Wednesday, September 2, 2009

When solitude morphs



In 2001, a month before the big day whose anniversary is fast approaching, I had the great privilege of attending the Stanford Professional Publishing Course.

I had just become a book publisher who had absolutely zip-zero-zilch experience in book publishing. My background had always been in periodicals -- newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and professional journals. But the organization for which I worked bestowed its trust in me and sent me off to this beautiful campus for 10 riveting days of learning to help me get up to speed via total immersion.

I rented a bicycle so that I had wheels to gallivant around Palo Alto (where I'd spent 6 years of my childhood) during my "down" time, brought a wonderful novel to read, and spread out in a luxurious dorm room (honestly) with two beds all to myself.

It was about as close to heaven as I could imagine.

And for 3 days I was deliriously happy. From the time I was 9, I had set my sights on attending Stanford University (though that was not where I ended up), and so I prowled the book store to find the perfect "Stanford Alumni" sweatshirt. I loved having only one focus: learning. And I was living my dream.

But on the 4th day, something snapped. I began to feel miserable. Horrible, teary, insecure, dreadful. Watching the contingent of animated attendees from Mexico, I realized the source of my despair: utter loneliness, much of which flowed from touch deprivation.

I had no idea till then how much I depended on the close contact I had taken for granted in my sweet family of huggers back in Minneapolis. But there it was. I tried petting dogs on campus, and it helped a bit. But not enough. I called Mr. B and cried so hard, he booked a ticket to fly out to San Fran so he could fly home with me when the course ended.


I found a way to temper the loneliness by hanging out with the Mexicans, who were so warm and friendly and whose conversations always seemed to be punctuated with touch and concluded with a hug. They were, to borrow an Italian term, my pyzahns after all.

And as I reflected on the remarkable comments left in yesterday's post, I stumbled upon my own answer to the question I posed. So here it is: I often start out in the glory of solitude, but if I stay alone too long, it morphs to the pain of loneliness. I need both solitude and company.

I'd like to think I can reach a point in my life when the glory of solitude trumps the pain of loneliness for good.

But don't hold your breath. 

Thank you to all who courageously posted your answers. You inspire me.


Image by oldtasty
"The Sense of Touch" - 59th Photo of the Year International First Place Winner by Damon Winter of the Dallas Morning News
 
(Hey, Derrick, I can post pictures of pretty churches, too! Hey, Pyzahn, like how I learned to use the word!)


17 comments:

Mariana Soffer said...

Cities are disintegrating, Developing a strong sense of community is crucial and “culture” is one of the important elements that can contribute to such a development. As cities expand, people of various ethnicities or social groups are thrown together into sharing a crowded space, and this often either forces them to abandon their identities or forces them to cling to their identities unreasonably for what they perceive as survival. The former encourages anonymity, whereas the latter fosters divides among various groups. Neither way is positive to the development of an urban city, because anonymity may create depression.

steven said...

hi kathleen, i missed yesterday's post so i popped by and left a comment there that i'll build on here! first of all - this is a burning question isn't it?!
touch is such a huge piece of a healthy person's life and yet it is often reduced to a prescriptive piece - hand shakes, social hugs, or worse - it isn't available.
as a male teacher i am urged not to touch my children under any circumstances - and i get that. there are some sad stories of people who have abused that privilege and so here we are. but it is the saddest thing when a child is hurt or crying and you have to avoid contact and look for a female teacher or witnesses!!! that's life. i worry about the message it sends to children because i can't tell them exactly why that is the way it is. at home, i love my hugs with my own children. love them!!! steven

Gaston Studio said...

Are you a bit shy? I ask because had this been me when I was a good bit younger, I probably would have gone up to a small group of people and asked for a "group hug" telling them I was in need.

I probably wouldn't do that today.

Joycee said...

Human touch has such healing powers in our lives. I see this because Mom now lives in a nursing facility. (Kathleen, she's doing better, thanks for asking)So many people are alone in the world and need that hug or pat on the back. We are a world afraid to touch or get close anymore, we need to change that! You blog "stays with me," like that satisfying bowl of oatmeal!

darsden said...

this is most profound statement
"I'd like to think I can reach a point in my life when the glory of solitude trumps the pain of loneliness for good."
Awesome, humbling and true hopefully for me too.

Derrick said...

Hi Kathleen,

I see you can post nice photographs - now, was it your own?! :0)

Touch is important and is either very welcome or freaks some people out! I think I have grown to be more of a toucher(!) but it has to be genuine, not of the "have a nice day" variety!

Steven's comments highlight how crazy the world has become. I think the teachers' 'no touching' rule applies to both sexes in UK - as it should if we're to have it at all - but it means that we are apparently crying out for more male role models in primary schools because men won't come forward. And is there any wonder!

Rudee said...

I need solitude and I'm never afraid to be alone with my thoughts or myself. However, to be alone with no other human interaction would be devastating. I need both community and solitude.

Pyzahn said...

It is fortunate that you know the source of your discomfort. Typically I get blue and don't really know why. How sweet that Mr. B came to fetch you.

Janie said...

I've felt that way. I look forward to solitude, but a day of it seems to be plenty. Funny how some families and some cultures seem to be huggers, and others not. My family hugs. A lot.

Intuitive Girl said...

I love my solitude. Sometimes too much solitude can turn to loneliness but interestingly the times in my life that I've been the most lonely were times when I have been with people and just didn't connect.

Intuitive Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy W said...

I agree with your feelings on loneliness due to no touch. When Eve (Brian's mom) lived in her apartment by herself, she could go days without any touch from any one, as did most people in her building. We would bring Yukon, our golden retriever, and he would get mobbed in the lobby. He sometimes would put his front feet in their laps and not one of them complained. After she moved to the nursing home we made it a point to bring our dog just for the rest of the people there. Petting him brought out deep memories of their dogs in their childhoods--interesting to watch.

Kathleen said...

Oh no, Mr. Bill!!!!!

I apparently deleted a comment without my knowledge. Please come back, won't you?
I'll gladly make an offering at the alter of the comment goddess.

To all: I've been responding to comments via email lately. I love "visiting" that way. Hope I haven't missed anyone. Sometimes when my unopened email descends below the scroll line, I get behind. It doesn't mean I don't love you, truly. Because I do.

(((HUGS)))

Alex the Girl said...

Lady K

What a question. What an answer. My girls came to me when I was young, the first when I was 22, and the second when I was 24. They grew up in a single parent household...me. And in the eleven year period it took me to find the one I felt good enough to share their lives with I've experienced the blissful solitude of morning dawn coming after a late night date with my gaggle of gals, to the heart wrenching lonliness of a december night's bed. In a way, solitude is much like a cup of coffee/tea/20 ounce diet dr. pepper while lonliness is the cold of the sheets when you turn over and find no one there.

Alex the Girl said...

Lady K

What a question. What an answer. My girls came to me when I was young, the first when I was 22, and the second when I was 24. They grew up in a single parent household...me. And in the eleven year period it took me to find the one I felt good enough to share their lives with I've experienced the blissful solitude of morning dawn coming after a late night date with my gaggle of gals, to the heart wrenching lonliness of a december night's bed. In a way, solitude is much like a cup of coffee/tea/20 ounce diet dr. pepper while lonliness is the cold of the sheets when you turn over and find no one there.

♥ Braja said...

You're right; I feel the same. I said solitude, but it would morph into loneliness if it was *only* solitude. But isn't that the whole embodiment of solitude? That it is something which, while in the company of so many, we long for? It is so exquisite because of it's brevity....

J said...

Thanks for visiting - I'm glad to find your blog, you raise some interesting points. I can really enjoy doing things and being by myself, but I'm also quite sociable.

Touch definitely gets too ignored - it's strange how phobic of touch Anglo Saxon society is.

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