As a single person, writer and introvert-in-denial, I spend quite a bit of time alone. Which of these are causes and which are effects (am I an introvert because I'm a writer? Am I single because I'm an introvert?), I do not know.
Most often I seek this time to myself. I relish it, bathe in it. Often I am literally bathing in it. Baths are my favorite way to be alone (see bio).
Recently, however, while talking with a friend, I realized that most of my alone time is spent anxiously. I am a busy person, which is not to say that I am busy; restless may be a better word. Exceedingly lazy, but rarely relaxed. I feel as though I should be doing something, working on something, experiencing something every moment of every day. I am constantly fearful that I am wasting time. Yet when left alone to my own devices, I feel the pressure of it. A need to fill that time wisely.
“If you won’t let yourself relax in this and live in it, then yes, you are wasting time,” my friend said on the phone. I’d told her I had dedicated the day to doing nothing and seeing no one, but that I felt guilty about it. There was work to be done. Errands. This conversation wasn’t directly related to being alone – solitary time is not synonymous with laziness – but her logic spoke to a broader feeling, that hum of anxiety that wouldn’t allow me to settle in with my decision. The fear that I was spending my time the wrong way.
“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” - Rollo May
It seems as though many creatives know this feeling. Again, the chicken/egg answer is unclear: Are we restless because we are creative? Creative because we are restless? Does it even matter? It’s true that this anxiety has at times pushed me to create. And yet. I wonder how much more creative I would be if this undercurrent of worry were not there.
Depression or angst is often thought to spur creativity. It’s a conversation as old as time, one perpetuated by tortured artists whose work we hold in high esteem. Anxiety is not depression, but the symptoms overlap: Discontent. Irritability. Lack of concentration. Guilt. While I have turned to writing in this emotional state, I don’t know that I’ve produced my best work in it. I don’t know that those revered artists did either.
Others may not feel the same way I do when left alone with their thoughts and an open stretch of unclaimed time. Maybe they allow themselves to enjoy it. Maybe they don’t overthink it. Maybe they embrace it. Perhaps, instead of seeking a distraction from their head or from the threatening silence of solitude, they lean in. They lean in and look around and maybe they find inspiration there. Maybe they find themselves.
In any case, time spent fretting is not time spent well. I’d rather waste my time joyfully than worry I’m wasting my time. At the end of a day, I think, it comes down to being present. It’s about owning a decision and not looking back. Alone or surrounded by others, we cannot go wrong if we are living with intent.