On the way home from work tonight, I realized I didn’t need to hurry. I hardly ever feel like that: there’s some errand that needs doing, or I want to catch the last of the daylight so I can take product photos, or I’m in a competitive rush to claim the laundry room for the evening. Tonight, though, nothing was jostling me. I decided to stop downtown, halfway through my commute home, and eat dinner by myself in a restaurant I like. As I ordered a glass of wine and pulled my Kindle out of my bag, something struck me: this is a luxury. It hasn’t always felt like a luxury to eat a meal out, alone. I can remember eating out alone and cringing at what felt like the scrutiny of everyone else in the room. But something has shifted, and I don’t think it’s just me aging into comfort with being by myself.
The years I’ve been alive are split almost exactly down the middle into pre-internet and post-internet. Or, as I increasingly feel, the private life years and the public life years. A lot of that feeling has to do with how I live online, which is entirely my choice and not the fault of the internet. But that way of life can make me feel, in a very subtle way, that I’m in public even when I’m home alone in my living room. I portray a persona – genuinely mine – of a person who loves and needs solitude. But I portray that persona publicly, daily, in a variety of mediums. That doesn’t give the lie to my solitude, but it does make it harder for me to actually experience it, when I’m wondering if I should be posting this thing I’m making to Instagram, or making a joke about some rabbit hole I’m researching on Twitter. So over the last few years, I have found it increasingly difficult to feel genuinely alone. As I ordered my wine tonight and settled into my book, it occurred to me that the only places I feel genuinely by myself are on an airplane, or in a restaurant or movie theatre by myself. Essentially, places that are filled to bursting with other people. Something about those environments fosters a bubble of away-ness for me. A suspended time that I don’t need to document. The feeling that no one knows where I am – once a feeling that inspired a faint dread, in the prehistoric era of no cell phones – is now a secret delight. No one knows where I am! It’s almost a guilty pleasure.
So I lingered over my dinner for nearly two hours, just because I could, and I came home feeling calm and self-possessed and happy. I am aware that by writing this up as a blog post, I turned my dinner of solitude in a bubble into a public event. What can I say, it’s Blaugust, I needed something to write about, and this was on my mind. But I’m not going to tell you what I ate or what I read, and I didn’t take one single picture of my glass of wine. Those things are mine.
(This is my fourth post for Blaugust.)