The house is quiet this morning. Really quiet. Except for a few creaks. The birds chirping in the backyard. A lawnmower starting somewhere over the river. And the sounds of my keyboard clicking. Hubby is away all week canoeing and fishing in the wilds of Algonquin Park. And I’m here playing Greta Garbo…. “I want to be alone.” And loving it.
Not “alone and palely loitering” like that poor knight in John Keats’ poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” More like Henry David Thoreau’s kind of alone. Except Hubby’s the one in the woods. It’s amazing how many literary and media references to being alone resemble the sad picture of the knight in Keats’ poem, rather than the image of solitary bliss painted in Thoreau’s work.
I like being alone from time to time. Need to be, in fact. Even though I’m a very social person, and when in company I yak, yak, yak, I’m quite shy. Well, except when I’m standing in front of a class, or a group of parents, where I’m confident that I know what I’m talking about. As a girl I was very shy. I remember a few years ago… twenty-one, to be exact… at my twentieth high school reunion, I was chatting with a friend who had been in my English class for three years in a row. And I said, “Remember how quiet I was in high school. How I never talked?” And she replied…”Never talked? Susan, you never shut up.” “Really? I said, “That must have been the class where there weren’t any cute boys.” And then we both fell over laughing. I could talk like there was no tomorrow with friends or in situations where I was comfortable; but in some classes, I found it excruciating even to answer the roll call.
I’ve always been content in my own company. And quite happy entertaining myself. Even as a child. Maybe that’s part of being the youngest child by five years? I don’t know. I just know that being alone, for me, is not lonely. It’s time for replenishment. This was especially true when I was still teaching. When my days were a clamour of everybody wanting a piece of my time: students, teachers in my department, administrators, parents. You know, I’m beginning to think that I’m really an introvert who’s been masquerading as an extrovert all these years.
I’ve always been interested in the whole idea of being alone. Some of my favourite novels explore the concept of women and solitude. Like Joan Barfoot’s Abra, and Constance Beresford Howe’s Book of Eve; in each a female character abandons her life, her responsibilities, her family, for solitude and independence. Both are wonderful books.
So this morning, before starting this post, I researched a bit about the solitary state, just surfing the internet, really. And I found this interesting article, a section of a book, by D.W. Winnicott, who was, according to Wikipedia, a noted English paediatrician and psychoanalyst. In his article “The Capacity To Be Alone”, Winnicott discusses what he calls “the ability to be alone.” He said much had been written about the fear of being alone, or the desire to be alone, but not much on the ability to be alone. And he describes the ability to be alone as a “sign of maturity in emotional development.”
To be clear, I am no psychologist; I know little about psychology, beyond my first year university psych course and some educational psychology the theory of which I have long forgotten. And since D.W. Winnicott died in 1971, his theories may be woefully out of date… I don’t know. My friend Alice, who is a psychologist, would know… maybe if she reads this she can fill us in on more current “being alone” theory.
But I do know that as much as I love company, doing things with friends, or with family, or my husband, I really need alone time. And at least once every year, I get that time… several days of it, in fact. When Hubby goes on his fishing trips. And I have the house to myself.
And I’m all alone. Sigh. And loving it.
Hey. Do you think this means that I’m showing signs of “emotional maturity?” Well, well, well, wonders never cease.
Do you like to be alone?