Are you crazy busy or just lonely?

This is Ryan O’Connell on the pervasiveness of loneliness and alienation, which sometimes is connected to being overly busy:

It’s taboo to be lonely. It’s taboo to find yourself all alone in a generation that prides itself on being busy all the time. But guess what? It’s happening. You’re lonely, you’re alone, and it feels like it always does. All the Netflix queues and tweets can’t save you from this familiar feeling of alienation.

It’s comforting in a way, it’s comforting to know that no matter how much things change, you can always go back to this place of feeling restless and disconnected. You’re working 60 hours a week, you’re getting drinks with the people you adore, and you’re still finding yourself isolated between the hours of 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, you’re certainly happier now than you were last summer, but occasionally you find yourself exactly where you started: Looking for human connection and coming up short…

Sometimes being busy only magnifies the loneliness. Sometimes you’re better off just being honest with yourself and lying in bed. Be bored. Enjoy the boredom. It’s so rare these days. Stop trying to fill every second of everyday.

The NY Times published a thoughtful Op-Ed, The Busy Trap, that made some good points about how Americans, in particular, pride ourselves on being busy.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was obviated when “menu” buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

Personally, I feel most alive when I’m working hard, and when I’m so exhausted I don’t have time to think about whether I’m lonely or not. By devoting myself to writing and growing as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that I literally cannot work all the time. When I’m not busy, I am sometimes quite lonely.

But sometimes the company of others is more lonely. The same is true of boredom. I learn a great deal about my habits and patterns when I’m bored.

The most valuable lesson of my loneliness and boredom has been learning to cultivate genuine connection with my friends, relatives. This is why I disagree with generalizations that claim that the Internet or too much TV alienates us. I’m more interested in how to make friends with my loneliness, since it’s a natural emotion, just like love.

Going solo, the costs of singlehood & navigating intimacy in virtual communities

A friend of mine sent along this link about Eric Klinenberg’s book, “Going Solo,” which I still haven’t read. I found this passage particularly interesting:

Klinenberg goes on to explore the forces and factors that have sparked the transformative social experience of living alone, which has in turn changed not only the way we understand ourselves and our most intimate relationships, but also the way we structure our cities and orchestrate our economies, demonstrating that solo living affects the lives of nearly everyone in the social ecosystem. He points to four key developments driving this cult of individualism, championed by Emerson and Thoreau: (1) The wealth generated by economic growth and the social security provided by the modern welfare state (“Put simply, one reason that more people live alone than ever before is that today more people can afford to do so.”); (2) the communications revolution (“For those who want to live alone, the Internet affords rich new ways to stay connected.”); (3) mass urbanization (“Subcultures thrive in cities, which tend to attract nonconformists who are able to find others like themselves in the dense variety of urban life.”); (4) increased longevity (“Because people are living longer than ever before — or, more specifically, because women often outlive their spouses by decades rather than years — aging alone has become an increasingly common experience.”).

I’ve been thinking a lot more about the costs of solitary living vs. living in groups or in partnerships because of some of the blogging I’ve been doing at bitch. Particularly in light of some of the stories that have emerged about academics & aspiring academics who are receiving food stamps while earning doctorates and admitting in public that I 1) have a change/Coinstar addiction and 2) am actually a closet business nerd.

One thing I’ve been repeating to my friends is a quote from Claire Bidwell Smith’s book, The Rules of Inheritance, that both haunts me and provides food for thought is this concept of not being anyone’s Most Important Person. I think that has economic consequences and emotional ones. I think they must be mitigated by all the people who are living alone and who are single.

I wonder how other people do that. I’ve been so blessed that I have relatives, and friends who are just like family, who serve to support me in a myriad of ways. Some of them are other single women. Others are partnered. I don’t take them for granted. At the same time, I’m still working on how to navigate having the solitude & space to create with being accessible & available physically and emotionally for my communities in real life and virtually. It seems that those of us who live alone and are single have to put more effort and intention into this journey.

Shout out to my introverts: Elephant Journal on feeling loneliest in a crowd

In the 1980s and 1990s, it was totally possible to wander New York City for hours without spending a penny.

This is how I grew up, ducking turnstiles or cobbling pennies & nickels together to buy tokens, which were a dollar. I had a bag of Doritos and a quarter water (it’s corn syrup and red or purple dye) for brunch on a Saturday before I would take the #2 train downtown to 42nd Street. I never had anything to do, or anyone to see. I was just a scrawny, curious kid.

I met a lot of random characters this way over the years, but they were all benevolent. Some were ex-cons, some were priestesses, others were poets. They shaped the way I thought about the world because they kept me from ever feeling completely lonely. You know how people say that you attract people into your life who are like you in some way?

I don’t know how true that was. I met drug dealers & basketball players & movie stars. Malik Yoba, Russell Simmons, Tyson Beckford — just walking around in the Village without enough money to buy dinner, so I had to go home before I passed out from hunger.

I think about these adventures because I never felt like I needed to call anybody to just wander. I always believed that I would find what I needed if I followed my gut and went off in the direction of my curiosity. I only ever felt completely alone and lonely in the middle of crowded platforms, when I saw other girls my age laughing with their friends or at night, when I passed crowds going to movies or doing something I was distinctly not a part of.

That’s why when I read this Elephant Journal piece, I liked it. Hope you like it, too.

We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes.

We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens.

And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside.

The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate; and later on, when it “happens” (that is, steps forth out of us to other people), we will feel related and close to it in our innermost being.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke on Sadness & Solitude from the beauty we love

The New Yorker: Why Are So Many Americans Single?

In 1950, four million people in this country lived alone. These days, there are almost eight times as many, thirty-one million. Americans are getting married later than ever (the average age of first marriage for men is twenty-eight), and bailing on domestic life with alacrity (half of modern unions are expected to end in divorce). Today, more than fifty per cent of U.S. residents are single, nearly a third of all households have just one resident, and five million adults younger than thirty-five live alone. This may or may not prove a useful thing to know on certain Saturday nights.

This is fantastic. I thought it was very insightful.

Susan Cain on The Rise of the New Groupthink

Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature. ~Susan Cain, “The Rise of the New Groupthink

I’ve been reading a review copy of Susan Cain’s forthcoming book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” which I’ll review here shortly.

I’m a big fan of her blog and of the book so far, in part because one of the reasons I started getting annoyed about so much of the rhetoric out there about single women comes from my own attitudes about solitude. I’m probably closer to what Cain calls an ambivert — someone who is recharged in solitude and doesn’t mind spending time alone but also loves people. But in the past year, I have really embraced my introverted nature as a creative writer. With the rise of new media and so many ways to continually connect all the time, it’s a challenge to find the freedom and space to think that I used to enjoy as a teenager and a kid — my heart really goes out to kids who are introverted and growing up in this time that pressures them to be extroverted even if they are strongest and most fulfilled working solo.

It’s been refreshing to read the Op-Ed above, a recent NY Times piece by Pico Iyer and Cain’s important book on this topic. I always find it important to point out to people that I don’t want to be a reclusive hermit and shut out the world just because I find joy and creativity and room to flesh out important ideas in solitude. It’s just that it is possible to have deep joy, for me and people like me, in solitude. It’s not all about wringing my hands in anticipation of the next social outing. This is definitely worth reading. More on Susan Cain’s wonderful book in a week or so.


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