The second series of the inimitable Derry Girls opens with Erin monologuing in the bath and Orla crashing in with the line, “she’s pretending she’s on Parkinson again!”
I cannot tell you how much I love and, as will come as no surprise, relate to that moment. Except when I do it, it’s not Parkinson, it’s Woman’s Hour or In The Bathroom With Sali Hughes or… oh, never mind, let’s pretend I never mentioned it.
In an interview with the Paris Review back in 1990, Martin Amis said the following:
And I’m no Amis fan, but God, does he nail something huge with the words “most fully alive when alone”. I don’t think feeling like the truest version of yourself when you’re alone is exclusive to writers; everyone has different versions of themselves – work selves, different selves for different friendship groups and family members, and so on. But I do think the absolute need for it, the hardwired longing for regular bouts of proper solitude, is strongest in creative types, no matter what medium they work in.
As a creative, the foundations upon which you build the towers of your work are laid when you’re alone. Because when you’re on your own, you’re everything that you are. You don’t have to amplify or hide anything – it’s all there, the full palette of you, ready to be accessed. You can be bitter, vengeful, raging, maudlin, silly, whimsical, ridiculous, playful, without masking any of it. You can imagine the glorious glittering futures, the dreams that made you want to make things in the first place. The sensitivity that makes you a writer (or whichever brand of Creative Wanker you are) is finally free from that other deeply-ingrained writer’s need to control everything and edit it into something cohesive and digestible.
Plus, you don’t know who you truly are until you have to process some difficult things by yourself. Let your brain examine the bad situation and the strong emotions from all angles. Talk it through out loud to no-one but the walls of your room. Sit with the bad feelings – give in to them, fully inhabit them. The healthiest way out is usually through. It’s hard; it requires courage to face your feelings alone. It’s far easier to outsource this work; to rely on other people’s words to make you feel better.
I can see exactly why the lonely, misunderstood creative who can’t commit to anyone became such a trope – because when you’re in a relationship, you have to share yourself. If it’s a healthy relationship though, it’s eminently doable – you learn how to be both a partner and someone who’s only truly themselves alone. Dating is a different beast altogether; you throw yourself out there like a handful of confetti and hope someone wants to catch and hold some of those fragile, colourful pieces.
I recently put the below thought to Twitter and it garnered a far bigger reaction than I thought it would, with 99% of the responses wholeheartedly agreeing with me. The only person in fact who suggested I actually try and be a morning chatterer was a “real-life” friend of mine, prompting me to respond with something along the lines of, “dude, do you know me at all?!”
I don’t want to be an anti-social dick* but one of my colleagues gets the same bus as me and he’s made friends with a couple of our fellow commuters and they have a little morning chat gang. I cannot join them. I do not have the energy to be jolly at 7.30am.
*I kind of do
— Kirsten Parnell (@kirstofcomms) April 10, 2019
I know without a shadow of a doubt I’m a fully-paid-up member of the introvert classes. You find out by asking yourself one question: do I get my energy from being with people, or from being alone? I get my energy from being alone. I require time on my own to recharge after work, and seeing friends and family. This is why my commute is fucking sacred and cannot be shared. I spend eight hours in an office surrounded by people, and it takes energy to engage. When most of your work is done quietly, in your head, getting out of your head takes effort. And God, you need to get out of your head, don’t get me wrong – you need to make small talk while the kettle boils, listen to someone else’s problems, make feeble jokes during the morning stand-up – but it can drain you. Solo commuting time feeds the energy levels – whether you read, scroll through Twitter, or simply stare out the window and observe what leaps to mind when you’re not having your attention forced in a particular direction.
I can’t, and won’t, apologise or feel guilty for needing time alone. Everyone needs it, some more than others. One thing I do know: it’s where the real work happens.
One thought on “The necessity of being alone”
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