On Being Alone

If you are at first lonely, be patient.

My “always-on” lifestyle is fun. I’m on Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, blogs, and myriad other social services that promote people sharing their stories and ideas in real-time. My iPhone is always on, my netbook is always charged in my saddlebag, and even my TV at home is connected to the Internet. In other words, I am only truly “alone” when I’m sleeping (even then, my wife and dog are there too).

I have wanted to spend time alone, but haven’t spent the effort necessary to seek out solitude. I tried to make a pledge during a summer fellowship with the National Writing Project in Kansas City to go acoustic; I wanted to go a week with no devices, only pen, paper, and face-to-face interaction. I promised myself I would honestly look at how and why I was so connected. What better time to be reflective than when I was being paid to think and write? Alas, I couldn’t bring myself to unplug. The addict came right back to the spacebar and motioned for another round.

I hadn’t reentered the memory of my failed endeavor until Tanya Davis yanked me by the collar and sat me down.

If your heart is bleeding, make the best of it.

I want to thank Paul Oh for sharing this poem on Facebook. It’s actually a bit strange when I think about it; the nature of the poem encourages just the opposite kind of action, but perhaps Paul knew this. Maybe he knew that overly connected people like me would need to see this. Whatever the reason, I’m going to make another attempt at an Internet fast. I’m not sure what it will look like yet or how long it will be, but I’m going to bookend it with this post and a reflection at its conclusion. While I’m still planning, I’m open to your suggestions.

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19 thoughts on “On Being Alone

  1. I often try to spend much of August without blogging and not so much connection, and it makes a difference, I think, in that I do feel the shift. I love the digital me, but I need the non-digital me, too.
    Kevin

  2. Right around the time everyone was quitting facebook (who actually quit? I am not 100% sure. No one I know, anyway), I decided to institute a weekly digital fast. Saturday night through Sunday night, every week. Since school started, I’ve not been so great at it, but I miss it and your post made me realize how much I miss it. There’s something about the tactile sensations of really being IN the world. And something about being IN the world by declaring it, by declaring the absence of the other ways of being connected. Seems like there’s something there. Thanks for the post!

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention On Being Alone | Hi, I'm Steve Moore -- Topsy.com

  4. I had not seen this poem – thank you for sharing it. Made my day. That said, while I think it’s important to be mindful about the way you’re spending your time online – and I used to take time to log completely off of everything – and I give myself that time whenever I feel like I need it – it’s usually something I decide on in the moment. More an action than a pledge. Small, quiet attempts to be intentional. I wrote about this last summer a bit:

    http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2009/06/24/its-all-a-pretty-big-jumbled-up-mess-im-okay-with-it/

    I wonder if separating ourselves from online keeps our online “selves” from being an actual, real part of our offline selves, or what we’re really craving is a break from “everything.” I know many folks who schedule sabbaticals for themselves from the world, and often their families – I have mixed feelings about that.

    I wish you luck as you work to be mindful with your online/offline selves. Keep us posted. When you get back, that is.

  5. A wonderful response to this beautiful and, as you’ve put it, “wise” poem, Steve.

    I posted this video to FB because I sometimes think that FB itself is thought of as an antidote to alone. And really the truth is alone may not require an antidote. I, like you, am addicted to connection. But I also have these two glorious moments when I’m lost in my own thoughts (usually): my walks to and from the subway. Today, I noticed a high school boy walking bowl-legged to keep his jeans from falling down and I wondered if he and the rest of the current male generation would require orthopedic surgery in the near future. Yesterday, I saw a hummingbird at rest on a telephone wire – an incredibly unusual site, I thought.

    I love in the poem how Tanya Davis says if you’ve put aside your art, alone can be a vehicle for picking it up again. Ironically, I think of my art as writing, and I think of writing as a particularly social construction. In fact, being on social networks, reading blogs like yours, has spurred my writing moreso than any other experience in the last decade. Yet it is still a solitary act, isn’t it?

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. And good luck with your fast. We’ll be here at the other end.

    Paul

  6. Steve, I often grumble about not having time to be alone with two kids, a full time job and a home to care for. The weird thing is that even when I do get time alone now, I long for people to talk with, email to check or something exciting to happen. I watched this last night and I really like the idea of it – and love your writing about it. You always seem to be more connected that I am, but I envy that you can keep up with it – so you must be doing something right! thanks for this!

  7. Thanks for replying Kate :) I’ve got nothing on parents! If I can’t be alone… I can’t imagine the challenge of two little girls. Then again, you get the joys too (I’m picturing “Trololo”).

  8. Paul, I love the image of a hummingbird at rest; how rare and special for sure! You and I are surely both those hummingbirds–always in motion. Maybe a symbol of hope that we busy bees can find moments of rest too.

  9. Thanks for linking to your post Bud. LOVE the extension about separating ourselves, it’s really making me think. I like the strong connection in your writing to your own philosophy. Makes me think about the advent of the photograph and how some thought it would steal your soul, make you a ghost. What are the words we put out there? Are they us? Are we them?

  10. Thanks for the reply Andrea! I like the digital fast idea. Maybe that would be worth scheduling. Last year, when I had a long lunch, I made the promise to call my wife and not touch the keyboard while on the phone. No multi-tasking allowed!

  11. Steve,
    That poem is quite refreshing. Thank you for sharing that. I, too, am always connected. Usually via iPhone but connected nonetheless. I even bought a nice journal a year ago to well, journal of course. That lasted a fairly decent amount of time. I found actually going back to pen and paper easier to get my thoughts out. For a while it was anyway. Is it just me, but does a difficult time in one’s life make it easier to disconnect?

  12. Kyle, I think you are exactly right. Pen and paper offer a tangible sensation different from typing (as fond as I am of it). Technology is advancing, but the permanence of pen and paper is powerful (pardon the alliteration).

    As for the tough times, I think we do one of two extremes in stressful circumstances: we disconnect completely or we fall on the whims of those around us.

  13. Pingback: » The Week in Tweets for 2010-10-11 Bud the Teacher

  14. Pingback: Are You Butchering Your Time? « Moore on the Page

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