Sunday, October 11, 2009

With only yourself for company...

It isn't that I despise being alone.

In fact, I am perfectly content to sit in my room or on my deck or out in the yard with a book in hand and tunes at the ready and wile away the day without ever laying eyes on another soul for hours upon hours. In college, there was many a day when I'd drag myself out onto the quad and plant myself under a tree or stake out my favorite spot at the library or off to a cafe somewhere to study all by my lonesome

It isn't that I despise being alone.

However, when I'm out and about and not running errands, I usually prefer to be accompanied by another soul. I suppose because it's the normal thing to want to be with someone else. Isn't it the "normal" thing to lunch with a friend, or see the sights with a buddy? Shouldn't you want to spend your free time lazing away the day with someone else to talk to?

It isn't that I despise being alone.

Call it an experiment in security or a mediocre rebellion against societial norms if you will (or maybe I just wanted to be left the hell alone)... Finding myself with 4 hours of time on my hands a few days ago and needing to be in the city for one thing or another, I fought my automatic urge to call up some friends to see if they could meet up for lunch or a quick person to person hello. I bravely set out to spend the day with someone I've been wanting to reconnect with for a long time now...


Is it really being alone if you're enjoying your own company?

First step...first steps, E.

I had lunch by myself. I have never had lunch out by myself (other than the quick lunch breaks from work...). Pagliacci's Pizza on Queen Anne. I picked a spot next to the wide windows that faced the street, and awkwardly spent 45 minutes filling my belly and watching the world pass me by. More than once I wanted to turn to the companion that normally I would have to remark upon something I saw. Instead I had to discuss it with myself in my head. "Oh look E! That beemer across the street is getting a parking ticket!" It turns out, I'm a great conversation with a very witty sense of humor. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Next step...

I pop in my headphones and walk the 3 blocks to the Seattle Center. I've never been to the Center by myself before. It was always with friends or family and as I walked past one of the many entrances, I felt slightly lonely and intimidated.

Soldiering on...

I can tell you the exact moment intimidation left me and was replaced by wonder. As I walk under the overhang that lead to the main Center I was greeted with the sight of an old man, sitting on a bench just inside the entrance underneath a copse of maple trees... they were red and gold and bathed with an indian summer light. I've been to the Center many many times before. Used this entrance many times again... And I've never noticed that copse of maple trees. Normally I would be chatting with my friends or planning the day with family. Too busy planning to tour the forest...and I would never have seen the trees.

Were they always there and I just never noticed?

Walking along the kiddy pool that is emptied in preparation for the upcoming weather, I see my first sight of the space needle. It's alone just like me, and perfectly content to be so. I find myself asking...well, myself...what to see first, where to go next.

You know what self? Just keep the tall white tower in sight and you can go wherever you want to.

I caught sight of the fountain...the fountain that I always try to touch every time I'm there. Saying hello to childhood and daring fate to catch me with a spray. Not one to watch my purse in case I get drenched. I settle for posting myself on the empty ledge, warmed by the sun at my back and just sitting for awhile to read. Sophie's World...A Novel about the History of Philosophy (less pretentious than it sounds).

Nobody telling me to move on. No forced conversation to fill the time. No time limit or agenda to see the next thing. Did you come all the way to the Seattle Center to just sit down and read? Why yes...Yes, I did.

The wind shifts and I feel the spray of the water misting me across the face. I set my book down and glance up. The empty fountain had filled up with kids and parents running around. With my eyes, I follow a small boy with his dad running up to try and beat the spray and touch the metal half-globe. My eyes wander upward to see if he will make it, and instead see a rainbow. Dancing and straining to manifest under the force of the water. Isn't this "contentment"? To be able to sit still and wait...not for someone to tell you what to do next or to force yourself to suggest the next sight to avoid boredom for the other person. Just to sit still and wait...for a rainbow to appear.

It's not horrible being alone.

I leave the fountain to the children and continue on... I come up to the carnival area. Also closed down for the season. Is it too melancholy to say I can hear the echoes of carnival music still ringing in the air? The horses and cars and coasters are alone too. Sitting still and waiting for the next time...just like me.

Something snaps me out of my mood and I glance towards my right and see my old friends...pan flute and mountain music from the Andes. Quichua Machis...still repelling the Alien Death. I sit across from them, tuck my knees under my chin and just listen. I listen until they announce (just for one else was there, too busy with a purpose...just me) that they will break for lunch and be back in 30 minutes.

Are you bored sitting here and listening E? Would you like to move on to something else? Would you like to discuss the cultural impact and ramifications of Peruvian music and politics to fill the void? No, thanks...I want to just to sit here and feel.

I leave when they leave and eventually find myself on the path towards the street. I look behind me...the tower is still there...I won't be lost.

I keep walking...not really paying attention until I hear the crunch of gravel and sand under my feet. Gravel and Sand? I snap back to attention and find myself in a little Japanese the beaten path so to speak. Completely out of the way of all the "things you really come to the center to see". Did anyone else know it was here? Has it always been here? Deja-vu of the copse of Maples.

I work my way out by following a path and come upon The Tubes. That's what I call them anyway. I drive past this statue at least twice a week. Twice a week for the past year and a half and I've never stopped to get a closer look. Always wanted to be close enough to touch them.

Walk underneath them to look up and out and all around.

Never got a chance to before...because it was out of the way. I was too busy and in a hurry. And I never wanted to ask my usual company if I can just sit underneath and look up. It's just a bunch of plastic tubes anyway. Maybe I was embarassed. Maybe I figured they had better things to do than indulge in a little kid-like wonder.

No matter, you have only to please yourself today.

I've seen the EMP more than many times. Have you ever wondered how those tiles look up close? How they feel when you touch them? Where exactly does the monorail go when it dissapears amidst its curves and corners? Of course I have. Have you ever found out? Today I will!

As my time alone wound down and I found myself walking back to my car with Priestess in my ears and a lightness in my step, I took one look back before passing the gates. It is very rare that I find such contentment anywhere, let alone by myself. It isn't so fact it was surprisingly pleasurable to sit back and just contemplate on life rather than having to actively live it for once. I understand now... Pleasure and happiness can be found anywhere. You don't have to find it in other people if you learn to grown it under your own feet. Contentment does not have to come from friends, family, or other acquaintances. Take a trip, plan your own day, schedule your agenda (or not) and rely not from the presence of others, but with only yourself for company.


Char said...

E- What a wonderful post! You might have been alone, but I was right there, taking a quiet walk with you. Thanks for sharing this.
I've never been to Seattle, but I was sure there today. The photos are great.


The Unbearable Banishment said...

Whoo-hoo! (He applauds.) Nice work E. You NEED friends and family. You can't get by without them. But there's a singular pleasure in spending time alone. You can't find yourself until you spend time in singular contemplation.

Great pics, to boot.

Chris said...

Self discovery at its best. Spectacular photography, writing that drew me in, and introspective thinking. I think this is one of the best posts I've read in a long time.

Cora said...

You know, I accidently found that Japanese Garden the first time I took Scope into the city. I never knew it was there either. We were just walking around that *BAM* there it was.

As for being alone, it can definitely be nice. I'm usually with kids all the time, but two weekends a month my daughter goes to her Dad's and I get time to myself and I find it quite enjoyable - and QUIET!! *blissful sigh*


SkylersDad said...

You make me yearn for some alone time.

Scope said...

As a bachelor of 43 years, I can tell you for a fact that there is a MASSIVE difference between being alone and being lonely.

And my second day / second date with Cora was to the Seattle Center, and the tubes, and the monorail, and the Japanese Garden. We were on the other end of summer, so I can easily imagine.

I am SO touching that fountain next opportunity.

NMOS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NMOS said...

Sometimes having that alone time to just contemplate is nice and necessary. I think they call those "reflection trips". But I do agree with The Unbearable Banishment and Scope, with respect to family and friends. It's good to have them in your life.

Your day at the Seattle Center looked great and fulfilling. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm actually at the SeaCtr (and/or at that Pagliacci's) at least one to two times a week (was just there today, in fact....see my blog), so I know that's one of the best places to find solace/solitude. If at any time you do feel like having company during lunch, just give me a ring. I also rarely eat alone. Like you, I also normally prefer to chat with someone while eating, or just hanging out with someone/others.

By the way, did you see the "hidden" table and 4 stools in the Japanese Garden?

Nice post & pics! :)

mo.stoneskin said...

I enjoy being alone at times, it is refreshing when at work and home you are not alone.

Sometimes if I want to be alone but near people I love just sitting in a pub, silently watching the time go by.

J.J. in L.A. said...

Loved this! Family is important...but growing up in a household of 9, "alone time" was at a premium. So I appreciate every little moment I can get now.

Although, the 6 week vacation my mom took that one time was a little much. I actually missed her somewhere around week 5 1/2. ; )

Thank you for the virtual tour!

Sid said...

There are certain things that I don't mind doing alone. I'm fine exploring the city and taking photos of everything I see. But I really can't sit by myself in a restaurant.

words...words...words... said...

This is a wonderful post...maybe my favorite of yours.

As I was reading it, I kept thinking of myself but in reverse. Just like you had to make time for being alone and weren't entirely comfortable with it at first, I have to make time for others and am not entirely comfortable with it. I spend much of my spare time doing as you did, and I have to make an effort to spend time in the company of friends.