Monday, March 19, 2007

Keep me company?

I don't like to be alone.

This is odd, considering the essentially solitary nature of most of my work activties and hobbies: I'm a teacher, sure, but there's a whole lot of quiet prep and grading to be done alone, and I have a whole semester every year in which to do my research, a semester described by most as delightful for its absence of people and people-related obligations, a semester of hiding away and reading. Not me. My door at work is nearly always open. In my leisure time, too, I read and read and read. Reading requires, of course, that we focus on the text at hand to the exclusion of all other stimulus. I also like to knit, and this too can require careful focus. I can, in fact, focus so intensely on these activities that repeated invocations of my name will ring across the living room unanswered: I am in the zone. But--but!--there I am in the living room, reading in the bustle even though the house is big enough that everyone can be on their own floor. Because I don't like to be alone.

When I moved away from home to attend university, the most startling and depressing change was my fundamental aloneness: I was no longer in a discernible family (or other) unit where I could plunk myself in the middle of ongoing daily life to do my own thing. And so I did a lot of homework in coffee shops, in cafeterias. And so I clung to my then-boyfriend, mooching time at his house, just to ... read a book while he watched TV. And so I pretty much half-moved into my sister's on-campus apartment after she had her baby. To not be alone. Like a crated puppy comforted by a ticking clock, I could only really calm myself if others were nearby, and preferably people I cared about. Alone together, maybe, but not alone.

My tendency to cling, to demand nearness, is exacerbated by stress, particularly by change: whenever I would move apartments or residence rooms, I always begged of my friends or my sister to come over. Not to help, I would assure them, but just to keep me company. To have someone sit on my bed while I took down posters and packed up candlesticks made me feel rooted even as my life was compacted into boxes. Poor Pynchon, too, had to deal with my ramped-up clinginess during my pregnancy: I so badly wanted him to be home with me, even if all I wanted to do was read the newspaper at the other end of the couch from him.

I was thinking of this the other day, my refrain of 'keep me company' when my sister came for a day visit. She's taking care of Miss Baby when Pynchon and I go to Cuba for a wedding in May, and so tries to come over fairly regularly to stay in Miss Baby's good graces. Her visit coincided with Pynchon's hard earned Day Off, a day in which he planned to vacate the house in the early morning and not return until the wee hours. It was a day, I have to admit, I was anticipating with some dread: "Yay!" I told my sister, "You can keep me company!" Now, taking care of Miss Baby is no longer really very taxing: she puts herself to sleep for naps, is of fairly easy disposition, eats well, and is amenable to outings of all sorts. But. She is not yet company either in the sense of keeping me totally mentally occupied, nor of providing quiet togetherness while I pursue my own activities. In fact, being alone with Miss Baby, for me, is very much alone indeed: I feel my aloneness keenly when she and I spend whole days together.

Don't get me wrong: we have lots of fun, she and I. I spend minutes at a time enthralled by her, and in any case devote myself willingly, ably, and cheerfully to the assorted babycare tasks of feeding, changing, playing, carrying. But other than those minutes in thrall, it's kinda long and, for me, very lonely. My own thoughts bash around in my head and the minutes slowly tick. I can't talk to her, nor can I sit quietly and read.

To my own sanity-preserving credit, I very early recognized this tendency in myself, and tried very hard during my maternity leave to have regular visitors. Visitors whom I assured would not need to lift a finger, and whom I promised to indulge in all manner of goodies and teas. All they needed to do was keep me company. And when they did, life was okay. I could handle it. In truth, in retrospect, it seems to me that the hardest part about my maternity leave was the loneliness. "Come keep me company," I begged of pretty much everyone I knew, and the hours of nursing and bouncing and changing and playing flew by. Alone, though, I soon grew sad and anxious, short of patience, and hated myself for it.

As Miss Baby gets older and more engaging, she becomes more and more a source of 'company' in her own right. But it'll be a while before I cease being grateful for visitors. Cease being cheered beyond measure that my sister will stay and sit for one more cup of tea while I cheer Miss Baby's exertions in the Exersaucer, or play peekaboo with her doudou.

For now, I admit that I can do it, all that this life requires, be strong, be brave, be patient--as long as someone will keep me company.


Omaha Mama said...

I find this fascinating. Especially because lately I've been noticing that I am really more independent than I ever would have guessed. I am never one to call someone up when I have errands or shopping to do. I prefer to fly solo when finding a dress for an event or spring clothes for the kiddos. Every once in a while I will drag the family along, but mostly because I feel guilty ditching them. I find that my friends who do these things in groups are much more popular people. It honestly never dawns on me to make such things a social outing. I hardly ever invite someone over just because. It's always a celebration or an event or a play date. I like that you ask for company. Sometimes I wish I did that too, then I wouldn't complain when it seems everyone else has such good friends that they spend time with. I suppose that's one reason why. They ask.

Alpha DogMa said...

I am a lone wolf. That being said I would come to your house and keep you company if you fed me goodies and teas. Yes, a lone wolf, but a glutton also. I'm a multi-faceted person.

cinnamon gurl said...

I used to be like that... but somewhere along the way, I discovered the joys of living by myself. For about three months. Then I met Sugar Daddy, who is mostly a home-body... so I'm not actually alone that much. Ok, so now I think I AM still a glutton for company, it's just that I don't need to go outside the house for it?

Wow, a vaca with mini-Mimi... good job!

Oh, The Joys said...

I used to be extra social, but now am kind of a hermit.

Beck said...

It's too bad that we don't live near each other, because I'm a COME OVER TO MY HOUSE kind of person, too. At good times, days at my house are sort of like a friendly train station - people dropping in, lots of tea and chatting and little kids running around. At bad times, it's just a napping baby and me and a creeeeeepy noise upstairs in my zillion year old house.

Beck said...

(oh, and when I posted? It was 6:30. I think I have blogger set on the wrong time zone for myself.)

NotSoSage said...

I'm mostly a loner, but there are times when I desperately need...not company so much as activity. I need there to be bustle around me and I will leave the house to be surrounded by it...and read. There are times when I desperately need company, too, but I have a high tolerance for being alone.

Mad Hatter said...

It's weird b/c (depite my garish socialite tendencies) I am never happier than when I am alone. Truly alone. I am the perfect partner for Mr. Hat not just b/c of his work schedule but b/c of who he is--and given that you know who he is, I need say no more. What's weird is that when I am Miss M--who is clingy, who can never be in a room by herself--I feel drained. These babes fall somewhere between being fit company and allowing us mental space.

Mimi said...

You're onto something there, Mad: I think now that I'm in a stable family unit again, I'm much more happy to have some alone time, but time with a baby who needs a lot of attention is neither company nor alone time, and I find it very draining. So I'm actually kinda glad now when Pynchon goes for his 2hr workouts after Miss Baby goes to bed. I'm not lonely now when he's gone. I'm grateful to be quiet and alone.

Jenifer G. said...

So interesting. I am very much a loner and actually feel stressed just thinking about having people "hanging" with me all day. I have only in the last few years started to be more social and more comfortable in social situations. We have a wonderful core group of friends and with all of them I am fine, but truly nothing is better than coming home to a nice quiet and empty house after a loud, people filled party. My best friend who is also an only child is the opposite so while I always thought it was because I was alone a lot as a child, I am not so sure.

As much as I love my family and friends - I treasure my alone time. Like AD though I can be tempted, tea and cookies are my Kryptonite (sp?).