Double Feature: Alone & Lonely

A friend once told me that even when he was with someone, he ended up alone. “I never meant for it to happen, but it did.” And he added that he was fine with it. This resonated, let me tell you. Are we all that way? Essentially alone and okay with it?

Actually I don’t think so. I think it’s just some of us. Some are alone by choice, some by circumstance, and some live in families of two or more where there seems to be genuine togetherness most of the time.

I love my husband but we don’t spend much time as a team at our house. Al is a bit of a loner, which I knew when I married him thirty years ago, and this was something that, at the time, I found quite attractive. I’d just untangled from a horribly possessive and dominating man and felt like with Al I could maintain my hard-won freedom. But everything comes at a cost.


After my friend’s confession, I had to admit, I was in the same situation. All my life, I have longed for closeness, and, for one reason or another, have seldom found it. My husband and I work on being close, with date nights, one day of the weekend devoted to each other, and regular vacations. Besides that, I’m pretty much on my own. Unless I need him, which I try not to do, but if I do, he will do his best to be there for me.

I guess I thought that by the time we were sixty we’d be two spoons in a drawer. But it didn’t happen that way. I’ve slowed way down since moving to the country while his pace is more frenetic than ever. I worry he works too hard and plays too hard, but I don’t say much, because when you get down to it, it’s his life. He’s still the guy I admired for his independent ways. I’ve got to honor that.

But it can get lonely. Not a lot, I can be alone an awful lot of the time without being lonely. I’m a writer. We train ourselves to be alone early. I’m a reader. I need great swaths of time to lose myself in books. And yet, after writing my chapter yesterday, I found myself with time on my hands and feeling blue. Husband had not kept our weekend date because he took Monday and Tuesday off. Not for me, he was helping his dad move house, but still, the man only has so many hours. And he was so good when Owen was here.


So I took myself off to a double feature. I’ve been going to the movies alone for more than thirty years and it doesn’t faze me at all. What was sort of amazing is that they’ve put a bar in at the show. And you can take your glass of wine right into the movie.

The first movie, Trainwreck, was a hilarious comedy that inexplicably made me cry. I figured out later that it made me feel lonely for that romantic love that is just not always available. I somehow hold out hope for people who have happy endings; I hope they continue. But I was feeling a little blue for Ms. Boo Hoo. Trainwreck, the number one movie that weekend at my theater, or so the bartender informed me as I stopped by for my glass of wine, had comic bite and everyone was funny. The crying episode was totally my bad, with a little bit of Judd Apatow to blame. And tears before wine!

It was nice to have a glass of wine watching Love & Mercy. This was not a comedy, but a bio-pic about two important creative phases in Brian Wilson’s life. His musical flowering and then the slow descent of a sensitive soul who’s taken advantage of and so very unappreciated. It’s devastating to see this fall but so very affirming to see him crawl out of the hole he’d dug for himself, pushed down deeper and left for dead by crass commercialism, mean people, and manipulators.

It’s no secret: Brian prevailed! So that makes two happy endings in one day. They were both great films, but the second one was sweeter. Because it was true, and because it was earned.

Also John Cusack plays Brian. JOHN CUSACK. I never miss a movie by this master of soul. It’s like everyone else fades into the background when he’s in the shot. Or if he’s not in the shot there’s a little toe tap of “When will John Cusack be back?” I sipped my wine and never had to wait long. He’s got a meaty part and he plays it like Brian plays piano.

So if you’re feeling blue, go to the movies. It’s okay to go alone. I never even notice it anymore. I don’t need a person by my side. I’m interested in the people on the screen. And after the films, I met Al for pizza and then went home and listened to Pet Sounds.

For Love

As the big day for romance approaches I am filled with love. It has been said that we are only able to fully love when we acknowledge that the world is a terrible place. It is. And yet…we have chemistry on our side. Oxytocin, the so-called cuddle chemical (L. Phillips) fills me as I write this from my firelit room in freezing Michigan, far away from the sunny little one who caused this physical reaction. on 2-5-15 at 6.36 PM #2

This is Owen. No matter the distance, my love for him persists.

I’m a fortunate person. All my life I have had one goal: to be a good wife and mother. And while I have not always met my own expectations, in fact, have often failed, I am grateful to have lived to see both my children grown and beloved and happy. Recently, I have also found my own hard-won happiness. For the first time in my life, I am putting myself first. I love my family. Visiting my son, his wife, and my grandson makes that love feel very immediate. So I have many reasons to feel fortunate, although they all come down to one thing: love.


A friend gave me the picture frame above. Family is Everything. Is that true? Certainly I’ve lived my life as if it were. But what about friendship? I really love my friends. And I feel such compassion for all the lonely people without family or a beloved or a best friend. Because their circumstances leave them without close connections, are they nothing? Do they deserve nothing? I think they deserve everything. Love is everything and everyone deserves it. Unless they, you know, rape and pillage and so forth. Those people, I don’t know. They probably never got enough love. Or they were born defective, without empathy, which is the definition of a psychopath.

I don’t really like to talk about my family and psychopaths in the same post. It’s an unfortunate and uncomfortable truth: the world can be such a sad, bad place but also full of joy and wonder.

This weekend we have official permission to dwell on love. I measure life a success if you have happiness and love. The two seem to me to be twins, mirroring each other, shining like glitter on fresh snow. But ah, there’s the catch: snow is cold and icy and so too is a life without love, or a life that is lived loving someone who will never return your feelings.

Unrequited love is much on my mind as we come to Cupid’s special day. I think of all the sad lovers, the unhappy lovers, the unrequited lovers in the world. For so many people, this weekend is going to be full of tears. I have been in that place. Is there anyone who has not?

If you came to this page because you’re alone on a day when it hurts more than usual, I can tell you again: love yourself first. Love can transform itself. You can love someone without them returning that love and it is still good to feel that love inside yourself. Turn it around and give it to yourself. It feels a little weird at first but it works, I swear it does.

Photo on 10-20-14 at 5.39 AM

You can be alone with a box of chocolates and love yourself, not by eating the box empty, but by feeling that love you have for another as a good thing. Let it expand and fall back upon your own self. Love is why we are here: to love ourselves well and to love others. Feel love, send love, speak love. Even if you are sad and alone and have the flu. I in fact have the flu at this moment and perhaps that is why this post seems a little effusive. The DayQuil made me do it!

Love yourself well. Take rest and allow your heart to heal if it is broken or bruised or heavy.

Like attracts like and if you let love reside without prejudice, it will return to you. You will be loved. Love is not what you think it is. It is not always hearts and flowers and that sweet rush of pure junkie joy that comes from the new. We get addicted to the high of new love like we get addicted to chocolate and grandchildren. After my time with Owen, I wanted someone to make me a perfume that smelled like him: milk and baby lotion and that special Owen-ness.

Sometimes love can be quiet and strong and giving. Give love freely even when it flies right out the window, right past the heart you aim it at. Love anyway. If you are broken, let love heal your heart. And if you have the flu, take two NyQuil and call me in the morning.

Surrender to the Words

Shame. Dammit. There it is again. I feel it burning in my chest. Surrender, don’t suppress. Sure enough it dissipates, even sooner than I’d thought possible. I’ve been surrendering to my uncomfortable and negative feelings for months now, simply sitting with the pain as it moves through me. When I first began doing this as a regular practice, it took much longer, sometimes an entire thirty minute meditation session.

I remember when meditation used to be for relaxing deeply into nothingness. Surrendering to the empty everything. So relaxing not to have to think about feelings. Or feel them. I was suppressing, or that’s my guess. You can suppress or repress and repress is automatic, you really can’t control it, it just happens to save you from pain. Suppressing negative emotions also saves you from pain — in the short run. But let me tell you, it comes back. Especially if you are going through a particularly bad patch in life.

Everyone has those. No shame there. No shame in trying to fix them, either. My shame goes a little bit deeper than that … it’s #ShareBlogSunday on Twitter and as I sipped a coffee and caught up with my favorite bloggers, I came upon Sharon’s post about choosing a word for the year. Hers for 2014 was “release” and that’s another way of letting go. Surrender to the feeling, allow yourself to feel it, if it hurts. Don’t suppress it, which is always my first inclination, but now I just surrender, feel the pain, and release happens by itself. Surrender is the first part of release.

I started thinking about a word for myself for this year. It’s gonna be peace. I need me some. Surrendering to the painful parts of life “the full catastrophe” as Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it, is now a habit with me. It feels good to let it out and let it go. I tend to stick with things that feel good, like meditation  and yoga and drinking wine and writing. I know surrendering will bring peace. It already has, a tiny bit.

But there’s that shame. It’s old, and it’s been shoved so far down it is crammed and compacted and now that it’s coming up it just expands and expands. There’s always more. I might be releasing, um I mean surrendering, this crap for the rest of my life. That’s okay. That way I die clean. Shameless no matter what.

I’ll tell you what brought on the latest round of shame … I’m reading a new self-help book and I wrote a too-long Facebook comment on it that was supposed to be funny. A commenter chastised me for it, advising me to stop reading that self-help crap. I was having fun reading the book and cracking myself up about how much self-help I’ve done though the years, I just laughed and laughed, until this comment made me feel bad about myself. Listen, I like to laugh at myself. I think of the self as the human condition in that we are all in it together and we all have felt these emotions and its absurd and wonderful and just a laugh to look back on our particular peculiarities.

But that comment, meant kindly I’m sure, made me feel all alone in my strangeness. It wasn’t so funny anymore. Shame, shame, shame. Except …  the commenter misunderstood.

I wouldn’t change anything. I’d still read every one of those books and have incorporated many of the habits of mind such material has given me. I’m better for it. I like myself better. I’m more at ease in the world, and that ain’t been easy. So anyway, that was the particular shame thing, not anybody’s fault, just my own stuff coming up from lord knows where. A blog post I read this morning by my friend Laura Zera had another clue for me.

Laura wrote about making a soundtrack of your life. Like in songs. She wrote hers down. It was fascinating. Some good tunes on there! I love music. And I thought about making my own soundtrack, just like I thought about finding a word for 2015. What can I say? I like trying things. So I thought back to the first song I really loved. The song I played over and over on my first record player when I was a little girl. It was Elvis and it was “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” I was five years old and I thought someday he’d marry me and we’d never be lonesome again.

I actually felt a pang when I was thirteen and he married Prisilla. I felt betrayed for a minute. I know it was stupid, and I quickly suppressed that feeling. “You’re such an ass” I told myself. Then, and this is years later, I cried the day he died. I don’t cry easily and especially about celebrities who I once adored but currently made me cringe. I felt embarrassed about that, too. My husband was simply baffled. I bought the switchplate snapped above a few years later. It’s been through many moves with me. And then today I thought about that song and I realized it is the soundtrack of my life. All by itself. One song.

Elvis does some spoken word on that song. He says “You know someone once said the world’s a stage” and that someone is of course Shakespeare who I went on to study extensively and to teach for many years. My favorite play As You Like It includes that “All the World’s A Stage” speech. I never made the connection before today. Do I love Shakespeare because he’s Elvis’s “someone who once said…”?

And the whole “lonesome” thing. If my life had a word “lonesome” would be it. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams is the only country song in the world I adore, because country is not my thing, but that one speaks to me so clearly. Williams knew lonesome. Don’t we all?

I’m not alone in this lonesome thing. Plenty of people have told me, or written, that they too feel isolated, alone, distanced, detached … one of the most famous Buddhist sayings is “we are born alone and we die alone” and nobody can argue with that. Being alone, being unknowable, is the basic fact of humanity. We all feel it. Or we suppress it. I think I’ve suppressed it. A lot. Because everybody longs for connection, even if they don’t know it. It’s in our nature.

We want connection, we miss it over and over, we are lonesome. Or alone. Because they are different. Lonesome is the shameful, sad side of alone. Alone and okay with it is fine, maybe even enlightened. People like me, who seek to constantly improve their happiness quota as quickly and painlessly as possible, will do things like fall in love, get married, go on dates, have many friends, all in order to stave off lonesome.

I’ve been “in love” a million times, playing out that same scenario Elvis speaks: “Act One was when we met/You read your lines so cleverly and never missed a cue/Then came Act Two/You seemed to change/You acted strange/And why I’ll never know./Honey, you lied when you said you loved me/Though I had no cause to doubt you/But I’d rather go on hearing your lies/Than to go on living without you./Now the stage is bare/And I’m standing there/With emptiness all around/And if you won’t come back to me/Then they can bring the curtain down.”

Elvis was still speaking, that whole part. I have not played that song in over fifty years, but I remember every word. Then he sings “Is your heart filled with pain? Shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?” And that’s the end of the song. Except for those brief “Act One” in-love moments, my answer has always been YES I AM. I’m lonesome.

Even married. Even with a boyfriend. Even in a room full of people who love me. I feel so alone and not happy about that. I feel so lonesome around people I hate parties. I have to go home and be alone just to feel better about being so lonesome. It’s fucked up, yeah? Shame. Come on, you know you want to hit me again. But shame is not here right now. Neither is lonesome. Peace is here. And oh how I welcome it. Now I just gotta make a new soundtrack.