Project Alone, Not Lonely

Right now I am sitting in a café (a theme?) watching a girl outside the window with her seemingly well-adjusted boyfriend, her brother, and his seemingly well-adjusted girlfriend. I, on the other hand, just came back from a self-improvement walk, and I am alone with my thoughts. Of course, this made me think about all sorts of things, and I’ll let you decide if they’re well-adjusted or not.

Recently, I have been enacting a project—project “Alone, Not Lonely.” (Oh, yeah, and I just found out that that’s the title of an angry Evans Blue song that you can experience here.  “Call me vicious, cast your stones on me, you’re the death of a million men, you’re the face we defend with a patient virtue…” They’re not related, I swear. But it’s also kind of hilarious.)  As you may be able to guess from the super imaginative title, this project is an attempt to tame those voices that expect me to be in the company of others every minute of every day. It is an attempt to be alone without drowning in self-criticism and sadness and all sorts of “negative” emotions that can plague me when I am left to my own devices. I would say that it is 50% working.

Today I went on a walk along the river, the same infamous path that I’ve written about before, the same place that has witnessed a hell of a lot of angst and wonder. I started out plowing forward with my eyes on the rocky ground, trying to anticipate every pitfall and prevent myself from falling on my face. I was there to “figure myself out,” name all of those voices that have been following me around lately, the ones that insist that I am not quite living up to the life I’m supposed to be leading. I was there to get shit done and make things better.

At some point, as always happens, I had a mini-epiphany: Wow, I was spending a gorgeous, windy, summer-like afternoon with my eyes trained on dirt and rotting leaves. Really? That’s really how I wanted to be spending my time? So then project get-shit-figured-out took on a new objective: Look up! Feel the wind! Enjoy the sunshine!

Things became brighter, and I could feel myself relaxing into the beautiful day. Relief from all the bad things almost floated over my head and landed somewhere around my chest. The florescent moss threatened to blind me and water dripped from cracked, ancient rocks; the water rippled, and the wind whipped my favorite dress and tickled my face. In other words, things were good.

That new communing with nature lasted about five minutes. Then I thought, “Wow. Look at me. I am alone, but I’m not lonely. Am I? No, I’m not. But am I? Yeah, I kind of am. Shit! I’ve got to figure that out!”   Looking up became a chore, and the ground a comfort, a relief from the trying-to-fix-my-life stress.

So in other words, the second I tried to turn fixing my loneliness into a project, the less the project even makes sense in the first place. The more intensely I tried to push away my self-criticism and stress and sadness, the more it found me. I could not escape my loneliness by adding another facet to my plan. Probably something self-help books could have taught me in chapter one, project self-acceptance or accept-what-is. I must have skipped those pages.

On a seemingly-unrelated note, I just unzipped my backpack searching for my cell phone and found both an uncashed check and the key to my bike lock that I rooted around for all morning. I was not looking for them, but the relief is unexpected and tangible. The angst followed me around all morning, but then I wasn’t looking and they found me. Maybe project “Alone, Not Lonely” should take a cue from this bike lock hide-and-seek. Maybe being alone and not lonely will find me like a forgotten uncashed check. Maybe the relief will be unexpected, but tangible.

In the meantime, project “Alone, Not Lonely” might have to collect dust and project “Maybe I’m Alone, And Maybe I’m Lonely” can commence. I think I can live with that.