The other evening I had our house to myself. Both of my flat-mates were out. I spent my time cooking, a chopping board on one side of the hob and a glass of white wine on the other. I listened to a podcast and pottered merrily. It was bliss. A very simple, easy form of bliss, yes, but wonderful nonetheless.
Spending time alone is one of those funny things that some of us relish, and others loath. Either it’s a luxury, a much-looked-for window to fill with solitude and self-determined activity, or it’s a to-be-avoided-at-all-costs kind of situation. Or, you know, it’s something somewhere between those two extremities. I err much more towards the camp who love snatching any chance to spend several hours being solitary. Not for too long, mind. There’s definitely a sweet spot between independence and isolation.
But give me a book, a museum, a river to walk along, or simply a morning to play around with unaccompanied by anyone else, and I’m content. It’s when I get all my thinking done. Lots of my seeking and learning and scheming too. Also most of my writing – though I only tend to count that as proper ‘alone’ time if it’s not accompanied by a nagging sense of fear at one looming deadline or another. It’s worth mentioning though, as I do seem to spend approximately half my life on a laptop with headphones in and fingers whirring. However, here I’m mainly interested in lonesomeness for leisure, rather than work…
‘Alone’ is such a different word to ‘lonely’ though. One is just a description of a temporary state of being that doesn’t include other people. The other is charged with dark resonance. Loneliness, the newspapers tell us, is on the rise. To be lonely is to be somehow lacking. Of course, the former can be used in just the same way. How many of us, at one point or another, have sighed/ cried/ written in a diary “I just feel so alone?” (Levels of melodrama up to the individual's discretion.) But now, to me, to be ‘alone’ is to have some much-appreciated time and space to call my own.
In fact, being happy to spend time by myself is something I remain supremely grateful for. Of course there’s the odd spot of loneliness, but mainly I feel at ease in my own company – happily self-sufficient. There were definitely points where I was less keen to just hang out with my thoughts. Perhaps they’ve helped to build the sturdy appreciation for mornings lazing around in bed with books, or evenings going to the cinema solo.
In case I’m painting some winsome, slightly sickening image here of days on end spent wandering through meadows and reading poetry on my own (that only happens occasionally, promise…), I should also point out here that I adore socialising. Most of my friends know that I tend to thrive on dashing around from one conversation to another. Last time I was in London I saw four consecutive lots of people, and collapsed, knackered, back on the train at 9pm. But I was also thrilled. The buzz of a day filled with good chats, ideas bandied back and forth across a table or living room, gave me a satisfaction like little else. In fact, I could flip the entire premise of this blog post to write something reveling in seeking and finding pleasure in the presence of others. Spending time with those I admire or appreciate is the most wonderful, joyous experience.
Maybe I welcome both states of being – intensely sociable, quietly solitary – precisely because there’s a balance between them. They cohabit side by side. Raucous laughter is fun. So is getting up early and cycling through a near-empty empty city. Each increases appreciation of the other. Maybe it helps that both are active choices – things I've had the ability to prioritise and value. And what a wonderful privilege that is...
These photos were taken over the summer in Sweden - where I was with my family, and played A LOT of very competitive Scrabble with my younger brother, but also spent a lot of time happily in my own little world: merrily reading, swimming and scribbling notes/ poems/ general witterings. I also spent lots of time swanning around in this glorious vintage Liberty print two-piece, which I adore. I nicked all the accessories from my mum.