Thursday, October 21, 2004

A place on the gulf

No man is an island. But for anyone who isn’t a man, or any man who won’t march to the tune of an aphorism, if you're inclined to be an island, here’s a role-model for your consideration:


Alternatively, you might want to just buy it with that spare CAD$169,900 you have lying around (see Vladi Private Islands).

I got an appeal letter yesterday from the Salvation Army (a religious charity you’ve probably heard of). This year they’re asking people to fill out a card to brighten up someone else’s Christmas. This is a nice idea; I support it, etc. But the letter begins like this:

Imagine waking up alone on Christmas Day. Rather than looking forward to sharing the day with family and friends, instead you face a day filled with loneliness and despair...

Oh? Really? Now, I know what they’re trying to say - loneliness is a terrible thing - but it’s not true that everyone alone is lonely.

Speaking (metaphorically) as a lifelong human island who drifts closer to the mainland occasionally, I can never wait to get back out to sea, and back to myself: on my own. And I don’t feel lonely out there - I feel at home, at peace, at one with the universe. It’s only when I’m with other people that I feel lonely. (This is due to all sorts of things: social incompetence, shyness, temperament - some of which I should try to overcome.)

It’s not “being alone” that makes you lonely, it’s the sense of “being separate from” which does it. And I suspect it’s about feeling separate from yourself. If you’re an extrovert, you feel most at home when you’re surrounded by other people: your focus is outward and social, so you feel cut off from the real you if there are no other people around. If you’re an introvert, you feel most at home on your own: you look inward, and feel cut off from yourself when in company.

Anneli Rufus, the author of Party of One: the Loners' Manifesto:

No two loners are alike, but all of us have one thing in common: we like to be alone. We like it. Everyone else - nonloners, that is - can't stand to be alone. They squirm. They feel ashamed. They yearn for company when they're alone. They're bored and don't know what to do. They're lonely.

We're not.

Maybe we're not holed up in caves all day, or in submarines like Captain Nemo in his Nautilus. But alone we feel most normal. Most ourselves. Most alive.