Finding Solitude When You Don’t Live Alone

The inimitable Cathy Hay posted her Costume College vlog/recap last week and it was, of course, unique and brilliant. In it, she talks about attending large conventions as an introvert, someone who finds large groups of people exhausting and needs time alone to recharge. One of the things that stood out to me was when she referenced that fact that she lives alone in the country. I remember my own days living alone with some fondness, particularly when I was in college in a small upstate-NY city, but of course, I no longer live alone.

Anyone who knows me personally probably knows that I am an introvert. This may come as a surprise to people who only know me when I’m “on” — in stage shows or at work in my networking-heavy job — but I thrive on alone time. Of course, I’ve been married twice now and even have a child (plus I had to live with housemates most of the time I spent before moving in with Dan after my divorce), so I no longer live alone and have to find ways to get the solitude I crave. This has been particularly challenging since having Elliot, but it is still possible.

That said, I do think that any commentary on my solitary tendencies would not be complete without my waxing rhapsodic about the solo apartment of my later two years of college. I lived in a town where I could get a large one-bedroom apartment for less than a studio in the area where I currently live, so when my friend was trying to get out of his lease, I jumped at it. I had a large bedroom, living room, bathroom, and kitchen all to myself, along with a giant arched window to let in glorious amounts of natural light. And it was far enough away from campus to avoid much of the weekend partier traffic, while being close enough that walking to class wasn’t onerous. Of course, when finals weeks made my solitude even more profound (I would often go days without speaking), I would occasionally make a point to get breakfast in a cafe to have some interaction, but I was largely happy to exist alone.

Moving for graduate school made living alone financially impossible, and then I eventually moved in with my first husband. Then, the divorce again made living alone impossible, and the apartment I was finally able to rent on my own after that ended up being a poor fit for me. And then, I moved in with Dan, and eventually, we married and had our son.

So over the last more than 10 years since college, I’ve learned how to live with people and still maintain a sense of solitude. I now live in a suburb of a major city and work in the city, so I am almost never alone. Couple that with the fact that a new baby means lots of visitors, and I’ve had to hone my skills at finding alone time.

I think the cornerstone of my solitude practice is rising early. When I went back to work, I started rising between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to shower before Dan woke up, and try to make a cup of tea (or chocolate) and have some time to read before anyone else woke up. This time in the early morning is the only time that I feel truly alone sometimes. And it is especially nice on the weekends, when Dan sleeps in rather late (sometimes until 8am!) and I have a longer time to myself. Those who met me in the last ten years may be surprised to learn that I have not always been a morning person. I forced myself to start rising earlier when I started running in grad school so that I could take advantage of my time before classes started (and cooler weather in the summer). And I will say that training my body to rise earlier has been one of the single best ways for me to retain a sense of solitude, even while growing our family.

This weekend, for example, I woke up naturally around 5:30 a.m., and decided that, rather than trying to go back to sleep, I’d rather make myself some tea and have a quiet morning to myself while Dan slept in with Elliot. I wrote some letters, sipped my tea, and walked to the post box just before Dan and Elliot woke up. It was lovely and calm and let me reconnect with myself and my own interests before jumping into a day of family togetherness.

Happenings and Updates: A New Family Member

A lot has been going on over the last week or so. I’ve continued to plan our wedding, although there’s been a bit of a lull in that. I’ve also discovered a new-to-me television show and because it’s The Great British Bake-Off, that means I’ve also found myself inspired to bake more often. But the biggest news is that we have a new addition to our small family.

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This is the TweedCat. That’s not her real name, obviously, but she’s a rescue and we plan on changing her rescue name anyway. Right now, we just call her “cat” most of the time, and she seems alright with that. She came home on Saturday and has settled in pretty completely.

Her likes include not sitting still, especially for photos, food, and cuddles. Her dislikes seem to include doors, stairs, and when we don’t let her into a room. She’s a very small cat and young enough that she bears being picked up and held with admirable patience, but will let you know when enough is becoming enough. And watching Fiance play with her is a joy. For not-a-cat-person, he really loves her.

So the next few weeks will involve a lot of settling in on all sides. I’m still learning how to cook with a cat constantly coming in and trying to investigate or steal the food. And I think she’s still trying to get used to having as much space as our house affords, but not being allowed to go outside.

The Most Important Thing My Mother Taught Me

This post is my entry into Fiddy’s contest at Fifty Shades of Snail, in collaboration with Beautibi. I highly recommend you check out her blog as a fantastic resource for all things related to complicated skin care.

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My mother is a remarkable woman. She was married for almost thirty years, raised two children, and has worked in multiple careers, reinventing herself after her divorce and overcoming challenges throughout her life. And I consider her one of the most inspiring people in my life. I’m sure she would be surprised to hear this as I’m certain she thinks both of her daughters have surpassed her professionally and intellectually. But the fact is I learned how to learn from my mother.

Mom was never one to shy away from a challenge. When we were children, she hand-made all of our Halloween costumes, despite being a mediocre seamstress at best. And when I invariably wanted to be something obscure (like Artemis, goddess of the hunt), she was the one who came with me to the library and poured over books finding ideas that were both faithful to the original material, as well as logistically feasible for outdoor trick-or-treating in weather that could range from unseasonably warm to snowing.

With the advent of the internet in our house, my mother started finding her true place to shine: internet research. In addition to Halloween costumes, over the years, she used her internet search savvy to help her in her divorce, as well as to become the reigning champion at her office football pool. When I started internships at national laboratories, she came to my summer symposium armed with knowledge to converse with Nobel Laureates despite not graduating college. For her, the important part was the process, not the superior feeling of knowing more than other people. She wanted to learn in order to interact.

And this is something that has stuck with me. It is not the best thing to know things; it is better still to enjoy learning. This has stuck with me through college and graduate school, a PhD and research jobs, and a career shift. It has taught me that even though others might treat me like I’m smarter, everyone has something to teach me. And she has taught me the skills I’ve needed to navigate my personal care routines. Her web research savvy has helped me find the resources to make educated decisions about my health and beauty when formal sources of knowledge have fallen short.

It is this that I most appreciate and that I most cherish. She may have taught me to make a bechamel sauce and how to put in a zipper (or at least tried!), but she also taught me to cherish learning for itself. And that will be useful no matter what I need to learn.

(The photo is from the first time we sheet masked together. What doesn’t show in the photo is my mother making a stabbing motion with her off-camera arm because she thinks we look like serial killers.)

A Little Bit of Christmas

This past weekend, I made a decision. I’ve put up my first Christmas tree of my own. I should say, “of our own,” as Boyfriend helped me pick it out and decorate it. We decided on a fake tree to appease our housemate, and reduce the maintenance a real tree can require. We found this little guy, really an outdoor tree, at the Home Depot. He’s just big enough to hold a few of my favorite keepsake ornaments.

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Then, Boyfriend and I went to my mother’s house to pick through her Christmas box and take the ornaments with particular sentimental value, mostly ones that I was given as gifts over the years. There are the stuffed animals, such as the cat a good friend in grammar school made me, and the little bear I shoplifted when I was 2. And there are the animals, mostly cats for me and reptiles for my sister. There are my ballet slippers, from the few years I danced ballet, badly, as a young child. It has “To our best ballerina” written on the back, but that was before my sister came along and bested me in all forms of rhythmic movement.

Since we don’t yet have a topper, my mom tucked a roll of repurposed red ribbon into the box with the ornaments and I used it to fashion a makeshift tree topper. And my nutcracker, given to me not by Santa, but by Godpapa Drosselmeyer when I was a girl, stood watch over the whole thing. With cocoa and port and Christmas music, it made for a lovely holiday evening.