Alone time

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I think I have written about how I don’t enjoy talking to a lot of people anymore. This might not seem like a big deal to many people. Especially the quieter ones. Like my sister for example. She rarely talks to other people. You really have to draw her out into having a conversation and even when you manage to do that you get the distinct sense that she is participating only to please you. For me though, it has been a massive change.

I can barely stand to make conversation with most people nowadays. And it isn’t because I don’t like them. Most of these people are close friends, they are people I genuinely adore. But somehow, I just don’t have any interest in the things they have to say. Every single time I get pulled into a conversation I have to force myself to go through the motions – it really isn’t an enjoyable experience for me anymore.

Alone time has become precious currency for me.

Once I started enjoying the time I spent alone, away from people and their incessant problems (which I’m sure mean a lot to them but very little to me, as selfish as that sounds), and really started enjoying my own company, I was more or less spoilt for others. There are not many spaces of my existence left in which I want to let people in. I don’t mind enjoying them from a distance or enjoying the idea of them.

And the thing is – I’m not depressed. I don’t mean any of this in a sad girl-done with life way. I feel so happy to be left alone. For the first time in months, I feel emotionally stable. And it turns out, I never even get bored. I make great conversation in my head. I have tons of interests in common with myself. And I never disagree with my own movie choice, so that is sorted too.

I remember a couple of years ago – when I was just starting out on being alone, truly alone, for the first time – one of my closest friends told me he is scared of spending too much time alone, because what if he starts to enjoy it too much and then never wants to make an effort to spend time with anyone else ever again? I see what he meant now. I really can’t imagine anyone’s company being more enjoyable than my own. I hope someone out there can prove me wrong, but it doesn’t seem likely to occur in the near future. I read somewhere that the term ‘alone’ is used differently to show different states of being. You say loneliness when being alone is a negative feeling for you and solitude when it is positive. It definitely is positive for me.

And also when you’re alone and doing things you enjoy you stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. You stop caring who hasn’t invited you to which event, you stop caring about the things people are getting upto – new jobs, new partners, new stresses – none of these things matter. At the risk of sounding preachy, I genuinely think I have reached some inner well of peacefulness. It may be temporary, sure, but so be it.

Stories for days

I read a book recently. The Lonely City. I don’t think any book I have read this year captures my mood for the year better than this book. The book talks about loneliness – no shocker there. But it talks about that specific, anonymous, discoloured loneliness you can only get in cities, made even more incongruous because you are constantly surrounded.

The author, Olivia Laing, talks about some of the best contemporary art and how so much of it was born from persons who were intensely, and always, lonely. Edward Hopper for example. I hadn’t seen his paintings before 2020. And then I saw a post online talking about how the entire year in lockdown has felt like being in a Hopper painting. If you look at his paintings, it usually shows a single subject sitting in a cold, isolated, dispassionate city scape. He used a lot of greens and blues in his paintings. Laing calls this the ‘Hopper Green’ in her novel. It reminds me of that depressing green you’ll often find in abandoned diners or public washrooms. If I had to put a feeling to the colour, I would say it reminds me of when you’re walking around in the rain but the water has already seeped into your shoes, so you just walk around in silent, wet, misery.

There are a bunch of other artists she talks about (including one who worked as a janitor and made art his whole life, never told anyone about it, and died alone in a room, where they discovered all his art only because his neighbours complained about the stink coming from his home), but towards the end she talks about a man named Josh Harris. The man made a bunch of money in the dot com boom. But he became disgruntled with what was happening around him quite quickly. He predicted that the internet would take on a much less benign form in a couple of years, it’ll become a space where every single person will compete for visibility for the most mundane things, and showcase their lives to the fullest, dystopian degree just because they can. And well, he wasn’t wrong. To prove that he was right about the ways in which human nature will interact with constant access and visibility, he held a social experiment (there is a movie on this too). He invited strangers (anyone and everyone was welcome, it was on a first come first serve basis) to live in a house for a period of time. All the amenities they could want would be provided to them. They would be denied only two things – privacy, and the option of exiting the house before the experiment was over. Every single part of the house was covered with cameras that streamed the happenings of the house to the outside world constantly.

The result? People started behaving in bizarre ways. They started acting out for attention. They became hostile towards their housemates for no reason. And almost all of them became depressed beyond measure. They were simultaneously fighting to be the most visible in the house, while feeling increasingly disconnected with reality the more air time they got. The experiment had to be shut down (for obvious reasons). Harris wasn’t happy though. He wanted to take this live streaming, this shit show of total visibility to its logical conclusion. So, he set up cameras in his own house. The idea was to record himself and his partner for 30 days (I think, could have been longer) no matter what. Every bit of their lives (and I mean every single bit – including washroom breaks) was made available to a voyeuristic public. This time though, the people watching could also give live feedback. And they did. Harris and his partner started behaving in the same way the participants of the first experiment had – they became more aggressive, less sensitive, more radical, and more depressed. They started fighting more, because as it turns out, that was what got people going. And as they fought, they noticed that the public opinion was usually with Harris’ partner and not him. When the experiment ended, the couple broke up, and Harris moved to an unknown location – became a recluse for the next couple of years.

Now, as shocking as this was at the time, it is much more uncomfortable to read now. Not only did the man predict (with uncanny precision) how the internet would change all of us, but the effects most of us feel (at least I know I do) are the same. I can’t stop putting stuff out there. And most of the times it doesn’t even make me happy. I want to post even though I feel deep revulsion for my online persona as soon as I am done posting, but I still can’t stop doing it. The worst of it is the Instagram stories. I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe because they are temporary, I don’t feel like I need to put in effort and can post whatever I want. But it isn’t that effortless either. I always think about it. I keep going back to the app, and whenever I do, the first thing I check is my story. How many people viewed it? How many people reacted? What does the story look like from someone else’s account? I’m not even as bothered about comparing myself to others on social media as I am to comparing myself to what I put up online. Anyway, I could keep going on about this. Go check out the book if you have time, I promise it is worth it.

Talking to people

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I’m a talkative person by any standard. I love talking. To people I know, to people I don’t know, anyone and everyone. I can talk about almost anything. I consume an unhealthy amount of media and so I never run out of things to talk about. Just to give you context,I spent the entire day yesterday researching how we size our garments. Interesting history there, but I have to write a blog post on that as part of my fashion course anyway, so I am saving that for later. I do that a lot – spend a lot of time researching things that interest me. These are rarely, if ever, relevant to my life. I just like to know things. And whenever I am not actively looking for things, I am still consuming a lot of media passively. In all its forms. There are the books I love to read. I read a total of five books in August (not counting the many, many YA fantasy novels I devour, provided they can be read for free on Kindle Unlimited). I watch movies all the time. I’m on social media for the better part of my day. I’m obsessed with watching YouTube videos. Because I have such an unhealthy level of media consumption, I’ve become a repository of trivia. I can talk about my favourite fictional characters, cooking shows, podcasts and the ideas people discuss in those, till my jaw starts to hurt. But I have been steadily running out of people to talk to.

For the last two years though, ever since the pandemic hit, I haven’t really had anyone to talk to. I don’t mean that in a dramatic sense. I live with my family, and I usually talk to them at meal times. But it is tiring for them to listen to everything I have to say, and quite frankly, boring for me to have to contend with such few opinions. I want people to disagree with me. I want to learn something from people every time I talk to them. I don’t like talking to people who have had the same experiences as me – except when I need to vent. Or at least, I didn’t like it. Now that I have no access to actual human interaction outside of blood relatives, I see what a privilege that was.

When the pandemic first started people didn’t really take it seriously. None of us thought this was going to last as long as it did. For most of us, myself included, it seemed like nothing more than a well-deserved, state mandated break from work or school or whatever else our obligations might have been. The losses since then have been unending. There have been real and measurable losses all of us suffered – the loss of a loved one, of a job or a source of income, amongst others. But there has also been the psychological impact of being isolated for such a long period of time. I didn’t take all of this seriously at first. The human loss, the economic loss, yes. Those things I could see happening around me. But coming across reports of how people aren’t faring too well in isolation – because of the loneliness – I didn’t take that as seriously. I didn’t think this was something that could really affect me. I just took it to be one of those things people always talk about but doesn’t happen to anyone. I had my family, and I had a fairly comfortable existence even in the pandemic. Plus I had access to any and every form of entertainment I might need on the internet. What could possibly get me down? A lot, as it turns out.

I have people around me, but I don’t have access to people I would really talk to. Like any other self-respecting young adult out there, I only talk to my family when I have no one else to talk to. They’re great, but they aren’t really down with entertaining you at all hours of the day. Not in the way your friends, or other people around you are. If I had to – I can only compare it to how people describe hometowns in movies. You know the story of how a kid grows up in a small town, leaves it for other more exciting places, and then comes back. While our hero is happy to be back in said hometown, they really cannot fathom living here for the rest of their lives (at least this is how most of them go). They’ve outgrown it. All of us outgrow our families to some extent. And for the last two years, our growth has been stunted. Yes, we have access to all this technology and we can reach out to whoever we want whenever we want. I still don’t though. A part of the reason why I think I find it hard to call / text other people in my life is because that part of my social etiquette is still stuck in pre-pandemic times. When we didn’t really worry about the next time we were going to see our friends, so we reached out to them rarely. At least, I know I did. And now, even though that is the only way I can talk to most of them, I hesitate to do it.

The less I talk to others, the heavier my head feels with all the information I keep forcing into it. This blog is one of the ways I can let some of it out. I talk to myself as I type so that it feels a little like a conversation, albeit one sided.