Lonely moments…musings from my own silo

In a time when it seems every day brings yet another story of just how how much work we still need to do on race relations, even I have a moment when I just need to step back. While this space has become primarily focused on race, there are times when I need to go back to my writing roots and muse on life. Today would be that day for me.

A few weeks ago, I read this piece about the blogger known to the world as Dooce and it really resonated with me. Obviously, my trajectory in the world of blogging hasn’t been anywhere near Dooce’s; after all, I’m still working at my day job and asking readers to consider supporting this space. Yet as this blog’s profile has risen in recent years, I am far less inclined to talk about my life, especially as I have realized in recent months that there are a few readers of this space who feel the need to keep tabs on my life while looking for the “gotcha” moment. Among my favorites have been “Jessie,” who insists that I am living the life of Riley in my palatial Victorian-style house (big, yes, but hardly mansion-level swank and in serious need of plenty of work) or the local chap who insists that my son was/is heavily involved in Maine’s rap scene therefore I must be withholding knowledge about a local murder in a Portland recording studio. Never mind that my son didn’t start his career in earnest until he went away to college in the Midwest and hasn’t lived in Maine for a number of years…

Increasingly, technology is starting to feel like a double-edged sword to me. On the one hand, it has allowed me to create a voice for myself and my work but increasingly it is coming at the expense of my own humanity. I feel less and less like a person, and to quote another Black writer who I know online, I have become “a fact portal” for far too many. People know me in bits and pieces but few know me as a whole human. Even within existing relationships the frenetic pace of life makes connecting in real time damn near impossible and too many of those connections feel hollow to me.

As I grapple with some major life transitions, I am confronting the limits of the connections that I have made in recent years and, to be honest, it saddens me. A few days ago, I was in a deep funk—the kind of funk that I know is part of this transition. To dismantle a life and start over at midlife is not an easy task, and no one goes through the process without funky moments. Yet what scared me was realizing that in that moment that I needed support what I honestly needed was a friend. And in that moment, I realized that on a gorgeous Friday, there was no one who I have met in my 13 years in Maine who I am close enough to that they would willing inconvenience themselves to be there for me.

The funky mood passed but the reality that I am utterly alone is a hard pill to swallow. I know many people but it’s the type of knowing that is part of this brave new world we all live in. We “see” each other on Facebook, we read our updates, we “like” the same things but rarely do we really know each other. On the other hand, I still have the same childhood best friends; however, we are thousands of miles away thus making those connections tenuous at best.

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of July 2003 and until her death in March of 2004, my mother was never alone. Her friends organized their lives to make sure they could support my mother and father during her illness. That meant rides, friends going with her to chemotherapy, etc. In the days immediately after her death, so many friends reached out to support our family that one day my father was so overwhelmed that he unplugged the phone. As I have faced my own health struggles in recent months, I find myself aware that my own journey has been vastly different, and while I have taken to joking that I am simply an unlikable person, the reality is for younger generations including my own, it feels like we have moved away from those deeper levels of connection.

There are most certainly places where community rallies behind people but ours is increasingly a world where far too many of us are alone. The fact that at 2 am, so many of us are up and posting on Facebook or tweeting on Twitter is about more than group insomnia. However no one really wants to cop to feeling lonely. It’s a vulnerable feeling and vulnerability is  scary.  Hell, just about writing about this has my gut churning.

The older I get though, I am aware that I no longer want to exist in my own silo of “aloneness.” I want community; I want camaraderie. As wonderful as social media is, increasingly I find myself wanting to unplug from it and plug into others in real time over tea, a walk or even a good fruity drink. In the early days of social media, real connections were formed but as social media becomes a tool, and we the product, those connections are harder to find especially when a mistaken word can result in a digital posse coming for your ass. Or heaven forbid, a big slip-up might even be the end of your job. I can’t speak for anyone else but it’s hard for me to make real connections when I am hoping I don’t make a mistake in a world that is changing so fast that at the tender age of 42, I struggle to stay up on the correct words to use because I don’t want to offend anyone.

Days like today, I wish making friends was as easy as it was back in grammar school, when you could slip someone a note: Do you like me? Will you be my friend? However those days are gone but as I start over and rebuild my life which include a move soon (have no fear, I will still be a Black Girl in Maine, just one in our state’s largest city), I do think that forming and strengthening connections is definitely a priority for me.  Like many women over the years, I put my energy and attention into my family and while that was the right decision at that time, I also know now that a support system that is not family-based is also important.
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9 thoughts on “Lonely moments…musings from my own silo

  1. I feel you, especially since we moved to Connecticut. We had a better network in Maine, in no small part because I lived a mile away from my Mom – who picked up all the slack friend-wise. I find that friendships in my 30s and especially my 40s are so different. There is my lack of energy, and then there is the lack of opportunity (everyone is so busy!) And my 20s were before cell phones and ubiquitous internet, so it seems we had much more hanging around time.

  2. I’m not even finished reading… but can you forgive this new yawker for *snorting* at the chap who referenced “Maine’s Rap Scene” was that intentionally wry?

    • Okay, forgive my folly of the earlier question… connected VERY deeply with what you said after, This moment in your life, the loneliness that is both real and shrouded by everyone else. Even connections we make online (which enjoys a BLOCK/Mute button) are by nature tenable. With current social media platforms providing easier serendipitous connections at a price much cooler than real-life counterparts. Online personas (ourselves included) are reducing us to playing a “version” of ourselves ~ which at times becomes as troublesome as the ones we encounter in person.

      For writers however it is beguiling, existing solely in written word, reading or writing voluminously (at 140-characters or 5k) included with pictures/videos/gifs to approximate a strange beguiling netherworld of proximation. Even living in a densely populated place like NYC just magnifies by millions that feeling in real-world situations.Feeling loneliness with much less space.

      Silos are good, unplugging is good. Two things that I’ve not done in months. Your point about the disintegration of those real life “extended networks” that came together for your mother in her final days are the kind that I grew up in, but being Queer & eternally single, having all friends/family spread far and wide with what (even before reading this) has turned into a nonexistent support network No one that would come over in time of need is frightening. Just lost a dear friend, to cancer at 40, and was amazed at the childhood friends, the former coworkers, myself and others who came together for his final days. By contrast none of that would or could happen for me, this realization was emotionally freighted to reach.

      His memorial was last Saturday, full of people telling stories about him, and his way – esp online of past few years – to connect with so many through laughter, love, and from-the-hip advice about difficult matters, that really made the world less lonely. He’s been off of social media for a month now, and like you find a reckoning of the soul. His chats & DMs were manna and kept me grounded everyday. Now I’m struggling to write about that experience and will take cues, and ponder what you’ve said here very seriously when I do.

      Freddie was a rare find as the most treasured people are. Your voice and writing are just another of the other treasures on the internet, stumbled upon (years ago), rarely commented on or interacted with on social media. Keep us posted as to how you branch out or find your way in broadening that support group. For you’ll have one reader here who could stand to learn!

      Thanks for sharing, it is inspiring.

  3. When you so elegantly write, “And in that moment, I realized that on a gorgeous Friday, there was no one who I have met in my 13 years in Maine who I am close enough to that they would willing inconvenience themselves to be there for me”. I am not at all convinced that your move to Portland is going to be any better. This is the Maine way of building a wall between themselves and others … a defense mechanism based on their history of abuse by others and now resulting in a generalized fear of others. Unless you have a strong inter-generational family support network — and even here with the extreme level of Elderly abuse documented within Maine there are pitfalls— you are not going to find the authentic support that you want and deserve. While you can find friends within your own particularly silo—- there is little in the way of any real commitment here and particularly if it involves “inconvenience”. Please rethink this move and look again at the options within Boston. You have already given more than enough of yourself to Maine… and at the expense of not only your well being but that of your beautiful children !

    • Eventually I would like to relocate to Boston but I am limited by my financials means so Portland it is for now.

      • Portland is so blessed to be getting you as a resident. Perhaps we can grab a drink this summer once you get here? Thinking of you…

  4. Yes, yes yes yes so much yes. You’re not alone in feeling this way. As a lifelong New Englander I think I can fairly say that it’s not an easy place to make friends. I’ve recently moved out of New England and I have a lot of hope that I’ll find myself some community. I hope you do too.

  5. I’ve been thinking about your post since I read it. Loneliness is a national phenomena (http://spectator.org/articles/59230/loneliness-american-society) and the pressures involved in sustaining work, family, a visible presence, a voice, a written voice, health, personal finances, etc. make the strategies suggested to address loneliness often pretty laughable. And, I completely feel how the additional isolation that comes with being “blackgirlinMaine” complicates things. It’s really hard to occupy the space of “other” and also feel known, understood, connected and the risk of a “mistake” is so often present in relationships that cross identities, which can be hard when we’re feeling more vulnerable. And, at the same time, I’d love to get to know you as a person – I look forward to the possibility! My heart goes out to you and to the larger “You” you speak for.

    I DO think living in Portland will be good and the opportunity for networks of proximity – through your daughter’s school, through social justice organizations, through the arts, etc. are more available. But, I also think we need to really think about how we structure loneliness as an element of our communities and begin to make conscious changes to be more welcoming, connecting and open to relationship.

  6. I realized, while reading your musings, that I don’t mind being alone, that my company is sufficient and mostly preferred. I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to your plight, but I’m never lonely, despite having, for years, an aversion to being alone.

    I have struggled mightily with my aloneness, and have ventured out into public places among pure strangers that I have no desire to know, just to satisfy that insatiable need not to be alone, the source of which I’ve know for years.

    Over time, even this feeling has dissipated. Were it not for obligations to someone I dearly love, I would steal away into the wilderness and live my live as a recluse, unshaven, unkempt, and unconcern for the needs of the body, eating what I could find in my new milieu, or what I could purchase and store for long periods of time, staples resistant to spoilage.

    I would spend my newly-acquired quiet hours in meditation, in prayer, and in contemplation of the Allness of God and His Kingdom, all in an effort to transform the world that I left behind, to do my part, small as it might be, to realize a portion of Jesus’ prayer, known as the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Matt 6:10

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