's completely acceptable for anyone to take a break from others for some alone time (unless you're married, I guess. How does that work?) but sometimes this breeds a habit of not reaching out to others for help. This has been my personal experience. For some reason, the frequent need to be alone convinces me that I can better handle my problems if I am alone. After all, who knows me better than myself?
This mindset gets me into trouble, and I recall one particular occasion where my natural response to the inability to deal with my struggles directly resulted in a need to run away and isolate myself from those that cared for me. I won't go into the details, because I've already blogged about it, but I will say that that was clearly the opposite of what I should have done. It was a reaction to shame and the realization that I was an extremely weak person who couldn't even deal with problems in a normal way.
In the words of the many who are much better at writing than I am, I urge you not to run away.
Perhaps genetics has set itself against you, giving you the worst coping skills of what your family possesses - much like it has for me. Maybe you never had many friends growing up so you figure you will never find the need for any. Or it might be because someone took your heart and effectively broke it into pieces so your trust has naturally withered to take stock in no one but yourself.
When a good friend asked me why it was that I reacted the way I did when massive problems forced me into seclusion, I had no ready answer. I still don't. I possess loner tendencies - there's no doubt about that - but I do not brandish that banner proudly. True, sometimes I get my best thinking and spurts of creativity when alone. In the year since I've moved to Seattle, I would be hard pressed to find more occasions of happiness that occurred when alone as opposed to being with at least one other person. That's generally how life works.
I am a loner. In fact, I specifically took all of today to be by myself so I could type up this post complaining about being a loner. In all seriousness, I've spent today reading/writing/listening to music/thinking/observing, etc. The sense of revitalization I feel afterwards is always refreshing. In fact, I have been known to attend concerts and movies by myself. Who went and saw the first showing of 300 on opening day all alone? This guy. There's a healthy way to do it.
But we were made for community. In fact, I yearn for it after being alone for so long. Put me in an empty apartment for a week, miles from anyone, and I'll undoubtedly enjoy the first few days of solitude. But my mind would soon start to unravel. Heck, I'd probably invite Jehovah's Witnesses inside or order a pizza not because I'm hungry, but because I need conversation.
We need people. I need people. It's the reason I go to to church, even though I struggle to stay awake during the sermons oftentimes. It's why I prefer someone to come with me when I go grocery shopping. Ice cream by yourself? That's cool I guess...but it's also scientifically proven to be a sign of terminal lonerism. Don't believe me? You shouldn't. I made that word up just now.
As with most things in life, you can excel or fail at harnessing the need to be alone. Don't expect to only do one. Even though I'm sitting by myself in a coffee shop typing this up, the fact that I am surrounded by strangers makes me feel a lot better. I may be nothing but a cardboard cutout or a passing shadow to the stories of their lives, but I'm still a person.
Find people you love, even if it's only one person. Spend time with them. Don't do anything stupid so as to drive them away. You'll need them before the end.
Now excuse me while I sit in this corner alone and play with these Jenga blocks.
*Words: Poor People - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Sound: Lights & Motion, Counterparts, Rising Fawn, Misery Signals, Scale The Summit, The Appleseed Cast, August Burns Red, Night Verses, Defeater, Golden Youth.
Lights: Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy VI