Good morning! The sky here is just now burning from light blue to bright around the eastern horizon — I’ve got my tea and candle, the quiet music and the slightly louder music of rush hour traffic out front. The puppy has her nose pressed against the material of her new bed, so that every time she exhales she sounds as though she has a cold with bad congestion.
In less than a week (the day after Fierce Hunger), I will be forty-one. Outside one of the returned sparrows (maybe) is trilling its good morning into the branches of the live oak tree. Inside the puppy comes to say hello to me and wriggles herself around and around and around with the joy of hands on her skin and fur. Outside a crow is craning its song into the high new sky, over the crowd of car noise and trainsong, well beneath the hymn of the airplane. This morning I am thinking about loneliness and solitude, and how one can have everything or nothing to do with the other. This morning I am alone but have no loneliness in my bones; I am breathing connection and friendship, grateful for these hours without company so that the introvert in me can breath her full and necessary skin out into the room unobserved. This morning I can love you best because you are not right here with me — I can hold all I know of who you are, hold it in my fingers, stroke each facet and nuance into the morning sunlight. I can trust that you will not disappear while I take time, separate from you, to reflect on our togetherness.
Introverts, I think, need this kind of space, some more than others. The best description of introvert and extrovert I ever heard came from my mother, who explained that extroverts are energized through spending time with other people, while introverts are drained by spending time with other people. This doesn’t mean that introverts don’t like being with people — it means that we use energy when doing so, and need to replenish separate from others. Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to have their energy replenished when they’re with other people. I found this definition quite helpful. Sometimes I want to fill the well with others, but most often, I will need time alone to fully replenish my energy stores.
For this forty days of Lent, I have stopped watching tv when I’m alone. When I decided to participate in the “fasting” (inspired by folks I know who take a social media fast during Lent), I told myself that I could watch tv if I was with someone else (it’s ok if it’s a social activity), and I’m allowed to watch a movie if I want: just no tv programs, while alone, for these forty days.
Even though I don’t have a television, it’s easy enough to access television with internet access and a computer; and because I can either rent/check out the dvds of tv series or stream them on the computer, I can lose an hour (or two, or four) telling myself, “just one more — they’re only twenty minutes!” with my favorite sitcoms. I wanted to let myself notice what it feels like to try something else at the times when I would otherwise sit down with a tv program (and not get up for an hour or more).
Over the last year, I’ve moved away from eating to numbness and drinking to numbness; television is one of the last numbing vices I still use. Now, I think it’s good and necessary for us to have in our toolbox a wide array of self-care techniques: massage, good sex, hot bath, exercise, deep cry, journaling are all good; also, I’ve got popcorn and bad tv on the nights when everything in my head needs to come to a full stop. However, I’ve noticed recently, I’ve started watching longer and longer stretches of tv. I do this when I’m overwhelmed or triggered, mostly, and when I use tv this way, I tend to re-watch shows I’ve seen many times before, rather like I’m spending time with friends who won’t expect anything from me — I can just show up and hang out on the couch while they perform for me. And after awhile, I get lonely and self-shaming: these aren’t your friends. They’re not even real people. They’re caricatures of real people. The actors themselves are long done with their work and are out actually living their lives, unlike you. Shame-in-isolation has been a safer place for me than the risk required to connect with a real live friend; I see how my psyche is working to protect me. But this is the thing — I don’t feel replenished or like I’ve taken care of myself after I use tv in this way; I feel more drained.
When I don’t turn on the tv, I might reach for a book. Sometimes I just sit with the silence, noticing how I’m feeling. Or I call a friend. I’m making a lot more connections with the live friends, the ones off the screen. I take the puppy for a walk or I turn on the computer to get some work done. I feel less drained when I haven’t watched tv for hours before I go to bed. What will it feel like at the end of these six weeks, this fasting in service of self-care?
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There’s the line from Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese: “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely/ the world offers itself to your imagination” — what about writing today about solitude versus loneliness? How does one resonate with you (or your characters) versus the other? Can you replenish in solitude, or does solitude make you lonely? Give yourself at least ten minutes — follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.
Thank you, today, for your self-knowledge, how you are trusting what you body and deep self ask for, how you offer care to your good self like you deserve it (because, you know, you do). Thank you for your good good words.