How to have fun alone
without feeling lonely.
I sat on my deck tonight, under the stars, the warm, moist air of an Ohio summer sighing over me, the zizzing of the night song of crickets –or whatever insects sing around my house late at night – filling the darkness. I was alone.
I’ve been alone a lot lately. I come home from work to a house that’s lit only where I left on the lights, to dishes cleaned only if I’d cleaned them, to floors vacuumed only if I’d vacuumed them. To no welcoming voice, to no questions about how my day had been, to no one to lie with me when it was time for me to sleep.
I’m a self-professed Funman, and to me that means that every time you approach a task you must ask: “Why isn’t this fun?” A merciless metric, a tough row to hoe, a difficult reality to face in the wee hours of the morning.
How do you have fun . . . alone?
If I asked you what was fun about your job, or your life, I suspect that that your answer would involve other people: chatting around the water cooler, or playing volleyball with friends or a group of folks you’d just met at the volleyball court, or having a beer with co-workers after the shift. With people. Not alone.
Alone is not fun, or at least it’s not normally what we think of when we think “fun.” Alone leads to lonely, and loneliness isn’t fun.
I’ve struggled with Fun Alone. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t come naturally. It means you have to face yourself in the mirror rather than depend on your friends to buoy you up, or distract you.
My house is filled with mirrors, or at least things that reflect me if I pay attention. The sliding door to my deck. The window in my kitchen. The mirrors in my bathrooms and dressing room. The rearview mirror in my car, at least when I don’t just look backwards into traffic.
I see myself, or, most often, don’t. I see myself most often when I don’t expect to, at least in the sense of really seeing myself. The border that is, “Why isn’t this fun?” makes me see myself more often, and more deeply, makes me ask myself very deep questions. It makes me pay attention to who the hell I am.
One of my favorite authors, Robert Heinlein, died and left the outline of an unwritten manuscript. Another favorite author, Spider Robinson, was tapped to complete it (and called it Variable Star). It was about a young, talented man who ended up on an interstellar spaceship, leaving the Solar System on a one-way journey to a distant planet – all as a result of his emotional response to a failed love affair. Weeks into the voyage he felt the real psychological effects of his hasty decision.
He made a hash of it, and ended up in therapy. His therapist told him that he must answer four questions about himself to regain his mental health. The questions were: who, what, where, and why (the answer to when was always, “Now.”).
These are the questions you must answer if you are to have Fun Alone. Who the hell are you? What the hell are you doing? Where the hell are you, really? and Why? Most of us don’t bother with all this introspective stuff, because we’re too busy working hard to make the mortgage payment or striving to manage the kids so they won’t drive us crazy. We lurch back and forth from crisis to crisis, and typically end up somewhere surprising, unexpected, and not at all where we intended to be.
When you’re alone, most of those distractions are gone. We’re very good at finding other distractions to divert our attention, but when alone we frequently have those empty minutes when there is no activity to turn our hands to in order to keep . . . on . . . moving. We’re alone.
The Talking Heads had a great line in their song “Once in a Lifetime.” It was “How did I get here?” and it seemed incomprehensible to me when I first heard it. Of course I knew how I got here, and why. Of course I followed along in the story and knew my role, and what had happened and why. Of course.
I was 19 years old when “Once in a Lifetime” was released, and I thought I knew the answer to, “How did I get here?” I’m 53 now, and I know I didn’t then. I still don’t, but I have a better grip on it than I’ve ever had. Because I’ve had to look into the mirror and ask myself those four questions. Or be alone and not have – any fun.
There’s more to Fun Alone that knowing who you are, and what you’re doing, and when you should (or shouldn’t) be doing it, and why. But it’s late, and I have to work tomorrow, and those questions are enough for you to think of now. They certainly occupied my mind for months and years before I had any decent answers.
Look in the mirror. Really look. Study yourself. Recognize yourself. Reach back with one hand, over the top of your head and as far behind you as you can manage . . . and pat yourself on the back. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up.