Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Alone or Lonely


This subject came up in another context earlier this week and it led me to thinking about what some people think of as lonely is what someone else considers being alone—quality time with oneself.

To me being lonely is craving or simply needing company. Needing someone to be there to talk with, do something with or fill in the empty spaces of our lives. It can also be something that one person projects on to another, generally someone who prefers their alone time.

Most of the avid readers I know enjoy their alone time. Solitude may perhaps be a better choice of word. We read for entertainment, simple enjoyment, to escape our day-to-day world for a period of time. We read out of choice; not because we have no other choice. I suspect that is in part why historicals, especially romances, are so popular—they transport us to a time out of our own. When I read, which is for a time every day, it’s because I want to. It has never ceased to amaze me how non-readers think I am doing so because I am lonely and have nothing better to do. They do their best to entertain me and fill in my time for me when all I really want to do is bury myself in my latest read. I generally have another book handy and will offer it up—in the hopes they’ll leave me in peace to read. Generally I receive a smile and a pleasant refusal of the book. And they still talk on. Nodding and not closing the book seems to work after a bit.

Growing up my mother was one of those people who couldn’t bear to be alone for more than a short time. She wasn’t very good at entertaining herself although she did knit and crochet and sew, she still needed to have someone to talk to. If no one was home she’d start her way through her phone book, calling everyone she knew so she could have someone to talk to. Interesting to me because she was an only child. She projected that desperate need for companionship on to me and it was really quite frustrating. She simply did not understand I preferred to be alone in my room with a good book. My favorite day of the week was library day—when we’d head on down to the library to choose a week’s worth of reading. I’ve sort of recaptured that day in the past year only now it’s picking out classic movies along with an occasional book. Given the economy buying books is a luxury and the San Francisco library has virtually every new release and it’s still free (several libraries in my area are starting to charge a rental fee for new releases).

My habit of sitting up in bed reading started young although back then I sat under the covers with a flashlight. The last time I sat in an otherwise dark room with a flashlight reading was when I was in law school and a fellow classmate asked me to join him for a movie. I didn't realize till we got to the movie he thought it was a date and I thought it was just two classmates getting out of the school rut…errrr pressure for a night. When he started talking about goodnight kisses I started talking headache. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of a car as fast as I did that night and then, out of an excess of caution, I hid in my walk-in closet for several hours, reading with my flashlight as my only source of illumination. Why?

The guy was one of those really sweet and considerate people who would have gone to pick up some medicine for me, brought it back and then sat with me till I felt better. I just wanted to be by myself and read something beside my law books for a short while.

I don’t think I know what it’s like to feel lonely and that’s okay. I carry a purse large enough to hold a book in addition to my e-reading device—and with that I can have pretty much as many books as I want with me at any given time. I read on line at the store, waiting for a teller at the bank. I prefer in person instead of ATMs which may seem odd, but I figure if I go into the bank and speak with a person I’m doing my part to help someone keep their job. It’s the same reason why I won’t use the self-checkout at the grocery store. Can’t off-shore a grocery checker or teller job as much as the big corporations may want to because I’m not going overseas to pick up my groceries.

No, I don’t think I have ever had any idea what it is like to be lonely. If I’m craving a particular food I will go out to eat and bring a book. Riding the bus, waiting in line, it’s all found reading time. With interesting characters, their adventures, their mysteries, their dark moments, their happy endings and my imagination I’m never bored.

And with writing, as a fellow author said this week, her characters keep her company and are fascinating to be with. I suppose you could say with my steady ones from my series and the new people they encounter in each book, I’m never alone. Each new book takes me to a different place and in a sense I experience new events. Through research for my historicals I have a taste of life as it was lived in different periods. In my futuristics I create worlds I would choose to live in.

A reader is never really alone and even less so, a writer. I don’t think we are ever truly lonely either. Our worlds are fun at best and thrilling when we are in the midst of a good book and all from our cozy worlds.


Stephanie Burkhart said...

It's only been recently with my 3 year old going to preschool have I had a chance to have any real alone time. It's been a blessing but it goes by too fast. Alone time is important to me, but with my busy schedule - working, mommy, soccer team mom, it's hard to fit in.

Lynn Irwin Stewart said...

I could have written that myself -- my mother is the same way -- she's always complaining about being lonely (when she really isn't and/or doesn't have to be...but that's a different story...). I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to be by myself almost all the time. A book, the computer, the TV, my dogs...I'm good!

Deborah Swift said...

Great post. But the book does have to be good - and if it is really good then my family might lose me a while whilst I finish it. But then when it's done, I always want to share how good it is with someone else!

Deborah Swift said...

Great post. But the book does have to be good - and if it is really good then my family might lose me a while whilst I finish it. But then when it's done, I always want to share how good it is with someone else!

Maggi Andersen said...

Those who like to read or are creative are very fortunate. We don't depend on people to entertain us and seldom get bored or lonely. I value my friends and like to have company but I can happily do without it.