Alone vs. Lonely

July 3, 2014

lone tree


Alone vs. Lonely


Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, reposted one of her own essays on her Facebook page yesterday.  I will admit it:  I hate the essay…not because of the writing—she’s a good writer—but because of the content.

Her thesis:  Women need to learn to be lonely.

OK, in the context in which she’s writing, it makes sense.  She was speaking to a newly single woman who was itching to get right back out there and find “someone better,” and Gilbert was telling her to take six months just to be by herself, despite the danger of loneliness.

She says, “We have to learn how to endure our own company and hold our heads high. And sometimes, after enough time alone, we might even learn to enjoy ourselves. And best of all, after enough time and practice, we can sometimes even learn to revere ourselves.”

She advises those who are “rushing to fill the empty space with ANYTHING or ANYONE” to pause and think:  “Don’t be afraid of yourself, OK?  Don’t be afraid of the lonely.  Sit through the lonely until you get to the good.”  (You can find the entire text of her essay here–look for Learn to Be Lonely.) 

In that context, her argument makes sense.  And yet…

I’ve always believed that if you weren’t happy to be on your own, with yourself, then you weren’t ready to be with anyone else.  Doesn’t that sound good?  And I even tested that.  I had essentially given up hope of finding anyone to love and decided I could be okay with that, be okay with being on my own, with being independent…and then my partner showed up out of the blue.  It was amazing.

And yet…

…I find myself in the throes this year of learning some things about myself that I do not like very much.

I. don’t. do. lonely. well.

Like, at all.

loneliness bird

Let me qualify and clarify that assertion.

I am an introvert (which shocks many folks, given that I’m a public high school teacher and can often come across as an extrovert).  As an introvert, I need solitude—alone time, quietude, some space—in order to recharge.

However, I would draw a distinction between voluntary solitude and enforced isolation.

The former is something I value, appreciate, choose, and, yes, even enjoy.  The latter, however, smacks of a solitary confinement cell in prison, which I hope never, ever to find myself in, because I would lose my ever-loving mind.  I’m really not kidding.

As I said, I’ve been discovering things about myself this year—it has been a year of momentous change for me, not the least of which was the ending of this almost 18-year relationship—and I have learned one crucial fact about myself:  I don’t do enforced loneliness well at all.

In the past couple of months, I’ve had several “episodes” of life-pausing Loneliness Anxiety, which spin me into tears, desperation, and a state of what I can only call manic depression—meaning that I feel both high-strung and depressed simultaneously (until this year, I didn’t even know that was possible).

I am only just discovering this about myself—I, who pride myself on knowing myself fairly well—am only just now learning this about myself; and I was going to feel bad about that, but my good friend of fifteen years reminded me the other night, through a well-placed question, that I actually have never lived alone in my entire life.  There was always family, college dorm roommates, or my partner.  That realization helped soften my own anger toward myself.


Near the middle of her essay, Gilbert notes,

The first time I was alone as adult was in the year leading up to my Eat Pray Love journey. In the space of that aloneness (which was very lonely, believe me) I was finally able to hear my own inner voice. […] I crossed this threshold where suddenly I realized, “I am going to treat myself like I am my own amazing boyfriend. I’m going to be SO GOOD to me. I’m going to take me to the most beautiful places in the world. I’m going to say the most comforting words to myself. I’m going to feed me wonderful meals, and buy me wonderful books. I’m going ask me every day, ‘What do you need, dear one? What can I do for you?'” And we ended up having an amazing time together — me and me.

Her argument for self-care is vital and compelling.  The case she makes for discovering her own inner voice is important.

And yet…



At the same time, humans are wired for connection.  This is factual.  This is scientific.  It’s in our brain structure, our neurochemistry, our DNA.  Why, then, should I be satisfied to be lonely?

Alone I can do…and even enjoy…for a time.  But extreme alone, unmitigated and unmitigable alone, turns into lonely.

Maybe it’s just a lack of faith in myself, lack of faith that I might actually be able to be sufficient company for myself.  I know I probably need to test that a little further than I have done yet.

Most of the time—especially when I know it’s coming, that dark-night-of-the-soul kind of lonely—I can take steps to stay busy, to stay connected, to talk with friends, to devise activities for myself to keep my brain from eating itself.

lonely guy

But when it springs upon me unexpectedly, or when my carefully devised plans backfire—when no one is around, when all my friends are gone or in bed or unavailable for contact, when the busyness isn’t enough to distract—I grow weak.

I think I’m mostly mad at myself for not holding out just a little bit longer, for not pushing the bruise just another minute or two before waving the flag and calling an ex.  Let me explain what I mean about pushing the bruise by way of a movie.  In Out of Africa, Meryl Streep, as Karin Blixen, talks about “this little thing I’ve lately learned to do.  When it’s so hard I think I shan’t go on, I try to make it worse.  [She lists poignant memories.]  When I’m certain I can’t stand it…I go a moment more.  And then I know I can bear anything.”

Here’s to another moment more…I guess.


Randomocity Road Tour 2014 (Part G)–Going Home


Going  Home Day, Wednesday

When I was growing up and my family would go on vacation, on the last day of said vacation, my mother would almost always say, “Oh, I’m so glad to be going home” or “it’s so good to be home.”

I did not then, nor do I now, understand this sentiment.  At least not when the vacation is a great vacation, filled with fun and fellowship or rest and relaxation.

I hate coming home from a good vacation.

The hangover.  The letdown.  The withdrawals.  The DTs.  The fun flu.  Call it what you will–I almost always get it.  I always know it’s coming, and I try to prevent it–with busyness, revisitation of excellent memories via photos, music, talking with the people I’ve had to take leave of–and those things help…but the melancholy comes in waves, ebbs and flows.

This is neither good nor bad.  It just is what it is.

Last night, I was glad Sparrow and Chris were still at the ranch.  When the letdown syndrome threatens, human contact is a very good thing–especially when the humans are as fun and kind as these two are.

This morning, I was busy with cleanup of the guest house.  It was a misty morning (Southern Californians would call it rainy), and the cool and wet were a welcome change.


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When I went to the main house for breakfast, the wild turkeys had come for their morning visit and graze.  The babies were too small to be seen above the grass.


Do you see them (the grownup turkeys)?

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How about now?

After cleaning up breakfast and coffee and doing a final check of FB and emails for several hours (no coverage on the road for a little while), I fired up the filthy auto (my Basque Red Honda looks like a Basque Beige Honda–glorious hazards of a dirt road) and headed down the long driveway.  I received a nice sendoff, one I consider a gift.


Singer Sheryl Crow has an old song, titled “Every Day is a Winding Road”:

Every day is a winding road
I get a little bit closer
Every day is a faded sign
I get a little bit closer to feeling fine


Today’s winding roads included Flynn Creek Road and Highway 128.  And the signposts were the small (or great) beauties, the unexpected gifts of the road, the gracious (and needed) conversations, the poignant music, the audio book that drenched me in slow and deep characterization.

The velvet yellow hills, punctuated with oak trees and umbrellaed with a slowly clearing sky, compelled me today.  Instead of barreling on through, I stopped to appreciate the compelling gifts.






 I’ll keep working on getting closer to feeling fine.


Randomocity Road Tour 2014 (Part F)


Seventh Day, Tuesday

It started off warmly and beautifully, as most of the mornings here have done this week.

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After coffee and breakfast, we moved into ranch chores–doggy baths, kitty cleanup, chicken-waterer cleanup.



Dobbie is beleaguered and being tortured by “bath” treatment.

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Some of the gorgeous kitty characters.


Anyone who knows me know that I don’t like fish…but this salmon straight off the boat in Noyo Harbor, and grilled with lemon and basil, was truly the best fish I’ve ever had.  If all fish tasted this way (a.k.a. not like fish), I’d eat it every day.  (Thanks, Sparrow and Chris!)

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Then Tonia left for her home and I was the only My-500-er left on the premises, and I had to assuage my grief and loss by posing another picture.


I’ll be homeward bound tomorrow, gearing up for a long-haul drive (9-10 hours).  If anyone is bored or available tomorrow between the hours of, say, 9 a.m. and 6 or 7 p.m. (Pacific time), PM me and I’ll give you my phone number for a nice talk.  I’ll be trying to fend off the vacation letdown, the awesomeness-hangover.


Randomocity Road Tour 2014 (Part E)


Sixth Day, Monday

So Denise and Bridger left early Monday morning, before light.


So we went to town to deal with our grief and loss.  :-)  And it was a gorgeous day.

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We really, really missed Denise…and so we took a crazy hat and hung it on a post across from the Sea Cove Inn where we’d had such fun earlier since we missed her so much.


Later that night, we played Rock Band…badly, but it was crazy fun!

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Super tough!  :-)

Randomocity Road Tour 2014 (Part D)



Fifth Day, Sunday


We started with a My-500-only breakfast at MacCallum House in Mendocino Village.  After that, a short walk around the headlands and town…

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…with a right and necessary pilgrimage to the Gallery Bookshop, a fine independent bookstore, hosted by Catsby…

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…floral beauties in front of the classic Mendocino Hotel…

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…and the gift of a baby sighting, complete with the hardest working mother this side of the Sierras.

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On the way home, to the background of gorgeously cheesy Carpenters’ music, we were blessed with this sighting…


…and once back at the ranch, Tonia made the “world’s most amazing eggs” for her son, Ray, while Denise and Sparrow chatted about life.

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The quadcopter, movies like Mamma Mia and War Horse and Master & Commander, and the hot tub all had feature roles on Sunday.




Randomocity Road Tour 2014 (Part C)


Fourth Day, Saturday

Summer Solstice

The Longest Day

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Meadow day; walking day

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Sun day


Sunset day

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Coastal sunset day

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Laughs with friends day


Sun-pinching day


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Dynamic light and color day


Illuminated clouds day


Sunset and conversation day


Meeting friendly souls and laughing our asses off day

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Bumper sticker / life mantra day


Randomocity Road Tour 2014 (Part B)


Third Day, Friday


Tonia’s new office decor (a gift)

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Sitting around the table laughing–with Bridger, Sparrow, and Chris


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Beach squirrel; Glass Beach panorama

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Hunting for treasure


Treasures found



Get it, get it???

(I got it by twanging myself with the bow.)


Mendocino Village

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Around the campfire

(Nope, no Kum-bah-yah.  Sorry.)

Randomocity Road Tour 2014

This road tour photo album is brought to you by:

ShrinkMom and Randomocity

Tonia Hurst and The Vast and Inscrutable Imponderabilities of Life

Debbie Simorte (in spirit) and Writing the Life Chaotic


So. Much. Fun.

Road Trip There, Tuesday

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First Day, Wednesday

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Second Day, Thursday

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(^^photo credit for two photos immediately above belongs to

Denise Beidler Jackson…well, Bridger Waters, actually^^)

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Further to “Enoughness” and Gratitude

June 18, 2014

I am practicing sitting in this moment, feeling the joy of now, not letting this day be about waiting or anticipation, or about fear or second-guessing, but about the joy of this precise and exquisite moment:

¤ about the butterfly, black with orange gilding and white wing spots, that visited me just now as I wrote the word “joy,” dancing in circles in front of me twice, and carrying off across the meadow;

¤ about the wind, the breeze, the spirit-breath, that is just now breaking the too-warm stillness;

¤ about the perpetual fly buzzhum, the background soundtrack of this wooden porch;

¤ about the cicada whirr in the tree above my head, noise so loud that when the cicada pauses for a momentary breather, my ears burn in the void;

¤ about the robin red-breast, spring-tall, summer-thin, as winter is far away;

¤ about the periodic chicken sounds—I actually heard one purr!—and the “gifts” they like to leave on the doormat; and about the duck that thinks it’s a chicken sister;

¤ about the songbird—drab brown but with a speckled throat patch—that flew right over my notebook just now and peeped a short song at me before flitting away; it later returned for water, and I was very still as we watched each other;

¤ about the warmth of this moment—of the direct sun, of the coffee in my guts, of my heart as it beats and speeds with caffeine and wakefulness;

¤ about the turkey vultures that have returned to this valley bowl on reconnaissance, that can soar now without flapping given the airstream;

¤ about the racing-striped dragonfly, white paint against velvet black;

¤ about the two quail, twiddling and piddling down by the log;

¤ about the memory of last night’s twenty-plus deer in the span of an hour’s drive; and the two heartsqueezing fawns, growing but still with their precious spots;

¤ about the sound of redwood wind, like the distant roar of a waterfall somewhere up around the corner, punctuated by meadow birds’ chirp and trill.

The air is alive and full…of motion and soundwaves and sensory heat.

I will practice no foreboding joy.

This is enough.

Banish fear.

My heart unfolds with gratitude and love in this now.

This moment, these senses—it is all enough.

This is not just summer.

This is not just vacation.

This is not temporary.

This is living.

This is be-ing.

And it is enough.

dreams truth

Intention: Enoughness…and Love (Part 3)

Intention:  Enoughness…and Love (Part 3)


From Part 2:

We know this is an endless resource, she says, because we were taught to pray (by Jesus himself) “give us this day our daily bread.”  It is supplied daily.  And it is enough.  It is not an eighth of a gallon of gas for the trip to San Francisco.   And when the tank runs dry, I can go refill it.

How do I access it?  But to ask “how” is to stop the process.  How do you access it?  You just do.  You believe it, you know it, and you do.

I’m trying to get it.

(“Do or do not; there is no try.” —Yoda)

(“tried = tired”  —my counselor)

Reframe:  I almost get it.

Here’s to living in the land of love.


**Part 3**

The monks at the abbey during the Holy Week retreat I attended spoke incessantly of God as the prime Lover.  Fr. Francis told me, “That kind of God”—the judgmental God of wrath that I’ve always known—“leaves you in the gutter bleeding.  God wants us as lovers.” Continue reading