Saturday, August 21, 2010

me and my alone

We seldom stop to think how many people's lives are entwined with our own. It is a form of selfishness to imagine that every individual can operate on his/her own or can pull out of the general stream and not be missed.
Ivy Baker Priest, former US Treasurer (1905-1975)
(edited for gender inclusivity)

I have one recurring question, the heart of my existential dread: how to make life meaningful when you're the only one it means to? I don't mean in the grand scheme of things, but in the quotidian. I know I play a role in many other lives; those of my family, coworkers and near and far-flung friends. I am a shard in the ballast that helps keep them balanced, just by being and continuing to be in the world. I know what it's like when a piece goes suddenly missing; the whole ship reels.

So I do my level best by continuing to be even as I daily wonder: what now, what next and why bother.

It takes work to make meaning, to find worth, when you're the only audience, the only witness. I have a beautiful apartment, well-appointed and richly stocked. And while I've had some guests, it's joys and treasures are mostly mine alone.

The early morning or evening light, intruding from opposite sides, striking marches across the hardwood floor. One's a glow of glory; the other a warm relief.

Outside the house, while riding my bicycle, I continually experience sights, sounds and smells that are astounding in their singularity and surprise. Night-blooming jasmine comes quick to mind. It's on, around and gone in less than half a block, and in those half-dozen turns of the pedals, my self grows full, is suffused, and I flash quickly in the space of a breath - from loving that moment of my life and wishing I had someone to share it with.

In passing, I wonder: why can't I enjoy it just for me? Why aren't I enough? Especially since, for the most part, it's just me and my alone. I figure I better be able to make my own fun, find my idle pleasures and revel in them. Whether solo late-night dance parties or solitary strolls. Even if it means only to me and no one else ever knows about it, it's still something, right?

Shortly after my husband split, I set out to more fully explore New Orleans - at least those parts easily accessible from (and returned to) my Uptown home via bicycle. Routes and outer-reaches varied by day, night, weather, hour and the music/festival calendar, but for the most part, I stayed in what I determined to be my neighborhood (bounded by Tchoupitoulas, Napoleon, St. Charles and Audubon Park). It's a smallish square but made for a good romp and ringed a great many and varied venues - many of them with *free* *live* *music*.

On one of those early late-night rides, just as I hit my stride on the bike - when gears and legs work perfectly - I was struck by the realization that "no one knows where I am" (or where to find me, if need be). Fear was quickly replaced by exhilaration then by courage (with a smooth slide through resolve):

If you want to be in the world, then you must do this. Great reward entails risk. Staying home and staring at the walls (no matter how lovely the light), is not a viable option.

To be out in the world meant, at that time and now again, being out alone.

And you better find a way to make it meaningful; otherwise, why do anything at all?

Finding a way to make it meaningful. I'm talking the stuff of daily life. Not the big stuff. The big stuff is easy. Big stuff, like big events, have a given weight. You look forward to them. You plan. Maybe book plane tickets. It's easy to make that mean. Meaning is imbued. And if the pleasure-meaning event revolves around a holiday, you're banked. History and tradition trump the random jasmine every time. You make meaning as soon as you cross the threshold.

But what of the quotidian? Where's the meaning in the mundane? Of the solitary joy?

Some folks take solace in God, the omnipresent, the constant companion. Those who believe are never alone. Their joy is always shared, a gift and a grace. (I am a atheist; I hold no imaginary hands.)

Others (those not an exclusive group from the first) forge virtual connections. Given the popularity of Facebook, twitter, and other online social networks, it's clear that I am not alone in my desire to share. I have long resisted the call, but recently relented. After a year of virtual silence, I've joined the fray. You can find me on Facebook. I have a twitter account (see sidebar). And now, I have this new blog.

Overall, they are poor substitutes for a *real* *live* *friend* standing next to you, seeing what you see, smelling what you smell; and I struggle with the "sharing" since it is either after the fact or in "sharing" you take yourself out of the moment. But it's better than the cocoon in which I wrapped myself. I'm too good not to give. (And the poet in me thrills to the twitter constraints of 140 characters!)

I strive to make my life matter in the everyday, every day. Some days are of no consequence: just work, rest and internet. And some days are lit by small solitary joys, what my then-husband once called "the Zen of the Small Task."

Making groceries. Making dinner. Making the bed I lie in. None of these things matter to anyone else, but in the moment, it's got to be enough that it matters just to me.

In closing, I tip my hat to Annie Dillard:

"Because how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."


Frank said...

Good to have you back and I will drink to that, well, that is if I drank. Do not fear, Barbara will be glad to share a champagne with you. Definitely Audrey Hepburn with just a smidgen of Orphan Annie that makes you approachable (is that a compliment, I hope so). I see the writing is back--damn, I need to start using the word quotidian since that it where I live. But don't we all

Frank said...

BTW, this is why you should keep on writing:
"sights, sounds and smells that are astounding in their singularity and surprise. Night-blooming jasmine comes quick to mind. It's on, around and gone in less than half a block, and in those half-dozen turns of the pedals, my self grows full, is suffused, and I flash quickly in the space of a breath"
It is the "pedals" that makes this.