How to Be Alone

Musings

I listened to this song by Jason Isbell this morn per a friend’s suggestion and here is how it starts:

I been working here, Monday it’ll be a year
And I can’t recall a day when I didn’t want to disappear
But I keep on showing up, hell-bent on growing up
If it takes a lifetime

I’m learning how to be alone. I fall asleep with the TV on
And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone
I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by
If it takes a lifetime

When I heard that line about learning how to be alone I stopped what I was doing, which was heating water on the stove for coffee in my french press. Which funny little thing about that. I have a morning ritual of talking to my best friend every morning around 7:30 a.m. She is basically my alarm clock and the only person I would deign to talk to at that unholy hour, especially before I’ve even had my coffee.

I grumbled to her the other day that I am negligent about cleaning my french press after my morning coffee and then I am mad at myself the next morning when I have to clean it out before I can make coffee, to which she responded deadpan, “wow, first world problems. I don’t even know what a french press is.”

Anyhow. Back to that line. Learning how to be alone. I loved that line and admittedly thought about it all day. Though if truth be told I had already been giving considerable thought to my learning how to be alone before I even heard the song.

Admittedly I have never really enjoyed or relished the prospect of truly being on my own. And not in the way of singlehood. But being without my sisters or my friends. Now initially the thought sounded novel to me, before I had experienced it. But once I had experienced ‘on my own’ for the first time when I moved to New York City, I warmed to it with all the excitement of having a cavity filled.

I blame growing up in a big family. Because of this, I have always been surrounded by people, chaos and noise. And this has always comforted me. As a child if I fell asleep to silence it meant I was the last one up and I hated that. I would strive to go to bed before everyone else, that way I could still hear the TV downstairs and kids chattering. A silent house put me on edge and frightened me.

Now there have been plenty of experiences I have done on my own and loved. I set off for college seven hours away from my family and after the initial shock, adjusted accordingly. After college I moved to Green Bay and while my only friend there was at work, I took myself on museum dates, movie dates, I even once did a wine tasting by myself. I like myself and I like spending time with me. It’s just the whole truly being on my own thing, as in falling asleep alone and coming home to my computer, book collection, and stuffed giraffe somewhat heebs me out.

But that is where I am at these days and I will admit, I initially reacted in much the same way as I did in New York. Funnily enough I wanted to be back in Wyoming bad. Oh something fierce, so I shouldn’t have resorted to pissing and moaning about it, but that is exactly what I did after the new and novel wore off a few days in.

The intensity of being alone, coming home to an empty house, having no one ask me about my days adventures, and then the nights, oh gosh, nighttime was the worst. Mostly because I am a giant toddler who thinks every noise is something about to snatch me or kill me or both. Also, I am woman enough to admit I am sort of afraid of the dark. On my own in the dark, okay! The first couple nights I slept with one of those fake plastic tea light candles in my bed as a makeshift nightlight.

And then one night I looked in the mirror across from my bed after I’d shut off the lights and remembered that childhood tale about Bloody Mary. I became intensely overwrought that I would accidentally think Bloody Mary the obligatory three times and what if it wasn’t just a legend and I was stuck in a house by myself with a bloody apparition in a town where all my nearest neighbors were deer and the elderly. Although, let’s be real, this is Wyoming, people here have guns. I would totally be okay. But if it’s an apparition… Anyway.

Besides night frets and an overly quiet house that caused me extreme discomfort, I forcibly settled in with that discomfort, set on this being the one time I would not run away from any of my fears. And they are plenty. Reference my earlier blog on highly irrational fears.

I would face doing my work. I would face a quiet house. I would face being hundreds of miles from my comfort zone of friends and family. I would even face the dark without Nyquil or whiskey, though I considered both viable options if I wasn’t big girl enough to handle all my fears. Though turns out I am.

Last night was my epiphany moment in bed. You know that scene in Home Alone where Kevin is irrationally afraid of the furnace in the basement? Well one day he goes down there, still sort of afraid and then has his ah-ha moment and tells the furnace to shut up and he’s over it. Yeah if Kevin—an eight year old—can do it, I probably could too.

I was lying in bed exhausted, watching The Office on my laptop when I heard a noise. I suspiciously paused The Office listening intently to see if I was about to be murdered and I was about to press play again to drown out my worries in Steve Carell’s nonsense, when I got fed up with my own nonsense.

I shut the computer, enveloping myself in complete blackness, because I was tired. I told myself the noises were normal house noises and if I were about to be murdered then so be it. Go to bed, you idiot, I thought. And I did. I just went to bed.

That was kind of huge for me.

Not only that, but I have adjusted. While I do want to come home and tell someone stories, there is a certain empowerment in coming home, tending to my own needs, cutting potatoes, cleaning the kitchen, jotting down notes in my journal and curling up to watch I Love Lucy that makes me feel, well… kind of like an adult.

And the loneliness thing? It’s easy to see it that way at first, like the loneliness would swallow me whole, but it’s hard to feel lonely in a town of 75 people. It seems the opposite would be true but it’s not. In a town this small, people care. People learned my name right away and use it when they see me. Everyone waves. All. The. Time. Which is my favorite thing.

In fact I have been running daily and if someone passes me from behind they make sure to hold up their hand and wave anyway so I still get a wave even if I didn’t see them head-on. I get waves from tractors and hellos from people in town who I haven’t even met yet, but they will take time to stop and ask me how I am doing or comment on my running or that they heard I was a writer.

The friends I have made include me and ask me to do things with them or text me to ask about my day. Or perfect strangers offer to teach me how to rope because I mentioned wanting to learn. And that in itself is incredible because the woman who offered to teach me to rope is a rancher and this is a busy season for the ranchers. The fact that she would haul a hay bail, cow dummy head and rope over to my house and give me a roping tutorial when I am sure she has better things to do is mind-boggling.

And it has made me fall in love with this town and feel the furthest from being alone when in fact, I am alone. If this being alone, I don’t think I could’ve found a better place to give it a whirl.

I’m learning how to be alone. I fall asleep with the TV on
And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone
I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by
If it takes a lifetime

Hello, Fear

Musings

“Hello, fear. Thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.”
-Cheryl Strayed

A lot of things frighten me: car wrecks, losing people I love, my hair thinning out to the point where I need a comb over, never getting married, being mediocre, not really succeeding as a writer, old houses—while I am very charmed by old houses, I always assume they are haunted with either soldier ghosts or miner ghosts—, being lost in the woods at night, going to prison for a crime I didn’t commit…

Obviously, I included some highly irrational fears in there just to show that I don’t always use my rational brain while in the midst of being fearful. In fact a couple weeks back I spent some time at two of my best friends houses. Both women have perfectly lovely homes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and there is nothing remotely sinister about either locale.

However, both houses are very old and so I was scared at both places. The first house—my friend Emily’s—I had been to many times before and had gotten used to sleeping in her spare room, though almost every time I had spent the night prior I would wake up in the night and squint my eyes, surveying the room for ghosts. I hadn’t encountered anything to date. But this most recent time, I went to place my things in the spare bedroom, just as she stopped to inform me that was now the new nursery and the spare bedroom had been moved upstairs.

I left my things in the nursery anyway, informing Em that I would be sleeping on her couch. I simply had no interest in sleeping upstairs away from all the adults, should a ghost try to smother me in my sleep or something. No, no, the couch was much safer. My sister even spent the night with me one night and instead of sleeping on the Lazy-Boy, she—who is an even bigger scaredy baby than I am—insisted on sleeping sandwiched next to me on the couch. It was wildly uncomfortable with her pressed against me, but nonetheless I was wildly comforted with her there.

At my other friend’s house, I was to sleep on the pull-out sleeper sofa downstairs as her and her children’s rooms were all upstairs.

“I am sleeping down here by myself?!” I squeaked nervously as she and her husband inched away from me toward the stairs, having gifted me with blankets, a pillow and the remote to the TV.

“Yes,” Ashley laughed.

“But what about ghosts…” I ventured, skittishly looking around at all the objects in her living room that could potentially look like a ghost in the night.

“We don’t have any ghosts!” Ashley exclaimed.

“I may need to come sleep between the two of you in the night…” I warned.

Ashley told me I would have to fight for space with her son Boone, who already crawled into her bed in the middle of the night. “You can sleep in Boone’s bed,” she offered.

“I don’t want to sleep in Boone’s bed,” I grumbled mostly to myself, “I want to sleep with you guys…” Once as a teenager I had slept over at my aunt and uncle’s for the weekend and they had me sleep downstairs on the couch. I, of course became out of my mind with fear and had to crawl into their room in the night, embarrassingly informing them I was uneasy downstairs. They got an air mattress for me, placing it at the foot of their bed.

But naturally I got over it at Ashley’s. I slept with The Office playing on Netflix, a light on, and one eye repeatedly open for paranormal phenomena. By the second night I was convinced—by my diligent ghost watch—that her house was indeed unhaunted.

This is all to say, facing your fears aren’t always comfortable folks. Being nervous that a ghost could get me or that I could be unjustly incarcerated are fairly irrelevant fears, especially the latter. Dealing with the more real fears of making it, pushing myself outside my comfort zone, landing interviews with cowboys, or even landing a cowboy period, are well… heady to say the least and enough to cause me to sleep uneasily. Perhaps even more so than when I am on ghost patrol.

But here is the thing about all this fear: sleeping with lights on and with one eye open, even though you’re scared and nervous instead of crawling into bed with your best friend and her husband, means at least you’re there in the scared nervousness facing it head on—Annie Oakley style, staring down the barrel of a gun—instead of awkwardly ruining any chance at your married friends having sex that night—although from what I understand marrieds have infrequent sex anyway… so…  I kid, I kid! I just have to tease you smug marrieds, because I am single and having no sex—I digress, but that is my favorite thing to do. Go on wild off-roading tangents. Especially about Annie Oakley and sex; why wouldn’t I? Both of those topics are wondrous to no end.

But do you see where I am going here? I hope you do. Because while I mostly write to myself and for myself, because it helps bring clarity to a life that is often rife with wild turns and doubts, I happily offer up my life circumstances that they may help shed any light or hope onto yours. And the hope in this instance is being better than the fear. I can overcome it, regardless of the spooks in the night or the dastardly notion that I am incompetent when I know deep down I am not.

Incompetence would’ve never landed me where I am today, which is in a world of wonder and new opportunity at every turn: like the world is holding its breath with me waiting to see what will come of all this newness.

And I don’t have any logical clues what will come of all this newness, this untethered, mountain filled life. But I know that I cannot lie down with my fear. It is simply nonsensical and not me. Well it is a little bit me, because I am currently fearful over how sweaty I have gotten while writing this post—honestly I don’t know why I sweat so bad—and if the fetching hipsters all around will judge me when I raise my coffee cup, showcasing all the sweat stains under my arms. But alas, these are the consequences of writing ever so feverishly.

Anyhow, the always uplifting and wise Cheryl Strayed said a couple wonderful things about fear. Like so many brave writers before her have done, they’ve bared forth their pain, their strife and their struggle through their words, open in their fear anyway. And with this they’ve made it possible for writers like me to feel emboldened in my struggle, in my fear and in my uncertainty, allowing me to believe there is quite possibly still a way through it all, fearful or not.

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. That nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

So maybe first acknowledge your fears (at least the ones that urge you to be better) in that they do have some power in directing you. And then from there, tell the fear to go fuck itself and go forth being madly in love with your life—including the wild turns, because those offer better scenery anyway—and your life purpose. At least that’s what I am going to do.