We are spending Christmas vacation at home this year, which is utterly delightful. We’ve been able to slow down, play with Legos, remote controlled cars and chemistry sets, and otherwise lollygag about. I’ve also had the opportunity to take a little time to myself, whiling away long mornings and afternoons in random downtown coffee shops.
I have always loved coffee shop loitering — it’s the perfect kind of solitude, alone and among people, observing and observed. A four or five hour block in a coffee shop, ideally outside my neighborhood so I feel the invigorating chill of complete anonymity, is enough for me to feel the early onset of loneliness.
And I miss feeling lonely, as strange as that may sound — it’s like the dark shadows in a charcoal drawing that lends a picture depth, or maybe like the acidic developing agent that renders a photograph crisp. Early stage loneliness — ESL, I will call it — is the dark room of revelation, at least it has been in my life. It’s now something that I need to remind myself to experience, to schedule, to fight for. This is particularly true in my stage of life, with young, beautiful, vulnerable children and a young, beautiful, vulnerable business (true of all young children and businesses) and a young, beautiful, growing marriage, all of which require intense and constant communication. It’s an extraordinary experience — I deeply admire my colleagues and friends and family and relish the process. But a decade could easily pass without my feeling even a flicker of loneliness. Which would mean, as I see it, not fully digesting, or perhaps even comprehending, this period in my life.
I think there is such a thing as optimal loneliness: we need enough emotional comfort to avoid the distraction of insecurity, but not so much that we are anesthetized. Too much love and belonging may be like too much heat — it leaves us languorous, listless. Not enough, of course, is much worse.
What I am realizing is that I need to refine my emotional climate control a bit better in 2010, bring down the emotional temperature a few degrees. I am prescribing myself ten hours of solitude, once per month, a little like cracking the window.