The Unbearable Banishment: I vish to be alone

Friday, October 9, 2009

I vish to be alone

New York is a fine place in which to be alone. To walk into a little café with an armload of newspapers and sit at the counter and read them over a bowl of chili and grilled cheese and a white mug of coffee and a waitress who says, “What else would you like, love?”—this is heaven.

Garrison Keillor

As previously stated, I didn’t marry until much later in life than most. People began to wonder why I seemed to be, by all external appearances, normal, but still unmarried. As though that were a societal barometer for normalcy! Rumors were rampant. People wondered if I was gay, (Nope. Would say so if I was. In my world, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.) or hated women (Hardly! I love women! Having daughters was my secret preference.) or afraid to commit (Hummm. Maybe a bit of that.).

When I first arrived in New York all those years ago, I was inflicted with a crippling loneliness that lasted for several months. I, quite literally, didn’t know a single person here and going from the suburbs of Cleveland to Manhattan was a rough transition. At that time, New York City was a broken, dark, scary place. It wasn’t the buffed city on the hill it is today.

But then, quite suddenly, I snapped out of it. I embraced the city and its (apologies to Warren Zevon) splendid isolation. From that day forward, I was never lonely again, even during those long stretches when I wasn’t seeing someone or had few friends to call. Like Mr. Keillor, I could always belly-up to a café and eavesdrop on conversations or walk my city streets until I felt better. I found that to be a tremendous solace during my dark hours.

I believe there are people who get married as a cure for their loneliness. I’ve hung on my cross for lots of things, but loneliness was never one of them. I’ve been lucky that way. How can you be lonely or homesick when you’re heart is in the right place and you’re surrounded by 8.3 million people?

Photo by Alfred Stieglitz



Blogger Cat said...

I enjoy being alone, which has made full time motherhood a trial sometimes. I absolutely hate summers simply because there is always someone around. I love these people, but don't want to be with them all the time.

October 9, 2009 at 9:26 AM  
Anonymous popomatic jeff said...

One of the things I loved about living in NYC was the feeling that even when I was home alone in my apartment, I was still surrounded by people on the other side of my door.

October 9, 2009 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Sid said...

When I was in Italy last year ... all by myself. It was fun at first but loneliness did set in. The thing with Italy is that soooo few people speak English. I'd sit on a train carriage filled with people and they'd all be hammering away and I simply couldn't take part in the conversation. That was the hardest part for me. It's not the not being with friends and loved ones. It's not being able to express and communicate your ideas. It's not being understood that sucks ASS.

October 9, 2009 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Leah said...

This is really soulful.

I love being alone, out and about in NYC. It doesn't happen very often now, though.

October 9, 2009 at 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great point of view... and i think you've sort of nailed why i may be the only human being on the planet who is perfectly comfortable in airports. they sort of calm me down... perhaps because it's one of the few places where it's socially acceptable to be alone...

October 9, 2009 at 6:08 PM  
Blogger JZ said...

for years, when my wife would have a business trip, or leave to visit her parents i would have these wonderfully contemplative days and nights, lost in my own imaginings.....she would ask me if i missed her when she came home and i would always hesitate, trapped between my love of solace and my love of intimate companionship.....she never liked the fact that i hesitated.......

October 9, 2009 at 7:32 PM  
Blogger Tennyson ee Hemingway said...

nice. this was just really, nice.

October 9, 2009 at 7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Food for thought.

Born 150 or so years earlier, what sort of man d'you think you'd have been? The Clint Eastwood - lone rider type? Or even then, a man of the city?

Interesting musings.

October 9, 2009 at 8:39 PM  
Anonymous nursemyra said...

thanks for posting the Steiglitz :-)

October 10, 2009 at 4:19 AM  
Blogger Ellie said...

London is a also great place to be alone in a crowd ... walking the streets and feeling part of the city. My impression (based on nothing really) is that NYC has a more amenable, saddle-up-to-the-coffee-counter and dig into a newspaper vibe than London. In London, you can go get a pint on your own, but it's a bit sad. (I still do it ... often with The Dog, which isn't quite the same as going alone).

October 10, 2009 at 4:47 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Bastard said...

Aye.. I can relate to your feelings for a city you love.

Loneliness is a poison that sadly for some has a very deadly venom.

October 10, 2009 at 7:32 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Cat: Motherhood and solitude are incompatible state. I hear.

Jeff: When I moved to the 'burbs, the quiet took some getting use to.

Sid: I agree. I once did a Germany/UK trip alone. Was in Germany for a few days and bailed out early because of the language barrier.

Leah: Thank you so much! For future reference, I'm a sucker for flattery.

Daisy: Lucky for me, you can be alone in NYC and not be made to feel the fool.

October 10, 2009 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

JZ: From now on you should probably lie and say you can't stand being alone.

TH: Thanks, pal.

Rob: I'm inclined to think I'd have been an urbanite then, as well. Like a moth to the flame...

Nurse: Glad you noticed! I'm going to the Kandinsky exhibit on Monday.

Ellie: London is a great metropolis to enjoy your solitude as well. I don't know enough to ascertain whether or not it's any better/worse than NYC, but I'd love to find out.

JIMMY! WELCOME BACK! So happy to see you up and about.

October 10, 2009 at 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're conditioned to believe something is wrong with being alone. But it is essential. And it has nothing to do with whether or not other people are present.
Alone and NYC - two of my favorite places to be.

October 10, 2009 at 2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand now...

October 11, 2009 at 3:09 AM  
Blogger mapstew said...

There's nothing worse than being lonely in a crowd. I'm sure someone way more profound than me said that!

October 11, 2009 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger Blues said...

I too spent a lot of time living alone and travelling alone. Wouldn't give up those memories for the world, as sad as they sometimes were.

October 17, 2009 at 11:45 AM  

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