I vant to be alone

I was always a fairly solitary child. Despite having two elder siblings and a smattering of close friends, my preferred company was always my own. Once, at a birthday party, I retreated upstairs with the book I’d received as a present (Spiderman, if memory serves), leaving my friends downstairs to party on without me.

While my own room was my preferred bolt-hole, I was also, as I believe many are, drawn towards quiet, hidden, secret places. Within the house, these could be seldom-used rooms like the loft – for me always a place of musty mystery, full of abandoned toys and empty (or are they?) boxes. They could also be corners of normal rooms – behind the sofa, under the table, even a landing halfway down the stairs. Outside the house there were trees and bushes to hid in or behind. Even in a public space, there was often a nook or cranny to be found where I could sit and…what? Read, observe others, or just sit and enjoy being still and quiet and alone. Maybe I thought that if I sat still for long enough, I’d disappear completely.

Two things started this train of thought. Firstly, a recent movie featured the enduring post-apocalyptic image of an entirely abandoned city. Often intended to be horrific and spooky, I find these images strangely attractive, and have often fantasised about wandering alone in a ghost metropolis.

Secondly, I’ve read a few articles recently about “ghost villages”, where economics, demographics and geography combine to slowly kill a community – those few children born there leave as soon as they can, leaving a couple of seniors who’ve never known, or wanted to know, anywhere else. And then, eventually, no-one is left, and everything rots and crumbles in a very picturesque fashion.

What is it that attracts people to these places? It’s not just about wanting to get away from other people – deserts and the open ocean have always been good for that. It’s about the specific pleasure to be gained from being alone somewhere which is normally full of bustling life, but which, for a deliciously transitory moment, is all yours.

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10 thoughts on “I vant to be alone

  1. V-Grrrl February 15, 2008 / 3:47 pm

    I remember reading about places in the American Midwest that were “disappearing.” There were actually incentives being offered to settle in these dying towns.

    A book I’m reading now, Breaking Clean by Judy Blunt, is a memoir set in Montana in an area that didn’t have electricity until the 1960s, that still had one room school houses then, that had towns that were more than 60 miles from a hospital. Hard to fathom that level of isolation in modern times.

    People that meet me often think I’m very social because when I’m “on,” I’m fully engaged. The reason I’m like that is that I sepnd most of my time “off,” recharging my battery, so to speak. I spend most of my day by myself and I like it. For more than 10 years in the U.S., I worked from an office in my home and never minded being alone.

    I actually like city life quite a lot because you’re alone in a crowd.

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  2. simonlitton February 15, 2008 / 3:55 pm

    The more people there are around, the easier it is to feel lonely, I think.
    As regards being “on” or “off”, I remember someone once saying about Robin Williams that, once he’d finished work, he turned “off” so utterly that it was like watching a snail or a sea anemone curling back into its shell, like he was just retreating from the world.

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  3. tinafrench February 15, 2008 / 9:01 pm

    Beautifully written. The idea of moving to a “ghost village” in Spain has appealed to me enormously for the last few years…might still do it someday.

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  4. jagosaurus February 16, 2008 / 2:03 am

    I never had birthday parties. Didn’t want them. All those people in my home? No thank you.

    Having grown up in the rural south, I am a big fan of fewer people and more space between them. That being said, living here in the Washington, DC metro area allows for the type of “alone in a crowd” living V-grrrl describes. I like it.

    And, as you know, I hate people so the less I have to interact with them the better.

    Like

  5. CuriosityKiller February 16, 2008 / 6:35 am

    Hi Simon. I found your blog through Karen’s interview. First off, I want to say, it was a wonderful interview, and you two have such a great blog-chemistry, it’s like listening to two friends chatting!

    Then I read this post.. I was really touched, which prompted me to actually leave you my first comment… despite my gregarious nature, I’ve been a super solitary child for many reasons… and growing up in major cities, I always thought it was a wrong state to be in – to feel so alone in a crowd, and the anonymity. But reading your post made me realize, it’s just the way we are – and that we APPRECIATE the alone times so much… and it’s not a rebellious or sad thing to do, we just want to be alone now and then.

    As for the ghost towns, I personally get affected easily, and I probably would feel nervous instead of seeing the beauty of picturesque ghost town.

    But that’s probably because I’m a girl. LOL

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  6. Karen MEG (Pomtini) February 16, 2008 / 4:34 pm

    I think in today’s busy, busy and very loud world, it is a rare treat to have any alone time. I also grew up a fairly solitary child, quite shy I was more or less pushed into most social situations by my very social mother. Nowadays I’m more out there, I think children bring that out in you. But alone time, to just sit and be, is quite precious indeed.

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  7. simonlitton February 18, 2008 / 10:27 am

    Jag: You’ve reminded me of a short story by Isaac Asimov, set on a planet where wealth and status are measured by how much space you can put between yourself and others. The small population live on huge estates and conduct all their business by hologram. It gets to the stage where even the thought of being in someone elses physical presence, breathing the same air as them, makes them feel sick.

    CK: Welcome. Glad you enjoyed this. No, it’s not remotely “rebellious or sad”, to want to spend time on your own, and more people need to realise this.

    Karen: I started to become a little more social recently, but I wasn’t pushed into it. Related observation – when my wife and I are talking about a friend or new acquaintance, and she asks me what I think of them, nine times out of ten I respond “They’re fine…in small doses”.

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  8. jeques February 20, 2008 / 3:14 am

    Simon,

    You know what? I, too, have been thinking lately about my remembered childhood solitude and been contemplating writing about it. I am the youngest in a sibling of 4 and when I was growing up, I was left alone home with my brother and sisters gone to school. I was left with used pencils and pads to draw my solitary days. Reading thispost makes me want even more to write about it as I once again enjoy my solitude away from home, from family, from friends moving here in Chicago in 2006. I would like to share with you a painting I finished just recently with the title “solitude” which I think best illustrate my sentiment. Please click link below:

    Solitude (Oil on canvas, 24x30, By: Jeques B. Jamora)

    I wish you well.

    ~ Jeques

    Like

  9. simonlitton February 20, 2008 / 10:09 am

    I like the picture, Jeques, thanks for sharing it with us. I used to draw when I was on my own too, and I’m also the youngest sibling, with a large age gap between myself and my brother and sister, so even when they were at home we didn’t hang out together very much.

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