The Art of Being Alone

There is an art to being alone. I am not a natural loner, if all the distrust, hurt and trauma gets stripped away, I am actually gregarious and sociable. I always wanted to be an ivory tower kind of human being, the kind of person that sings “I am a rock, I am an island” and actually means it. There is a certain cachet to being shaded in sepia tones, letting cigarette smoke trail, veiling the scene in hardboiled foggy perfection, all berlin burlesque cool, and intoning flatly that there is nothing more in this world that you vant to be than alone.

Of course this appeals to me. I am a basically vapid, superficial beast who has more than a passing interest in the exercise of people existing as living expressions of art. Neal Cassady’s art was himself and his unique and groundbreaking ability to ‘rap’, to talk in a poetic freeform, an audio stream of speed-driven consciousness. Warren Zevon, Lou Reed, Patti Smith: their ‘being’ was just as much art as their music ever was. Living an artful life is a thing of beauty, partly because mundane day to day living is such an ugly visceral state of suffering. Why not desire to blur the edges, to elevate existence into high art, instead of low expectations? Why not try a little of that Marlene Dietrich loner cool? Be the Neal Young listening loner at the end of the train carriage scowling at the straights and the squares? I wish I had never got thrown down the lonesome lonely one-woman highway. I wish I was surrounded by people and friends and family by the score and able to enjoy it. I am now psychologically rearranged, and not able to handle large groups, let alone the act of enjoying company, even if being a loner, an outcast is good for art, I am not so sure it is very good for the soul.

This dragging of art into the gutter, elevating the lowly and the dirty and the broken and sick and grotesque; the loving immortalization of the human experience in its most vital and base form, has fascinated people since way before Andy Warhol told Lou Reed in the mid 60s to ‘leave all the dirty words in’. In fact, art has always been interested in suffering and pain. There would be no Tolstoy without suffering. The original gutter poet, Rimbaud, was doing it way before Dylan picked up a copy of A Season in Hell, and wondered about the various possibilities afforded by folk-art music and envelope-pushing lyrics. Rimbaud was the first one to ‘inhale deeply’ in the ‘latrines’ of life and render the stench of decay into poetry. Rimbaud was the original rock star. Without him Lou Reed could not have written Street Hassle, not Patti Smith written Piss Factory, with all the death and decay and stink and rotting reality of the physicality of life.

After a while all this terrible reality, whilst being grist to the poetic mill, has had one long lasting effect on me: I have had to learn the art of being alone. In Japan I was locked in the apartment without company for long periods of time, with no one even in the country who cared about me or wanted to help me. To start with being alone, so utterly alone hurt, but in the end I threw myself into what I did have – the children, music, writing. I am always removed from other people. Permanently exiled. The reality of my ‘alone’ was far removed from some Greta Garbo act. There was no sepia tones, no foggy notion, no glamor to my aloneness. I was simply by myself.

I longed for a kind word, a gentle touch. I was desperate for some English speaking company whose culture came from a similar base to my own. I wanted to be a lone wolf, but I was a herd animal without a herd. I want to say it was good for me. I want to say that I learnt some harsh truths about myself, others and how I fit into society, and I did. But what I really learnt was that I hate to be alone. It was a harsh transition from being a strange, gutter dwelling, hated but able to move within society, to locked into being the victim of one man, in a country that would much rather I was not there at all.

My problems were seen as upsetting the apple cart. I was blamed for the peace around me being upset, rather than my abuser being seen as the problem. The misogyny I was used to was amplified a million times in Japan, and added to that I had the label ‘gaijin’ – outsider, foreigner. The full word ‘gaikokujin’ is rarely used, instead ‘gaijin’ is employed like a slur with connotations. There are ‘hen na gaijin’ – strange foreigners, troublesome, not inducted into the ways of society around and therefore offensive and bothersome to the very fabric of society. The Japanese partner, especially if it is a man, is never seen to be in the wrong, not by family, not by police, not by society. At the most all I got were a few pitying glances and held firmly at arms length.

Cut off from western society, having to adjust my expectations from life, cut off from the society around me where I might have carved myself a niche due to my husband’s abuse, isolated by motherhood, and in the early days, not even much in the way of internet to distract and keep me company, I found myself trying to work out how to enjoy a life separated from others.

During and after the abuse, society at large, the cops, other people who knew me were generally so absolutely hostile to me and my attempts to survive, I was judged so harshly for the fact he beat me up, I was so humiliated and so badly abused, that I found my own company easier than trusting new people to understand and take my side. I felt such guilt for the extreme things I had to do to survive because others pushed this guilt for not being a ‘good victim’ onto me, that I just shut down and stopped talking to people. It is not unusual for other women to stand in judgement. Partly because some women gain value by derogating other women, thus elevating their own position and worthiness, partly because all women have a choice to make: do you want to fight the patriarchy, or do you want to be complicit and therefore negotiate your own survival with men.

And now, after years of work on myself, after years of trying to come to terms with my own homosexuality, I am finally coming to some kind of peace with it all. I was very damaged as a young woman by other people calling me a ‘lezzer’ a ‘dyke’ or whatever else they managed to come up with, and had a lot of self hatred. I would go to lesbian bars and flirt and kiss and fuck, and then spend days crying because I could not come to terms with who I was. Similarly when I tried to force myself to be straight, when I slept with men for money or for whatever reason I always ended up left cold and crying and vomiting. I never enjoyed sex with men, and my attempts to be straight left me even more lonely and even more separate. I had no roots, no friends, no scene, no nothing except my drug buddies and whatever high I was chasing at the time and that was good enough for me. Alone. There was no art to this loneliness and denial, just a long hard slog towards misery.

I have worked hard, and alone, to come to terms with my sexuality. I can say I am at peace with myself nowadays. I am still alone, and to be frank, I don’t see that changing, but at least I am not trying to commit self hating alchemy and turn myself into something I don’t even want to be. Still, not able to participate in society fully, not able to show my face online just in case I am found by my abuser, I am unable to make any connections so I can meet some other lesbians and date and be happy and ‘myself’. It is all a bit sad really.

Being a loner, an outcast, a rebel, a warrior, all of these things sound so cool, sound so interesting, sound so interesting. In the end living on the road, forever running, trying to survive a person dedicated to my destruction, has isolated me to the point where I am not going to be able to join society and have meaningful relationships with other people. I feel absolutely hated for surviving. Panned for saving my child. Dragged through the mud, and judged to be despicable for unfortunately being chosen by an abuser to be his victim. My ability to earn a living destroyed, my chances of happiness ruined, my very survival improbable, and not only that, judged a ‘bad woman’ who ‘asked for it’.

To be frank, I think I am probably fine alone. Like Paul Simon once sang, “I have my books and my poetry to protect me’, even if it doesn’t keep me warm at night. I would like it if people could possibly understand just what I have survived, and how hard and unfair it was, how painful it was, how unhappy and desperate my life has been because of one man who chose me to be his victim. Being alone is better than being harassed, judged and hurt. Woolf might have asked for a ‘room of her own’, but I suppose I am asking for a little more. I am asking for a life of my own. A space within society of my own, that I don’t have to edit myself. I am asking to be left alone if people can’t be kind. I am asking for my uneasy peace not to be destroyed, and to be forgiven for surviving.

In the end, there is an art to being alone. There is a certain skill to accepting solitude and being ok with it. Everyone I love goes away in the end, I can only hope I am not asked to get any more ‘alone’ than I am right now, because even this well practiced loner would find it simply unbearable.


  1. clcouch123

    Being a loner in a movie is cool; it life it is far different. In life it is complex. I spend too much time alone, but there is a peace to it, and so I return to it. The layer of abuse over my life is not as, well, big as yours. But it has a ruining effect, all the same. I wish you could find some like-minded, like-hearted people. You are so aware and so articulate that friendships could go so well all around. For everyone.

    1. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

      That is very nice of you to say. I can make a good friend, but cannot do big groups of people that don’t make the effort to make me feel safe and comfortable. I get awkward. Even one to one my ptsd makes it hard to relax, but once I feel safe, I am usually a devoted friend, and I like to think I am quite good fun. I am sorry to hear you were abused in anyway, and am glad you have found some peace. I would like some friends that can understand my need for lack of intensity in relationships, and of course I would love to have a girlfriend, but all of that is highly unlikely. Im very isolated, but you know what, that is ok. I just wish I felt wanted by my community and in the country I call home, because I really don’t. Most oftentimes I get a lot of hate and nastiness because I am undocumented due to domestic violence, even from workers who are meant to be supporting me.

  2. clcouch123

    I don’t understand hatred toward undocumented, since I meet people first and then may or may not find out about statuses (stati?) and by then, too late, this is a real person and valuable. I know I often slide by in a socially instinctive way (society’s instinct, that is) because I’m white and male. I don’t like that sense of privilege, makes my skin buzz like there’s a bee beneath. When I first heard Emma L’s words when a child, “Give me your tired,” and on, I thought that message pretty cool. We are a welcoming nation, though I already knew we often didn’t do that well. But if a welcome means to brutalize, that is a collective sin of humanity and a lose-lose all around. And self-isolation by the victim must be the cause rather than artful aloneness. Which means community becomes not only pleasurable but urgent. Which makes community more difficult.

    1. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

      I love the USA with all my heart: this is my home, my refuge, my succor. I have found a measure of safety and peace here. The vocal minority who have a problem with it, however, have immense ability to cause life-wrecking harm to me and my son. I live in constant fear. Thank you for being a nice person. I joined the LGB alliance, and am trying to make a few friends that are trustworthy. It is not as easy as it sounds. I can’t put my face online for obvious reasons, and so joining online lesbian groups is impossible for me. I can’t afford to trust people.

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