Thursday, February 9, 2012

Loneliness: Alternate Narrative

"At the end of his life, he went to Bolivia in search of the 'center that irradiates the energy of space', but he died in Peru, alone and in total poverty."
--Excerpt from a biographical blurb on Simón Rodríguez, a Venezuelan poet, from here.

"Oh no, not another learning experience!" --bumper sticker

Some people are prone to loneliness, and I've always been one of them. When I was younger, I was the stereotypical mildly autistic child who "yearned to connect with others--but didn't know how!" Now, my social skills are better, but I still tend towards loneliness. In the anime series Honey and Clover, one of the characters says that loneliness is like a tide, moving in and out in the course of one's life. A while ago, I said that I wanted to see more loneliness depicted in pop culture. Honey and Clover is one of the more eloquent depictions that I've seen. It manages to achieve a few moments of actual profundity.

[Image: Characters from Honey and Clover]

The dominant narrative about loneliness is that it must be avoided at all costs, and that it might even kill you. I've found neither of these things to be true. It seems like loneliness is a cyclical, inevitable part of life, especially for people with certain temperaments. As a younger asexual, I was very concerned about being lonely due to my orientation. But the thing was...I'd been plenty lonely while I still identified as straight. It didn't kill me as a fake heterosexual, and it won't kill me as an asexual. I was worried about loneliness in the future. But it will come, and pass, and come again, regardless of my orientation.

When I read the blurb about Simón Rodríguez, I seized on the words "die alone", since that can be such a scary-sounding thing. But it didn't sound like his biggest problem. A lot of the poets in the compilation died in unusual/dramatic ways. Dying alone, one of the tamer ones, seemed oddly fitting. While there's a lot of joyful poetry, something about that medium just seems to correspond to loneliness. Loneliness, not to be confused with depression, is one of the primary motivators of my creativity. It makes me want to reach out and express myself, which I tend to do through writing. Lonely times, for me, have often been times of discovery. They're times when I have no choice but to look inside myself, and good things can come from that.

This post feels weird to write, and may feel weird to read. There's this American idea (although I doubt it's uniquely American) that bad feelings need to be completely obliterated in order for us to have satisfying lives. But I feel like this idea sets up an impossible goal that only makes us feel worse. Loneliness sometimes beats the alternative. In Hello, Cruel World, Kate Bornstein writes: "I hate being lonely, but loneliness would be a better feeling for me than, say, hopelessness. To my way of thinking, anger and loneliness are a lot closer to being free to live the kind of life that I'd want to stay alive in (95)". Of course, everyone experiences emotions differently. For instance, while many people enjoy feeling excited, I don't, because it feels too similar to anxiety. Most of us have probably felt lonely at some point. Do you think there's anything positive about loneliness?

(Here's a discussion on the topic that's already happened; it has some good thoughts and even an Aztec Camera reference! I'd still like to have our own, though...)


Sara K. said...

"There's this American idea (although I doubt it's uniquely American) that bad feelings need to be completely obliterated in order for us to have satisfying lives. But I feel like this idea sets up an impossible goal that only makes us feel worse."

Yes. This. I plan to eventually write about this myself (and while it's not uniquely American, is it certainly very American).

Anonymous said...

I'm a creative writer and I love being lonely; then you have yourself for company... and the characters you're working on.

Anonymous said...

I guess, after awhile I mostly become accustomed to being alone. Loneliness eventually changing into solitude. I find time to read books, watch shows, or just listen to music. I like to think of it a part of my lifestyle.

Ily said...

@Sara K: I'll be interested to see your post!

@The anon person who loves being lonely: I can't say that I love it, but it's intriguing to hear from someone who does. It's definitely an alternate narrative!

@The anon person who mentioned solitude: You readers are always bringing up good words in the comments. I don't think loneliness and solitude are the same, but sometimes they do coexist for me. And solitude can be a good place to do creative stuff. I agree with you that it seems like a normal part of life for me, not the weird aberration that it's sometimes made out to be.

Anonymous said...

One thing I have come to terms with is that bad feelings don't have to be obliterated - bad feelings are PART of living, and they are a part of feelings period.

For me it's more, sometimes.. stepping back and recognizing the bad feelings, identifying them (this is what I am feeling and here is why), realizing that it will pass, and accepting it as being what it is.

This is NOT always easy to do, or perfectly flawless, but I think it leaves a person a little more at peace with oneself instead of trying to achieve perfection in emotions or pretend that everything is always fine.

It helps ward away that 'neurosis' of perfection that is unobtainable.

Anonymous said...

I'm mostly a loner, so loneliness has always been a normal part of life for me, as well as solitude. For me loneliness is not a happy feeling, but when I'm by myself I don't have to worry about what other people think of me, nor do I have to conform to their expectations, so it can be worth it. I agree with Kate Bornstein. Being alone can be freeing, and sometimes the loneliness can be a worthy price to pay for that freedom.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ily, speaking of loneliness, have you heard of the "quirkyalone" group? I just came across it today because they are having a non-Valentines day event on Tuesday in Oakland. Seems right up your alley! Sorry I couldn't fit this into a more appropriate place; I didn't see a suggestion box/leave a comment space. Anyway, check it out:

Ily said...

I think that identifying/ acknowledging emotions as they come up is a good thing, too. I've been journaling (sometimes every day, sometimes sporadically) for almost 10 years, and it's helped with that kind of awareness.

My first ever post on this blog was actually about Quirkyalones, you can check it out in the archives if you're interested. If only I were quirky! I might just be utterly bizarre. ;)

spywindow said...

(I was so excited to comment with openID, but then blogger kept rejecting my captchas! Hoping a plain old username will go through. This is Lauren / spywindow on LJ.)

Ily, you always have a way of posting entries that resonate scarily with the exact emotion I'm feeling right now (or maybe I just have a talent for stumbling on them right when I need them most). I could really relate to a lot of what you were saying here, and it was comforting to get a reminder that someone else experiences loneliness, and not just me. I guess it makes sense that loneliness would also have the effect of making you feel that you are The Only One feeling lonely, but it can be so isolating! I feel like I and other people would maybe feel less lonely if we actually talked about our loneliness more. Thank you for talking about it on our behalf. <3

(And I'm so glad you liked Honey and Clover! Have you watched both seasons, or are you still in the middle? I related to it so strongly when I first watched it, in a way that I ended up finding bittersweet but also really cathartic.)

Jen Moore said...

There's a reason the John Gorka song Always is my personal theme song. ("I will always be lonely/that's the way that I am.") And you know, it's not an entirely sad song; it's a song about acceptance and living the life you're going to live anyway.

Andy said...

I think that loneliness being a wholly negative emotion, and always having to be around people, be the life and soul etc., is just as much of a problem as being a "loner," and preferring your own company much of the time. Yet one is socially acceptable, and even desirable, and the other isn't. How many times have you heard "he was a loner" used to describe someone who's done something undesirable, as if that's a reason for it?

I live alone, and after a full day of work, talking to people, answering phone calls, and generally being social, I love to go home to my own company, or the company of others online. Being sociable is exhausting to me, and not particularly enjoyable much of the time.

Do I get lonely? Perhaps, sometimes. I get a little melancholy, but again, a little melancholy can be good for you. I don't think I'd go back to living with others, though.

Anonymous said...

"As a younger asexual, I was very concerned about being lonely due to my orientation. But the thing was...I'd been plenty lonely while I still identified as straight."

Yes! That's been pointed out to me - being lonely/alone/having no one to turn to in times of trouble/etc, by someone who was concerned for me. That (for me at least) it likely means not having a partner, and so on... I just sort of listened in bemusement, because, uh, hello, I was ALREADY lonely and alone, on account of my lack of social skills, so what's going to change, exactly? All the asexual realisation has done is make me less confused.

(Totally irrelevant note: I've typed in the recaptchas for this perfectly 16 times, and it keeps rejecting me!?)

Ily said...

Yay, more comments! Thanks, y'all. Socializing can also leave me drained, although it depends on how well I know the people; I can comfortably spend all day with people I know very well, but burn out quickly with strangers and/or large groups of people.

Sorry about the captchas.

Anonymous said...

As a 38 year old man living in South america, born in England and who lived in California for 7 years, and having just stumbled across the word 'Asexual' and the idea that it could be an ok choice to make for one's self, I feel like this might be what it feels like to realize you're gay...and then discover that you are not the only one.

I have had sexual attraction for much of my life, but when I reflect, sex has NEVER worked out well for me, and has always been a devolution of the special and sacred feelings I have had for the other person...but I didn't know there was this emotional vocabulary of being asexual...

The times I have been involved in sex have been:
Going along with the social expectation, not wanting to be left behind
Part of an identity of hiding who I was in a world much harsher than my feelings and thoughts about life
...and other responses to adaptation and trauma...

I feel very proud of young people in America standing up for their nature and coming out as asexuals. There is really a mental disease in the exploitation of sex, which after all, and before all, is a sacred act. What is happening now is what DH Lawrence would call "doing the dirty on sex"

I suspect, but do not know, that as for many gay people, the choice to be asexual is a consciousness choice, not to participate in something that in their experience is clearly not life-affirming, but represents a prison as real as any cell block with cement walls and orange jump suits.

This asexual thing is a chance to hit the reset button on being human, not being a sex object. Unfortunately in recent decades the disease embedded in pornography started washing back the other way, and many men have also come to see themselves as sex objects.

That is slavery, pure and simple. Asexuality is a way to liberate oneself and walk out of the wallet and corrupted imagination of the plutocrat pornographer. Sorry for the purple prose, by the way.

Us southpaws might just be ambassadors form the future...

If I ever become famous I think I will come out in public. Just need to make sure first...see you in the chill out lounge friends...

Anonymous said...

I have not watched Honey and Clover, but I know another anime, a kind of supernatural anime, deals a lot with the loneliness of the main character as a theme. You might like it? It's called Natsume Yuujinchou.

Adrain_on_society said...

Greetings! I came here from a post you made in Aven. I really liked this blog and I like your writing style. It's nice to see blogs being used well. I find it interesting how, whenever I stumble across someone who is asexual / mildly autistic in childhood / likes anime, 70% of the time they have the other two traits as well. There is a sociological study to be done there, methinks! Love from London - Adrian

Ily said...

@the Anon who recently discovered asexuality, congrats on your self-discovery. Personally, I don't feel it's a choice, but I also don't think that there's only one way for people to come by their sexualities. What you mention sounds kind of like what Tim Gunn has been saying about his sexuality; he's gay, but hasn't had sex in over 20 years for some of the reasons you mention.

@the Anon with the viewing recommendation, thanks!

@Adrian, I'm glad you stopped by, thank you! Honey & Clover is only the second anime series that I've ever watched...although since I liked it so much, now I'll probably watch more. Although, people always used to think I watched anime because I took Japanese class :)