In good company

June 6, 2024   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

I love being alone; it’s something I need, crave, and actively seek out. As a writer (and educator) I need time, space, and silence to think, plan and create. For me, finding some alone time is just as important as any writing tool or book. 

Of course, spending time alone is not just about being creative. Outside of the creative process, being alone gives me a chance to breathe, to slow the world down. Spending time alone allows me to preserve my energy for teacher life and parent life; it gives me time to reflect, to get in touch with my thoughts and emotions; to do the things that I enjoy doing. I’m more productive when I’m alone; I enjoy being alone more than being in the company of people (That probably says more about me than it does of any person).

Of course, the idea of being alone changed when I got married. Before marriage, I took a few trips to Europe. I walked the streets of Paris and London, spending most days without so much as hearing the sound of my own voice. It was the same way I walked the streets and back alleys of Toronto and Chicago: alone. I was walking my way through places and spaces in the world, trying to find myself in the flow of time. On a recent family trip to New York, I had some heavy moments while the kids ran amok in the Harry Potter Store, the Lego Store, while they waited for their drinks at Starbucks. Even in New York there’s quiet — if you’re listening.

I love being married; I love being a father. I love the expectations that come from living both roles. However, it still hasn’t changed my need for alone time. Truthfully, I love when I see my wife and kids leave the house for a few hours. The house feels like an empty stadium after a rock concert; the silence is almost deafening. I know it may seem harsh, but that’s the writer’s life. As much as I enjoy the quiet, I love the crazy and the love and the chaos that comes back into the house once they’ve returned.  

I often encourage people to spend some time alone. Most people I know don’t like being alone. Most people I know have never spent large amounts of time on their own. Personally, I think this is a problem. I see far too many people following the traditional line of school, work and marriage without ever truly facing or learning how to cope with the one thing that is eventually coming for us all. 

Look, I understand that my solitude is a choice. In reality, being alone for most people is a different experience from my own. I imagine what it must be like for many of the new international students to be so far away from home, from loved ones, from everything so familiar. I think of seniors confined to their rooms in a senior’s residence; the student hiding behind the portables, waiting for the bell. For some, loneliness is despair, anxiety; loneliness is a fill-in-the-blank question that just stays blank.

In a column in the New York Times, Nick Kristof cites a Brigham Young University study that claims that “social isolation is more lethal than smoking 14 cigarettes a day.”  The report also states that loneliness increases the likes of inflammation, heart disease, dementia, and death rates. Loneliness is an epidemic in many countries around the world; A few years back, Britain appointed a minister for loneliness. 

It might seem strange that in a world where one can have 1,753 friends on Facebook and 832 followers on Twitter and Instagram, a person can still feel lonely. In the end, what matters is the quality of those connections. The internet, in particular social media, was supposed to be the answer to that fill-in-the-blank question. In an age where we are connected like never before, people are feeling disconnected, anxious, alone. A recent study of Facebook users found that the amount of time you spend on a social network is inversely related to how happy you feel throughout the day. In a 2016 VICELAND UK Census, loneliness was the greatest fear of most young people. It also stated that 42 per cent of young women were more afraid of loneliness than a cancer diagnosis.

This past semester, my grade 12 English students and I, worked with Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ and a variety of texts that seemed to have one thing in common between them — the characters that were most anxious, angry, deceitful, and hurtful were the characters that were most alone. The other day, one student wanted to share a quote from philosopher Albert Schweitzer that reminded her of what we discussed in class: “We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness”. She pointed out to me that Schweitzer died in 1957.

This is 2024.

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