I’m a hypocrite

What I have failed to mention so far is that it’s pretty hard to continue writing on Living Alone and Loving it if you aren’t living alone—which I haven’t been almost all year. Because of my sister’s illness that started in December, her desire and mine not to live together in her small apartment while I am in Portland, and my limited financial means, I have been living in an AirBnB room off and on since January. I share the rest of the house with Clara and Jake, my hosts. These guys pander to my every need, we make complicated schedules for the washing machine, the bathroom, and the oven, and they are overly generous in giving me refrigerator space. They are great, fabulous, wonderful people, but they still are Other People.

After more than three weeks with my sister during the day, and Clara and Jake most of the rest of the time, I feel like I am going a bit balmy. I want to check into a mental hospital—if I am lucky they might put me in solitary confinement if I act crazy enough.

I do go back to my live-alone apartment in Tucson sporadically for a few weeks at a time for R & R. I don’t quite kiss the ground outside my front door entrance into solitude every time I return, but I come pretty damn close.

One of the side effects of this is that instead of writing in my journal in the morning (which I do when I am alone), I talk to other people about what is going on in my head. I find (as I have said in previous posts) talking to myself somewhat more insightful, but even more important somehow is writing to myself. It was this writing to myself, now missing, that I thought I would turn into short blog pieces. No dice.

I tried to make time ‘alone’ by going to a fabulous funky little hippy coffee shop in my Portland neighborhood that’s on my way home at the end of the day. I thought I could digest my day and get something onto the page. But I still am around people who distract me and who I sometimes get suckered into talking to. My ‘journal’ has mainly turned into time management task lists and shopping lists. This is not the path to self-knowledge or enlightenment.

I miss living alone.  I’m not myself at all.

Recommended reading

I found this article on Living Alone–for the younger female reader, mind–that I thought might be of interest.


It has lots of good links in it, includes a review of Marjorie Hillis’s book (which I keep meaning to getting around to write one of). It also gives thumbnail sketches of other books on the topic worth reading.

It’s Never Too Late to Live Alone and Love It

I was determined to start up posting here in the New Year. However, my karma went in another direction. My sister (who shall remain anonymous, but who I will call Leslie) called me on December 28 last year and announced she had advanced metastatic pancreatic cancer. She wanted me to come be with her in the city where she lives, so I understood, until she died.

Leslie’s husband had died in August last year, also from cancer. She had never lived alone—she married while she still was living at home with our parents and then had been happily married for over forty years. ‘Happily married’ in this case is not a trite phrase—I don’t know a couple who was more happily married until death did them part.

We had been having weekly conversations while she adjusted to the death of her husband because I worried about her getting depressed being on her own. I was delighted when she told me after a few months, a little guiltily, that she was amazed and overjoyed at the total freedom she had to do whatever she wanted, and more time to do it in. She had discovered the joys of living alone! Didn’t surprise me, of course, since I am a committed Live-Aloner (a term invented by the pioneer Live-Aloner Marjorie Hillis—more on her in a future post).

When Leslie called me in December she had been given weeks to live. I packed some funeral clothes and got on a plane west. However, my sister surprised everyone. She chose to have chemotherapy that had only a 50% chance of any effectiveness and was predicted to have some horrific possible side effects. To date, she has suffered only extreme fatigue and that only part of the time. The chemotherapy seems to be beating back the cancer enough that she still has no pain that one Tylenol can’t handle. She stayed on the board of her church, has not let go of the reins of her maintenance and landscaping committees, goes out to lunch with friends, gardens devotedly, and continues to make egregiously bad puns at every opportunity. And we are having a great time talking over tea every day.

What does this have to do with Living Alone and Loving It? When I arrived, she sat me down and told me she didn’t want me to move into her small one-bedroom apartment with her. And she had a plan in place to move into a nursing home with hospice care when she could no longer take care of herself. Until then she wanted to live alone. I should get my own place if I stuck around, which she still wanted me to do.

I thought at first this was a Herculean act of generosity towards me since she knows I am a Live-Aloner, but she said that it was what she preferred, too. She and I both know I would not make the most patient of caregivers, but that was not the problem, although she did want professional care at the end. She simply wanted her own place and even told me she was not in any way bothered by dying alone if I happened to not be there.

So the question is: why does my sister, who never in her 69 years of life ever lived alone, want to do so now? Because fate forced her to live alone and she ended up loving it. Or, alternatively, perhaps it’s genetics. We share (perhaps) a BRAC gene or two (I’m getting tested to find out). We both share being duck-footed, we are hairy where we don’t want to be, although we have great hair on our heads (except sadly her lovely head of hair is in remission), we suffer from SAD and enlarged colons, and have high blood pressure. (Sorry if that is more information than you needed to know.)

My point is, could there be a gene for Living Alone and Loving It? I might ask my genetics counselor when I see her on Wednesday. What do you think? And are you the same as your siblings or the only live-alone oddball in your family?

Talking to yourself

As someone who lives alone I talk to myself to a degree that would be embarrassing if I were to be overheard. Most of my conversations with myself are pretty boring, but some are really rewarding. It’s like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but way cheaper.

I talk to myself in three voices (at least). As a child of critical parents, there is always a low bass line of self-criticism throughout any self-conversation, repetitive and not helpful, but no longer at my age very damaging, and usually ignored. This voice is The Critic.

The other two are the Encourager and the Investigative Reporter. The Encourager urges me on when I am tired or scared or lazy or frustrated, much like mushing a dog sled team in the Iditarod. The Investigative Reporter asks why, how, who, what and when constantly and will not be silenced until we know.

I appreciate my Encourager—it’s the only way I ever get to the gym or stop myself from going into Baskin Robbins on a whim. These conversations can be lengthy, since they often degenerate into knock-down, drag-out arguments with myself when I am encouraging myself to do something really virtuous and very challenging. Or stopping myself from doing something really tempting and self-destructive. Who best to coach and encourage me, if not, well…me? I have known myself my whole life and have told myself everything—nothing is hidden between us. But I lose these arguments sometimes, too. I am a formidable verbal adversary.

I do listen to others and sometimes even follow their advice, but despite all my good intentions, I still don’t have a financial adviser or a tax consultant. (I do have a 12-Step sponsor—I’m not nuts!)

A problem can arise when The Critic shape-shifts to hide within one of these two helpful characters…but that may be a subject of a future blog post. I am working very hard on having my internal Encourager sound more loving and less like a boot camp sergeant, but there is a way to go. The Critic and I talk about this frequently, out loud, at home alone.

I talk with the Investigative Reporter as well, but these conversations are more one-sided, more demanding of action on my part, and shorter on his. Often these are just quick interjections, verbal question marks with no interrogatory word: I am a cartoon character with a question mark floating over my head. Usually these questions are answered after a quick trip to Google or Wiki, or in the case of how to YouTube. But the very best full-on curious questions lead to reading a book or conversations with friends and colleagues or even a commitment to longer term research. The majority of books I read are non-fiction and I also watch a serious dollop of documentaries—the Investigative Reporter must be satisfied.

With all these voices (the Encourager, the Investigative Reporter, and even the Critic), I explore these conversations out loud, because I can—I live alone, thank God. I don’t have to listen to someone say, Do you know you are talking to yourself? Of course I do. Isn’t it great?

To get a cat or not get a cat

Post Title: To get a cat or not to get a cat

A month or so ago a friend received an angry email from her neighbor. He flung this epithet at her: “It’s no wonder you ended up a fat spinster living alone.” He managed to include all the worst things you can call someone in one sentence: fat, unmarried, and living alone! Of course, we all laughed when we heard this: when was the last time you heard the word ‘spinster’? (Or ‘bachelor’ for that matter?) The one thing he left out was the cat.

What cat? you ask. While researching the word ‘spinster’ Google supplied me with over 400,000 hits that contained both ‘spinster’ and ‘cat’. The world apparently still tells us that unless you are happily partnered up and living with her/him/them, you will end up lonely with only a cat for company.

I haven’t (yet) read even one book on living alone (although I promise you I will, because I intend to review a bunch in order winnow out a few worth reading for those who might be interested). I am willing, however, to bet you more than one of the many books available advises you to get a pet.

I am not unsympathetic—when I was divorced the last time, I do remember falling back into a black hole of despair—all alone again! But of course that loneliness was just illusion: I didn’t happen to have a romantic/sexual relationship at that moment, but I was surrounded by companionship and love. And even at that time, the problem seemed to me not that no one loved me, but rather that I had no one to love.

Which leads me back to cats. We may dread living alone, thinking, “Oh no, so it has come to this, I am going to end up a cat lady.” (This delusion is as silly as another one that says you are going to end up a bag lady.) It’s conventional wisdom that people who own pets are healthier mentally and physically than those who don’t (whether they are partnered/room-mated or not); some science backs this up. Other science says having a cat does nothing for you. But consider the emotional/spiritual angle that Elise Stuart points out in her poem:

“How It Begins, How It Ends”

start loving right away in the morning
realizing this day is the only one you’ll get.
contemplate, drink tea, read in the sun,
make a story, write it down,
wash the dishes,
sit on the swing,
follow the moon’s path
through the branches of the apricot tree.

keep loving far into the night,
even in your dreams.
feel the cat against your back.
imagine yourself living inside
a passionflower, a star, a sound.
now you exist everywhere—
quiet joy, your song

(More lovely poems like this one can be found in her book Another Door Calls.)

So far I sound solidly pro-pet. But I strongly believe: it depends. This blog asserts that while living alone is a fact, loneliness is transient and mostly a self-imposed illusion. Therefore we don’t really need a pet to keep us company.

I don’t own a cat or dog myself (although I love borrowing my friends’ dogs if they need a sitter for short periods). However, I am gone so much out of the city, out of the country and just plain out of the house that it doesn’t make sense for me to permanently acquire, instead of rent from friends, a four-footed companion.

I certainly understand if you want to have a pet to love. But subsequent blogs will illuminate how selfish I am and this bears on my decision. Even the idea of having to be home at a fixed time to feed someone else (let alone pay their medical bills) feels like too much of an obligation. I’m not yet grown up enough to hold up my end of a relationship with a feline, canine or even reptilian roommate. Maybe when I am older and wiser, but not yet—I’m only 74, after all.