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I spend a lot of time alone.  I get an assignment as a contractor and I go off to do it, alone.  I search the listings for permanent jobs or recruiters through a long day in front of my computer screen, alone.  I work on my novel or my budding collection of fairy stories set in Saint Paul, alone.  My work has me spending a lot of time going through things on my own.  What does this mean?

The word Alone doesn’t mean a lot by itself, outside of a big-haired song by Heart.  It all depends on whether a person likes to be alone, whether they’ve recently been alone, and frankly how much work they have to do.  There’s nothing like a big pile of work to make alone seem attractive to even the most extroverted person, so this can over-ride everything else.  It’s the context of alone that gives it meaning, but it’s alone that gives the moment the spice of a memory.

I generally hate to be alone.  For some strange reason the practice of writing has been set up to be a solitary art, so the work I get has to be taken away and alone.  As long as there is a lot of it I can throw myself into the process and get it done.  It’s when I have to fill the gaps and do things I hate like look for work that alone becomes a problem.  It’s bad enough that I’m expected to tell the world how great I am, but sitting alone it’s hard to know what I’m expected to say.  I can’t decide what I want to tell them about me when they aren’t a person I can in any way relate to.

The internet helps some during the days spent alone. Many sites devoted to writing fill up during the day with people who are clearly just looking to chat – and admit as much.  Writing isn’t as solitary as tradition dictates, plus we’re all humans.  It’s good to spend some time doing our work alone, but at some point we need each other.  I enjoy this time and have gotten to know many people I consider friends despite the fact that we only know each other when we are alone.

Mainly, however, I am at my best when I’m not alone too much.  That’s the E in the ENTP, the extrovert that is energized by being around other people. I don’t know how I wound up being alone as much as I am, but I intend to change it.  I’m a better person when I have a chance to bounce my wacky ideas off of people.  I like to know just where I stand on any number of issues, and I like to know how I’m doing.

My reaction is probably very typical for our species of standing-up chimp.  We aren’t like cats or other species that seem to be capable of being a long for long periods.  What’s different is that a cat has a way of working, a style of hunting, that works well when they are alone.  We always hunted in groups and always used safety in numbers to raise our kids, tend our sick, and so on.  It’s hard-wired into what we do.

Is it really good for any of us to spend so much time on the internet but otherwise alone?

6 thoughts on “Alone

  1. As always I enjoy reading your writing. I will scurry back to a copy of Wolf Totem where the mongolian people talk about the difference between a pack of wolves and a solitary cat. Many descriptions of the natural life i.e. prairie dogs, wild horses etc.

  2. I understand your feeling about being alone too much. It can be easy to allow “alone-ness” which can get you stuck in a rut. I am naturally introverted and have been finding myself alone too much. I find myself really missing the interaction with other people that a job brought. I get excited over interviews almost as much because it is someone new to talk to as it is the possibility of a paycheck.

  3. I don’t see how it can be good for us as a society to have everyone spending so much time alone. The more space people have, the easier it is for everyone to forget social constructs like tact. And the internet certainly doesn’t teach us how to get along with each other.

    That said, for me an even balance of both solitary and shared activities is vital.

  4. One chinese theory why tigers are solitary is that they have claws to climb and so can secure their food privately for later eating also their jaws and teeth are different. “Wolves don’t kill all those gazelles for the fun of it or to display their power. They do it so that the old, sick, and wounded wolves will have something to eat. Do you know why tigers and such can’t survive out here? And why wolves dominate the grassland? It’s because of their pack mentality. . . ? from Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong.

  5. Erik, After nearly 9 months I finally will be going to a job… my alone days will be over, but I want to share what really helped me during my hiatus from work. I volunteered, first to do a bunch of work associated with my high school reunion, and then as a part of the volunteer staff for my library’s local history room. I don’t have much time for volunteering now, but the friends and connections I made sustained me then and will be a source of joy for years to come.

    I know it sounds trite and cornball but do seek out volunteering opportunities. It helps on so many levels, especially personally if one is an extravert.

  6. Nice comment Diane. I know it was helpful for my wife as a city civil lawyer wanting a change she did guardian ad litem and crisis line volunteer and it did lead to some further part time real work in her field. She was happy then with new experiences and happy now albeit on a different path than the one she was on for 20+ years.

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