Am writing to say that I’m putting the blog on hiatus for a bit. I’ve enjoyed writing LonelyTheBook, and have especially enjoyed hearing from people all around the world. Right now, though, my attention is on responding to loneliness. This means I’m going to be creating a new blog. Whether that means an entirely new site, I’m not sure, but things will be changing.
I will be looking for interview subjects for the upcoming book, so please stay tuned, and if you see me post about something that captures your fancy–such as “religion” or “animals”–just get in touch.
I’ve been running this blog for over two years, and some of you (you know who you are) have been with me from the get-go. To you, I say thank you. In fact, as a way of thanking you, I am signing off with my all-time favourite quote about loneliness, ever. The smartest and most lovely and simply the best thing anyone has ever said about it. It’s from a poem by Franz Wright, and it reads:
Since you left me at eight I’ve been lonely / Star-far from the person right next to me.
“Star-far from the person right next to me.” Does it get any better than that, folks? How I wish I had written that! Here’s to the future–to changing the sense of being “star-far.” I look forward to our continued adventures.
One question I get a lot is: Have you read The Highly Sensitive Person? I haven’t, partly because I feel as though I don’t need to read it. I AM the highly sensitive person. (People say this to me about Lonely, too: “Oh, I could read your book but it’s already my life. What else is there to know?”)
I do plan to read HSP. In fact, it’s probably going to get worked into Book The Second, at least in a tangential way. Is there a link between loneliness and the HSP? Here I’m on shakey ground, and feel a bit silly, because I haven’t read the book. But so many people have stressed that there must be a connection.
Here’s what I do know. I’m super sensitive to noise, and to heat, and to light in the summer. I’m also probably a bit more sensitive to rejection than the average person, but these things are hard to judge, and my sensitivity probably varies from situation to situation. I’ve also found myself in situations where I haven’t felt sensitive at all–such as having some senior partner at a law firm scream at me, or blowing off bad reviews of my work (we won’t talk about *that* ELLE review).
Is there a link to loneliness? Some researchers argue that people who struggle with loneliness are more sensitive to rejection than other people, and that this fear of rejection can fuel the loneliness cycle — the more you fear rejection, the less likely you are to reach out, and the more lonely you become. But I also hear from people (all the time) who can only be decribed as incredibly tough: they can handle isolation, job losses, break ups…and still write to me with an awful lot of good humour. So maybe they’re *not* more sensitive than the next person.
Am going to stop there. Could keep analyzing this but am so TOTALLY exhausted right now from writing more or less non stop that I might just collapse. Was not going to blog today, but picked up an HSP comment (thank you) and it got me thinking. If you have thoughts, feel free to add them.
First, my apologies. I knew a lot of time had gone by since my last post, but when people started to ask, “Are you OK?” I knew I’d really left things too long.
I’ve also been very remiss about returning emails. If you’re written to me, thank you! I am not ignoring you and will write back shortly.
The problem, I’ve discovered, is that I’m a one-trick pony. Am working on Book The Second, and when I’m doing that I can’t write anything else. Nothing. It’s like my mind turns itself on when I sit down to work on a chapter, and just switches itself off when the chapter’s packed up.
Good news! Am now on Chapter 4 (five, really, if you count the preamble). Now the doubt sets in. I find there are at least two stages to writing. The first stage is when you feel really good and confident. The second stage is when you think, “OMG, it’s all awful.” You can go back and forth between these two poles endlessly: confidence, despair, confidence, despair. It’s a tiny bit crazy-making.
There are wonderful people in the world called editors, and I’ll be contacting mine soon for some professional feedback. A few clear words from an editor (“fix this,” or “this doesn’t work,” or “have you thought about X?”) can totally stop the crazy see-saw. The problem is that you can’t contact an editor until the material is pretty much ready to go, and to get to that point…well, it’s the see-saw again.
I’m blogging today because I’m not writing. I have a headache, and–even WORSE–it’s starting to get hot in Toronto. Like, really hot. I have a fan and an air conditioner but I hate feeling as though I can’t head out during the days. My brain just fries. I lose my sunglasses and forget my sunblock and it all just goes downhill…
See! I do love to blog. I could babble on for hours. I like reaching out. I just have to try harder to do this while I’m writing. There might be one or two of you still reading. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone else gave up on me. There will be more to follow. More b*tching about the summer. Updates on the book. Oh, and stuff about loneliness and isolation and how to respond to it.
Thanks for all the feedback to date.
I’m now full up for the first phase of interviews. You know what that means? It means you guys ROCK! I’m going to be conducting running interviews over the course of the next several months, so please keep your eye on this blog, as there will be plenty of chances for “jumping in” on different subjects. The book is weaving and winding and slowly taking shape. Feedback helps, so many thanks.
I am rapidly changing direction when it comes to feedback. Online feedback works really well for some books (Gretchen Rubin’s *The Happiness Project* uses online feedback exclusively), but it’s not working for me. I find I get curious about people’s posts, and I want to follow up, and I’d really, in the final analysis, just rather be having a conversation.
So I’m now seeking interviewees for a series of questions about place, loneliness, and belonging. The questions will range from home, to neighbourhood, to city, and will examine what these places mean to you. How do you create a sense of home when living alone? Do you feel embedded in your neighbourhood? Does your city feel cold to you? Do you fantasize about moving to the country? Or have you moved to the country only to find yourself cut off and alone?
The questions will be wide-ranging. We can talk about what’s most important to you.
Remember: I change all identifying details, so no one will know it’s you. This has worked in the past and it’s an approach I’m comfortable with.
I can call or Skype you anywhere in the world. If you’re interested in participating, please just send me a note. And, two quick follow up points: If you’ve already sent me comments by email, but are in the mood for a talk, we can just pick up where your comments left off. Also, if you have emailed me in the past to say that you’d be happy to participate in future research, please note that I’m not ignoring you! It’s just hard of me to keep track of individual comments. I *do* want to hear from you!
One more quick note: Rest assured that any comments sent to me will be kept entirely confidential. It’s the stories that matter…your identity will be protected.
OK, so I think the last post might have been a bit vague. Let me try again.
I’m interested in how people use place as a response to loneliness (or how you see place as a contributor to feelings of isolation). How, in other words, does place help or hinder feelings of loneliness? Are you attached to a specific place? Does your neighbourhood feel cold and unfriendly? Is your home your refuge, or do you find that living alone (and being alone in the home) makes loneliness much worse?
Basically, I’m opening things up. Hopefully this approach is more workable. I’m learning that posting Qs online is very different from a long, person-t0-person interview. So please be patient — I’ve got to get the hang of this new approach!
Again, think place. Where do you find a sense of belonging? Have you lost a comforting place? Found one?
I could keep going with these questions, but will leave it at that for now. Post to the blog or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My apologies. I’ve been out of touch for weeks. First, there was the maddening illness, and then (more significantly) came revisions to a book proposal I was working on. Book proposals are strange creatures: you have to imagine an entire book which is not yet written, and then convince an editor that this not-yet-written book is worth her time.
Happy news! Editor liked the not-yet-written idea. This means that my next book is sold, and will be published at the beginning of 2014. (Note: this is for Canada only. US and UK rights have to be sold separately.) The book is really a follow up to Lonely. It will look at what we can do in *response* to loneliness. This is something that I didn’t spend much time on when writing Lonely. This was for two main reasons: 1. There wasn’t a lot of work available on the subject, and 2. My interests were really elsewhere. But now that Lonely is behind me, I feel like I have some unfinished business. I need to know what a person can do, on their own, to answer the loneliness in his or her life.
For this, I’m going to need volunteers. With Lonely, I worked with a core group of about 20 people, but I think my approach this time around will be more diffuse. I want to talk to various people about various things. So please keep your eye on this website. Some topics might interest you quite a lot, and you might feel like sharing your thoughts. I’ll be posting calls for volunteers on this page, and also on my seriously defunct Twitter stream.
Thanks for the notes and messages about my health. I’m all better now, and am looking forward to connecting with some of you in the months to come.
I know that people read this blog from all over, and that in some places (like sunny Australia) it is not cold and flu season, but here in Canada, it certainly is. I caught a bug a week ago and now have a pack-a-day hack and the energy of an omelette. Not to worry! I know that the worst will soon be over, and I’m grateful that I generally have excellent health.
But my week-plus of illness has been interesting from an almost sociological perspective. I live alone, and the cold (both the illness itself and the fact that it seems pretty contagious) has meant that I’ve had to cancel *all* social ties. I’ve basically spent the past week saying, “Four days since social contact. Five days since social contact,” and so on. I’ve also become more than usually self-sufficient. Family members have offered to bring me groceries, but the grocery store is only a block away, and I’ve been able to walk there, so I’ve told people I can get by on my own.
And I have been able to get by, but the solitude has got me thinking. There is so much written these days about the wonders of living alone, and some of this writing is (a) really good, and (b) long overdue. But weeks like this one make me realize how tough living alone can actually be. There hasn’t been anyone to bring me tea. No one to entertain me with tales of the wider world after I’ve spent the day in bed. No one to ration out cough drops when I’m on the verge of coughing up a lung. Instead, I’ve been relying on virtual company — on my email accounts, and (somewhat obsessively) on news articles online.
I’m not saying that there aren’t good things to living alone. Clearly, many people enjoy the peace and solitude such a situation can offer. But we have to recognize that not all people have chosen aloneness (I, for one, was basically kicked into it this past spring) and that living alone can be, at times, exceptionally difficult. This past week has felt like a solitary confinement experiment, and I haven’t enjoyed it. I’ve got things to do this coming week — meditation class, dinner with a friend — and I find myself hungry for companionship.
So this post is really going out to a select few: those who live alone, and who find themselves sick this winter. It’s lousy. (And a week spent alone can really remind you of lots of other periods of unchosen aloneness.) If you find yourself sick and on your own this winter, drink plenty of fluids, stay warm, and be really, really good to yourself. It will pass.
Wasn’t sure what to call this post. What I’m trying to get at is this: I’ll see a headline in the NY Times about something like US combat dogs being abandoned in Iraq, and I won’t be able to read it. I mean I am viscerally unable to open the link. The same goes for stories about shark hunting (shark populations are collapsing), drowning polar bears (thank global warming), and leopards being kept in tiny enclosures as pets.
Is this just me? I think not. I think that loneliness, especially if it’s experienced on a long-term basis, really does sensitize you to suffering. And it involves this terrible vulnerability — you feel too much alone, too unguarded. And I think that sense of vulnerability leaves you uniquely attuned to people and creatures who’s vulnerability is being exploited & who can’t fend for themselves. This could mean street kids, or women involved in the sex trade, or whole families starving in Africa.
Do other people find this to be true? Do stories of pain feel like they’re aimed right at you? And is it one “domain” or many? In my case, I find I can’t read or watch animals-in-distress stories. The thought of watching a documentary like “The Cove” (about the dolphin slaughter) makes me hyperventilate. But I have read long stories about the sex trade and I find that, while they are disturbing, I can tolerate them.
What interests me about this “can’t look” phenomenon is that I think it provides me with a clue about how to start responding to my feelings of disconnection. Put simply, I have to start looking. I ripped a story out of a magazine last week about shark drownings, and it’s been sitting on my kitchen table ever since. I’ve now piled other things on top of it, but can see the photo (a man casting a net) peeking out from under a book. I intend to *read* this story. This may seem like a silly goal. Like, just read the story already! For others this may be a simple thing to do. For me, it isn’t.
I plan to study my reactions as I force myself to read things I normally avoid. (And it is mostly reading, since I no longer have a TV.) Perhaps the act of reading and learning won’t be as bruising as I expect it to be. Or maybe it will be. Either way, I’m going to start turning to the things I’m now studiously avoiding, all in the hopes that this act of what is essentially caring might make me feel more connected.