On an Island

There are people that live on tiny islands in southeast Alaska, and some even live on houseboats parked in the ocean water.  They occupy all of the space around them and their only regular companions are the eagles and deer and bear.  Boats of all types pass by – fishing boats mostly, and the occasional ferry or seasonal cruise ship.  But few people other than perhaps a curious neighbor or a visiting relative ever step onto their island or their houseboat for months, sometimes years on end.

It’s not unusual to come upon such a place that has been deserted and has a For Sale sign nailed to a tree near the shore of the island.  I always imagined that the owner had pretty much absorbed all there was to get from the place, and decided to return to the mainland.  Not that they had depleted the solitude or the beauty or the soul of the place.  That remained of course.  Plenty there for the next person that needed some.

I made a pilgrimage to Walden Pond some years ago, where I knew that Henry Thoreau had lived in a cabin in the nearby woods for two years, two months, and two days.  I could feel the plentiful soul that remained of that place too.  I picked a small rock out of the pond and took it home for my sitting Buddha statue to look after.  It gazes at it incessantly, and in the process I think the spirit of Walden permeates the front room of the house.

The house on the island in the woods that I live in is not surrounded by water, but it feels like an island nonetheless.  The place is steeped with a powerful spirit of solitude, and of restful beauty, and soulful union of trees and birds and an occasional deer or bear.  I imagine that some day I will have pretty much absorbed all there is to get from the place, and then it will be time to move on to another.  There will always be plenty left for the next person that needs some, of course.

wholesome to be alone

“What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary?

I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another….

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.”

~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

All By Ourselves

Wilson, Tom Hank’s companion in “Castaway”

Loneliness is an odd companion, and it just won’t leave you alone.

I’ve been on my own now for 9 months, and it’s been one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.

First came a tremendous feeling of liberation, of being free from oppression, of expanded options, of being unchained.

Then came a period of examination, of expanded introspection, weighing options, of looking where to turn and which path to take.

About 3 months into singleness I had a panic attack.  The freedom fled, and I left work and curled up in a ball in my bed at home and slept.  I realized that I was alone.  Very alone.

I had been alone the whole time, of course.  It’s just that I didn’t realize it.  It was repressed and shielded from my consciousness.  Loneliness stepped out of the shadows, where he had been lounging and snacking and entertaining himself for decades.  All he said, in a nonchalant manner was “Hi”.  I was speechless.

Since then he really hasn’t said much more.  He’s just there, and I’m aware of his presence.  He looks over my shoulder and I see him in the mirror when I’m brushing my teeth in the morning.  He sits in the back seat of my car and watches the scenery go by on my way to work.  When I get home he’s napping on the couch.  He snores next to me in bed at night.

I was married for 35 out of the last 38 years, but I was alone the whole time while pretending I wasn’t.  Now that I know that I was, and am, it sheds a whole new light on things.

The feeling of loneliness comes from believing that you’re not OK in and of yourself.  It’s a belief that you need someone or something else to “complete” you.  You are relating to yourself in a diminished way; not fully connected to your essence.  Not fully conscious of your self – that other half of you that was always there, but hidden in the shadows.

I’ve been negotiating a merger with my other half lately.  He sits in the front passenger seat of the car now, and next to me when I brush my teeth.  We’re becoming inseparable and more fully aware and conscious of each other.  At first I didn’t like him a whole lot, but I’ve realized that we’re one in the same and need to learn to deal with it.  It might just be OK.  In fact, it will probably be more than OK.

Each of us has all we need within.  Awakening to that fact is true liberation.

I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.

~Henry David Thoreau

The brave new world of living single

Increasingly, living alone is a perk of those who can afford it: “It allows us to do what we want, when we want, on our own terms,” writes the author, a sociology professor at New York University who interviewed 300 singletons for the book.

“The collective project of living alone grew out of the culture of modern cities, not the monastic or transcendental traditions,” writes Mr. Klinenberg, pointing to “adult playgrounds” like gyms, bars and coffee shops that let urbanites mingle, even as they enjoy their own spaces.

Today, 31 million people live alone in the United States – that’s 28 per cent of all households, compared to just 9 per cent in 1950. The “remarkable social experiment” of going solo now helps define modern culture, argues the author, who spoke to The Globe and Mail from New York.

What’s the difference between “singletons” as you call them, and singles?

Singles are people who are not married. In the United States, it’s about 49 per cent of the population now. Singletons, as I define them, are people who live alone – 32.7 million according to the latest census estimates. They account for about 28 per cent of American households. We have to make really clear distinctions between living alone and being alone, and also between living alone and being lonely. They’re very different kinds of things.

“Solitude can be experienced alone or with others”: You’re quoting Sasha Cagen, founder of Quirkyalones, a movement that advocates for people who enjoy being single.

That’s right. Many people that we interviewed said there was nothing more lonely than living with the wrong person.

Loneliness expert John Cacioppo talks about that too, the lack of time for oneself in “harried marriages.”

There’s a concept that sociologists are using more these days called the “greedy marriage.” Marriages can be really good for you, but the relationship plus the domestic responsibilities that often come with it can also pull you away from other things. I say this as a guy who’s married with two young children. I’m not against marriage and I’m not advocating living alone. What I’m trying to do is understand this incredible social change, how it happened and what it means for us.

You argue that we use wealth to “separate from each other” in solo living arrangements, and you point to an intensifying “cult of the individual.”

It used to be the case that you really had to justify to yourself and to people around you why you wanted to get divorced. Today, in many communities, if you’re married and it’s not going well you have to justify staying in it. People of my generation and younger grew up in the throes of the divorce revolution.

A lot of the younger people I spoke to said they didn’t feel like they’d be capable, or that it would be irresponsible of them to get married before they really knew they could take care of themselves. I’m not saying people want to be alone or be isolated. They want to go out, meet new people and have sex. They just don’t want to live with the wrong people.

What do you say to critics who see the trend as a threat to family values, who suggest that it makes us self-absorbed?

The fact that people live alone for long stretches of their lives and then have successful marriages when they’re older suggests that is not a compelling argument. The fact that people who live alone are more likely to volunteer in civic organizations really contradicts that message. The fact that people living alone are more likely to spend time with friends and neighbours should trouble this idea that singletons are selfish.

Who suffers more of the stigma: men or women? The spinster? The cat lady?

Yes, women get more of the stigma. A particularly difficult moment is when they reach their mid-30s to early 40s and have to make decisions about whether they’d like to have biological children. People see friends and family members who project onto them their own anxiety about their situation. It’s very unusual for men to express real concern about waiting too long before getting married.

You point out that living alone is a “cyclical condition, not a permanent one.”

No one’s making a vow to stay single. They’re moving in and out of different conditions.

Yet when Ms. Cagen announced that she was ready for a partner, some Quirkyalones accused her of abandoning the cause.

I don’t think she should have to be committed to being single or living alone for the rest of her life. She’s dealing with the fact that there is stigma. In a 1957 study, 80 per cent of the Americans surveyed by a University of Michigan psychologist said that adults who wanted to stay unmarried were either sick, neurotic or immoral. Obviously our attitudes have changed quite a lot since then, but there’s still some stigma.

The fastest-growing demographic for solo living is 18 to 34, you write. What about these boomerang kids who can’t afford to live on their own, moving back in with mom and dad?

In the last couple of years, there has been a slowing and a slight downtick, but it’s surprisingly low: It went from 12 per cent of all young adults living alone to 11 per cent. In 1950, about 1 per cent of young adults had places of their own.

You write that Thoreau’s mom swung by Walden Pond regularly with dinner.

Certainly different than the mythology, isn’t it?

We have this immense anxiety about the fate of family members who live unaccompanied. What happens when all those singletons get old and infirm, with family far away?

We have really failed to prepare for this incredible social change and I worry about the fate of people who are not just alone but isolated. We’re doing much less for them than we should be. I wish we had invested more in places that allow older people to live alone but also be connected to others. The book ends in Stockholm, which does a much better job of that.

Sixty per cent of people in Stockholm live alone. You write about one residence there called Collective House, conceived in the 1930s by planners and feminists for working women living alone, with daycare, laundry service and a restaurant in the building.

There were also pneumatic tubes inside the building that allow the kitchen to shoot individual meals up to residents. If they want to stay home, they can. The idea was that, as a society, they’d support people who want to live alone.

You also mention a newer communal residence for people over 40 whose “needs are no longer dictated by family and children.” Sounds like a premature retirement home.

It’s a way of preventing people from moving into these geriatric ghettos, which are really undesirable. This is a place that allows people to have individual apartments, but also there’s a common kitchen and people have to volunteer to cook a few days every month. There are exercise classes, a garden, a library and movie nights.

In New York, there used to be hotels like Barbizon that were just for young women moving into the city. That has disappeared. In Amsterdam today there’s one collective housing project that [New York writer]Kate Bolick talks about where women can move in, so long as they’re between the ages of 35 and 65.

The idea is that people can provide each other with community, companionship and support when they need it. It won’t turn into a singles’ party scene or a place where people go to die.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

And now a word from my sponsor…

“ Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still. ”

“ There is no remedy for love but to love more. ”

“ I love to be alone.  I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. ”

“ If one advances confidently in the direction of his dream, and endeavors to live the life which he had imagines, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. ”

via EQ- Excellent Henry David Thoreau Quotes | Motivational & Uplifting Quotes.

Thoreau, Henry David - 768px-Thoreau-gravesite.jpg -