Alone? Or Lonely?


So I did embark on my MA. I have struggled through the first year.

I have not found the words hard: the writing, the reading. Nor  – even – the discipline that must attend study at home. What I have found hard is writing into a void. Here – here in this cosy space I have carved in the blogosphere (albeit a space talcy with dust and festooned with cobwebs for I don’t air it nearly enough), I have created a kindly space for my words; I know this for occasionally a reader drops me a line so I know that even as I whisper into the ether, I am heard.   Writing into the void cast by dislocated, distance learning is  isolating.   Nobody’s listening. Nobody will talk back, say hello.

It is appropriate, then, that for my EMA essay I have chosen to write about loneliness. What does it mean to be Lonely? And what does it mean to be Alone? On that I am clear. Loneliness bubbles up inside a person, like a shiver and then it sits coldly in your soul. In London. At a party.  It is intrinsic. It is not a choice. It is discombobulating at best, terrifying at worst.

Alone-ness feels like a option. Leave me Alone.

You cannot – by definition – be Alone in a marriage. (There are two of you).

But you can be Lonely in one.

The first time I felt the metallic taste of something like loneliness on my tongue was when Hat joined her siblings at school. Her fledgling chick feathers ruffled and small wings spread and off she flew.   But that was a not real loneliness. That was redundancy; there is a difference. I learned to Make Jam – fast – and that was a good thing given what came after.

The Outpost was often lonely but I was not alone. I had Ant and – for three of those five  years – I had my glorious Hat who brought sunshine and smiles and feathers and stones and laughter and crazy madcap stories.  Loneliness was new to me and I was often not gracious in its company; you heard me hiss and stamp my feet and you were patient with my ranting. My loneliness was of the brightly coloured exotic variety. I did loneliness as few do: under huge skies, miles from anywhere with snakes in the garden.


With time I got better at the Lonely so that even when I was Alone – because Ant was thousands of miles away for work and Hat was at school not far from her siblings on the Norfolk coast – I found I managed the time better. It no longer spilt from my hands, threatened to drown me. With time I found I could slice it into bite-size chunks that were manageable. I didn’t choke on it.  I learned to notice the tiny so that the enormity of my predicament did not overwhelm. Loneliness adds beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes night air smell better, said Henry Rollins. He’s right.

The real loneliness came after that. After the Outpost. When life went wrong and plans unravelled like balls of string the end of which was attached to a kitten who was recklessly tossing it hither and thither without a care as to where it ended up.  By then all my children were the other side of the world, at school, at uni, at work. And by then the situation was such that I was often alone as Ant had to find work far from wherever we pitched whatever semblance of transient home we hobbled together. In a two year period we spent almost half of it apart. My yellow dog was a younger companion in those far away days.

photo (4)

Then I felt the chill of real Loneliness. Sleeping alone, eating alone, rarely going out because my natural reticence meant staying in felt easier.  Even now, even now five years later, when I reflect back on that dark episode of not knowing what next, of living from one unsatisfactory phone call (broken either by a shaky signal or a shaky me) to the next,  I feel a deep sense of something visceral. Is it sadness? dread? I never want to do that again.

The neuro I saw for the migraines that descended (“stress, dear”, he said, kindly) gave me medication which made me sleep so deeply that that I woke feeling as if I’d been hit over the head so that I shambled disorientated through my day.   And shuffle ineffectively through a day is what you do when there is nothing, nobody, to punctuate your hours. I’d get to noon and realise I had not eaten. I’d get to four and find the day too long, so I’d draw the curtains, open a beer and put the telly on. I would pretend the day was done. One down. How many more to go before I am not this Lonely?


So here. Now. Where I live on my mountain where buffalo venture into the garden, where elephant careen around Avocado trees at night, where the porcupines and bush pigs ransack Ant’s veggie garden, where my naughty dogs chase bush buck and jackals on an evening walk, here even though my children are still too far away, here when on my own, which is for only a few hours a day, there is time to write, to read, with a cat kneading m lap, to walk, to collect my thoughts and gather myself; here, I am happy and content and in control.  Time does not gallop over me so that I am so winded I cannot stand. Here, I can climb into my car and meet a friend for lunch. Go and have a haircut. Buy butter in the store an hour away.

Here the solitariness is my choice. I am Alone. I am not Lonely. Not anymore.

And that is the difference.


3 Responses to “Alone? Or Lonely?”

  1. Connie Shingledecker Says:

    Hello from India…and I do read all of your posts. Having lived for 15 years in Nairobi, I find myself wondering where you are as you travel from “home” to “home”. As you described loneliness, it sounded very much like depression…a connection between the two?

  2. Potty Mummy Says:

    Beautiful, atmospheric, haunting writing as ever xxx

  3. Christine Says:

    Haven’t been here in a while, glad that you are still writing 🙂

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