A week of our time alone
This week we decided to focus on our time alone: all of the moments in our week that we spent with no people around.
What do we do? How do we feel?
I recorded every moment I spent on my own while awake, I collected moments when I was alone, or with strangers I didn’t interact with; and I added details about where I was, the main activity I was doing, and some extra observations about my mood.
I used to not enjoy my time alone some time ago, I was actually almost scared to being alone, and to feel a sense of dread, isolation, and to being forced to confront my own thoughts.
Lately, growing up and especially since I moved to New York, I feel more comfortable in being with myself.
This week of data collection, confirmed me that I can enjoy my time alone, by focusing on the activities I engaged in and on the feelings I had while on my own, I realized it is just not too bad to be with me and with me only! :)
I love waking alone in my city, for example, and this week I figured it out very vividly; and I also love taking some time at home just for myself, as I guess everybody does: I just never stopped focusing on this particular aspect of my life and dissecting my thoughts about that!
The total amount of time I spend alone is really not that much though, during regular weeks.
In my drawing, every “dash” represent a chunk of my time alone during the day, and the colored marks above the dashes indicates the activities, the places and the feelings.
Although I normally try to avoid it, this time I organized my data chronologically, from Monday to Sunday and from 6am to 1am, to give Stefanie the idea of the pace of my time alone during my days.
I liked the idea of marking my time alone on the timeline and leaving blank spaces for the moments I was with others, as to highlight that part of my days.
Stefanie and I thought pretty similarly data-wise, she also collected where she was, what she was doing; but she also differentiated between "being alone" and "feeling alone", which I love.
In fact, being alone is a physical description, it indicates we are not surrounded by other people, while loneliness is a sensation, often a painful one.
If I had to start my data collection over now, I would definitely put more attention on this distinction.
Funnily enough, while I am writing these notes I am in an uncommon situation: I am in New York “alone" since 10 days ago because my boyfriend is back in Italy for work reasons, and I will be without him for a while.
If I would have to draw my card these days my time alone would be definitely definitely more!
On the topic, I anticipated this period with a little bit of anxiety, to be honest: when you are so use to spend your whole days with a person, you just can’t help to ask you if you will be able to be happy even while he will be physically far apart and for so long.
But as most of the things we experience, once we have to face them, we just do it.
And, I am learning that being alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there actually are some benefits that I am discovering while learning to embrace a little bit of solitude.
For example, I have more time to reflect, I am more productive, I am engaging in conversations with people I normally wouldn’t bother talking to, I am starting to do the things that I actually enjoy and want to do, and, generally, I value my relationship with my boyfriend more and more!
I enjoyed this week, as it compelled me to think more carefully about how I define ‘being alone’, and how there are different definitions for different situations. The only downside of the week was that I am quite aware I sounded like an melancholy amateur philosopher for most of the week, repeatedly discussing ‘what it means to be alone’ and loneliness with whoever I met. Sorry, everyone.
Regardless, it was an enjoyable week of thinking how I define this state of being. In a big city, although one is never really alone, there are still spaces for solitude: you can be alone with your thoughts as you walk down a crowded street, for example, or when you stand wedged against 15 people on a crowded train, and that type of solitude is enough to draw upon when you need some time to reflect and relax.
But in London, ‘being alone’ is more of a mental state as opposed to a physical state as it’s the only way to find some peace and quiet in a busy city (and is also the reason I felt uncomfortable breaking into these self-imposed spaces during our week of smiling at others).
However, while I decided to track these moments of being mentally alone in a crowd as well as moments of being physically alone, I also included moments when I am in my house, but my husband is asleep, and I am awake.
As mentioned before, I tend to be an early riser: I get out of bed before my husband so I can get ahead to ensure that we will have the evening to spend time together and I won’t be working late. I count this as being alone because while sleeping, he isn’t aware of my presence in the same way he might be when he was awake.
But while I was drawing this card, I realised I had made an error of data consistency: during Week 12, when we tracked the people in our vicinity, I didn’t actually count myself as being alone when my husband was sleeping next to me. It’s interesting how the same data is categorised in different ways depending on the theme of the data for the week: a reminder that so long as there are humans gathering and representing data, the decisions for organising this data will be inherently subjective.
Finally, I also gathered data on when I felt emotionally alone: when I was lonely and sad.
Philosopher’s corner over, I gathered and drew my data for the week and was interested to notice that most of my time spent alone is generally time where I am doing something else, like commuting, or running errands in London. I have realised that although London is a city of eight million people, during the week it’s mainly populated with a crowd of people who are mentally alone as they go about their day. We are all solitary, but we are solitary together, which seems to sum up London quite nicely.
As for Giorgia’s postcard, again, it’s interesting that often without realising it we organise our drawings in a similar way, though I really enjoy how Giorgia has categorised her data this week, particularly because her data type ‘alone and listening to the sounds of rain’ is a perfect example of when being alone can be so satisfying and enjoyable. Giorgia’s cards often feel more poetic than mine, and I envy this, because while I always try to create or capture a feeling with my design projects I don’t think this emotional interest always extends to how I gather my data.
I also am pleased to see that we both enjoy being alone: both of us highlighted times when we felt lonely, and these unhappy moments are a tiny sliver of the actual amount of solitary time spent this week. Is this because we are only children, so we don’t mind being alone? Or because while living with a partner in a crowded city, we cherish those stolen moments of solitude? Of course, it’s hard to draw conclusions from a week of data, but suffice to say that just by tracking this data, it’s made me more aware and appreciative of these solitary moments whenever I find them.