Drunk on truth to stupid baby power.

On Being Alone

Yelling Mime Audrey Hepburn

I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time in my room this last week. I spent almost all of my weekend by myself. This is new for me, spending so much time away from other people. I grew up above my parents’ restaurant/music venue, The Cafe Carpe, but since our home and the restaurant melded into one place, I essentially grew up in the restaurant. My house was constantly intruded by restaurant employees running up the stairs and through the house trying to find my parents and a steady stream of folk musicians. Our living room was the closest thing we had to a green room and, for some reason, when our living space was remodeled a guest room was not factored in, so more often than not my room functioned as the guest room. I loved every minute of it. I loved (and still love) all of the employees who are, in my mind, family. I loved all the musicians crowding the house; I loved that they felt at home in my home and I would silently sit in the living room quietly reading, absorbing their stories and songs.

My point is, I grew up with no sense of privacy. Privacy was just not a thing that existed in my house. Almost everyone who came to the restaurant with any amount of regularity knew everything about us. I know, this sounds sort of horrifying to many of you, but there is something so wonderful about everything being out in the open. It allowed me, somehow, to be so comfortable with myself and with everyone around me. I spent little to no time in my room, (it was much more like a hazardous storage space than a room)–I always wanted to be around other people. Not necessarily engaging with them, just around them. I would read and do my homework in the restaurant and talk to whomever was working. When I was young and small enough I would curl up on the biggest step on the stairs that led from the music space up to our living quarters and fall asleep listening to the music. I would leave the door to my room open so that I could hear all the goings on from my bed. Privacy was completely unimportant to me.

These people, the restaurant employees and musicians, watched me grow up–they know everything about me. They know that I can be very quiet and contemplative but they also know that if allowed, I can talk endlessly. They know that I am sensitive and easily hurt but they also know I am kind and full of love. They know what my core is made of. This allows me to be fully comfortable around them, to be my best self (and also, sometimes, my worst self). I am almost as comfortable around them as I am around myself. This allowed for something that, I now realize, is quite rare: they got to see how I choose to spend my time when I am alone. I never thought of it that way until I moved away, but I used the restaurants very public space in the same way that I now use my bedroom. I would trudge down the stairs with a completely unreasonable pile of books, notebooks, crossword puzzles and homework, pile them all on one of the tables and then sit for hours shifting between reading/writing/puzzling/homeworking. In high school I would sometimes even watch Netflix in a corner of the restaurant.  I had no desire to be by myself, I always wanted to be around other people.

Generally, I tend to struggle in public places, because I am so aware of all the people around me and feel intensely self-conscious.  The Carpe is really the only exception to this, because I felt entitled to the space. When I went off to college I was suddenly thrown into unfamiliar spaces with unfamiliar people. I had a rather miserable freshman year, where I spent most of my time hiding in my dorm room, the only space I felt remotely comfortable in. I was lonely, since I went from being around other people all of the time to being by myself almost always. Being raised the way I was, loneliness was not really something I had experienced. Yes, I felt lonely from time to time but for the most part that feeling was squashed easily by going downstairs and talking to whoever I could find in the restaurant. Despite my rocky start, I managed to make lots of friends in college with whom I spent a majority of my waking hours. I was also just a mere 40 minute drive from home so whenever I was having a rough time of it I could go home for the weekend to recharge. I spent most of college still under the ruse that I was a person who did not care about alone time and wanted to be around other people, always.

I hated being physically alone. If I was walking somewhere by myself, I would call my mom (this is still mostly true today, unless it is a good day for read-walking, in which case I read a book to keep me company). I hated having the house to myself. If I couldn’t find someone to join me in whatever I was doing, then I probably just wasn’t going to do it. This is how I had always been.  If I didn’t have a partner in crime, then I wasn’t leaving the house. Then I graduated to college and decided to move 2,000 miles away from the places I called home, to a city where the only three people I knew were my cousin, her husband, and their six week old baby. When a baby barely even out of the womb is leaving the house more often than you, you know you have a problem. I spent the first two months in Portland staying inside my cousins house, binge watching every television show, ever. I had no one I knew to call and go explore the city with me, and certainly no magical restaurant cocoon. But there is only so much time you can spend cooped up in a room, terrified, before your desperation leads you to leave the house. And e-mail people whom you have only ever met once or twice in the hopes that they will want be your friend.

So I started to do things by myself. I walked all over Portland and dropped off job applications. I met up with people who I barely knew, who were kind enough to, not only hang out with me, but to invite me to live with them. I went to all sorts of places by myself. Slowly, but surely, I built myself a little Portland life that vaguely resembled the other lives I had lived. Eventually, I created my own comfort in Portland. But my Portland life is extremely different from my life in the other places I have lived. I spend a lot of time alone, in my room, which is my sanctuary. I am known, often, to bail early to go home and do “me things,” as I call them. I do not have a partner in crime.

Here is the triumphant part of the story where I tell you how I learned to love myself and love being alone and relish in it. In many ways, this is true.  I learned to find comfort in myself, as opposed to other people. There is a certain joy in this, especially as a passive person who tends to do whatever people around me want to do. I get to follow my whims in a way I never have before. The other night, it was the first evening warm enough to walk with just a sweatshirt on and the air was sweet and I walked for an hour and bought myself a slice of pie, and I felt euphoric, being alone. I felt, in that one little moment, that there was no one I needed besides myself. And it was a great feeling. It is important to know that you can spend time with yourself and enjoy it, seeing as you are the one person you will always be stuck with.

On the flip side, though, I am often lonely. I spent the first 22 years of my life within shouting distance of people who knew everything about me. Even though my friends in college did not watch me grew up, they did get to come and see the restaurant and meet many of the people who made it important and they grew to understand how significantly it shaped me. I was always rooted. In my new, “adult” life I spend a whole lot of time feeling like I am floating. I am more protective of myself, because I have no home base to seek comfort in. I spend so much more time alone than I ever have, because suddenly the only time I feel 100 percent comfortable is when I am by myself. I am still adjusting to the idea that there are hours of my day where no one knows what I am doing except for myself.

There is a power to knowing that you can take care of yourself and hold yourself up, but even after finding joy within myself, there is a definite power in having other people who love and look out for you and make you believe that you are capable of taking care of yourself. I don’t know that one is better than the other, you are not weak for needing the help and emotional support of other people but also spending lots of time alone does not necessarily mean that you are sad or lonely. Perhaps, as with all things, it’s just about finding your perfect balance.


3 Responses to “On Being Alone”

  1. brigid hogan

    This is beautiful, Savannah. Thank you for writing it. I get a lot of this – I’ve now lived alone 3 times and each time has been completely different. Always so much to learn by being alone.

  2. Max Savery

    mmmm, wonderful story, rung plenty of chords with me. I love the sound of your childhood, I grew up in a much less exposed way and to me, your childhood sounds romantic, in a sense. I love your last paragraph. Being vulnerable is good, so is being alone. They are not mutually exclusive… find the Balance! Thanks for your words, good luck balancing.

  3. EllenAgerbak@gmail.com

    Yes coming here to the U.S.A. At age 19 after living in Iceland almost 3 years, graduating high school early, and by my self since age 16 . I was then shy, but learned to come out of my shell, far away from family I was lucky to meet wonderful people my first week here and still freinds this day 40 years later . But you learn quickly you have to take care of your self, but having a great backing of your family is also important, so do enjoy this part of your life , we love you Ell’n


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