The Company I Keep

I’m currently the only person in my home.   It’s heavenly.  I’m sitting here, at the computer with pandora playing a fantastic mix of music (country, punk, big band, rock, whiny chick music…) and checking my facebook.  I’d be happy enough to go see what’s on TV, even to call a friend (except for that whole dialing allergy that I have).  What I don’t really likie, what I’m not good at, is being alone.

Saturday night, while we were camping, we did our usual nightly rituals in the tent.  We read scriptures, we sang songs, we prayed.  That’s all there is to do for the three oldest kids.  The baby, when we don’t have a playpen (Yes, he sleeps in a play pen.  Go ahead call DCFS, I dare you.) to put him in and room to shut him into, needs someone to lie with him until he falls asleep.  Sean was doing that.  So I was sitting all alone by the fire.  It wasn’t that great.

While we camp I really try to eschew most modern technology.  We don’t drive for hours (or in our case tens of minutes) to nature so that we can do the same things that we do when we’re home.  But as I sat there watching the fire my Ipod was really calling to me.  And I realized that I’m just not really very comfortable with only my own company.  I’m fine if I’ve got distractions, if I’ve got the Friends gang cracking jokes in syndication, but all alone I’ve got nothing to do and I’m bored.  Really bored.

And I was thinking that that wasn’t a good thing.

But then another thought struck me.  I think we as a society have a tendency to romanticize the past.  We figure that those who came before us had it all figured out (whatever “it” is) and we’re somehow missing the boat.  We assume that if books and walks were enough entertainment for Jane Austen then they should be for us too. It’s this thinking that automatically makes books superior to television, it makes staged plays better than movies, it makes board games better than video games.

I have a brother-in-law who rejects this idea.  And I think he’s got a point.  Sure books are great, I love books, I’m a writer for goodness sake, but there’s a lot of written crap out there.  I don’t see how you can even make the argument that some bodice-ripping harlequin novel is “better” than Firefly.  Sure, there’s a richness in books that you don’t get out of TV or movies no matter how well done, but there’s a whole spectrum in books and in TV and in movies and in plays and in art, in everything.  Some of all of it is great and good and uplifting, some of it is just fun and some of it is quite frankly crap.  The fact that it’s written crap doesn’t elevate its quality.

I think that quiet is something that comes in pretty short supply to most of us these days and I think that’s too bad, I do wish that I was more comfortable just sitting in silence, that it wasn’t something that made me edgy and nervous (and frustrated).  But I also doubt that many of the women 200 years ago were very good at keeping track of 4 people’s schedules, keeping them clean, working out how to pay the power bill without bouncing the mortgage payment and figuring out what your son means when he asks you what humping is, all while making dinner.  And that’s something I have to do.  Sure, I think women have always been good multi-taskers but these days we really do take it to a whole new level and I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that.

Does this mean that next weekend, when we go camping again, I’m going to make sure that my Ipod’s fully charged so that I can spend the weekend with it crooning in my ear?  Nope.  But when I’m sitting at the fireside trying to be more comfortable with the silence and the lack of entertainment, I’m going to give myself a break.  Or maybe I’ll bring along a pack of cards, even Jane Austen played cards.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. smee
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 08:15:26

    Seriously. Oy. I am NOT good alone. Nope. Nada. I will burn a nice yellow or green spot on the t.v. screen in the living room while I work on a project in the back of the house…just to feel like someone else is there. Music doesn’t do it for me.

    My sister on the other hand (I think) lives for the day she can spend an entire month on her own deserted acre – wherever that may be, and do absolutely nothing with another living soul.

  2. LisAway
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 08:25:53

    Oh man, I’m not that good at “alone” either. I need something to read or do. Not that I don’t sometimes lie in bed thinking about nothing for hours at a time, but that’s different. I think there’s a reason we’re mothers.

  3. Kristina
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 08:42:58

    I am very good at alone time. Maybe too good, sometimes.

  4. bythelbs
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 10:02:40

    I never got the appeal of quiet reflection. Probably because I know my life wouldn’t do well under that kind of scrutiny. From myself.

    Also, this was a good piece, Alison. A fine piece.

  5. Melanie J
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 11:33:20

    I’m not good at alone time. At least, not do-nothing alone time. At a minimum, I need a book. But I could do without if I had to, so I don’t worry about it.

  6. madhousewife
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 13:56:43

    I’m very good at being alone. I excel at it. I wish they had a being-alone Olympics, just so I’d have an excuse to train for it.

  7. Janelle
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 14:57:25

    Loner here too. Love it. But I’m getting used to the Internet being as close as my Iphone. Sometimes I leave it home so temptation to check in on things is thwarted. I guess that is what some people camp for. To see who they are without “accessories.”

    But typically those types of people have many, many camping accessories.

  8. Susan M
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 17:12:18

    Count me as a total introvert.

    So what does humping mean, exactly?

  9. Chris Jones
    Jul 17, 2009 @ 05:56:42

    I can do the alone thing, or not. I practically never get the chance, though, so it’s just as well. My best, most focused work happens when I’m alone at the office or up at 5am at the kitchen table, but when my kids are off at scout camp for a couple of days, I miss them terribly and wish they were home. And don’t get me started about when Jeanette’s not here.

    As I read your post, I thought that one of the things I do very poorly is just BE. I have to be doing something. Laptop, book, something. Just sitting is not something I do. Sitting listening to music, not something I do. I have to be reading or learning or working, and I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. Time to ponder is critical , and I never take it.

  10. Julie
    Jul 17, 2009 @ 06:30:37

    It was fun meeting you last night! I’ve got you bookmarked now. 🙂

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