I’m getting married soon, but I was single for most of my twenties. I didn’t necessarily like being alone, but I got used to it. The first time I went to a movie by myself (Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, when I was 25), I felt awkward standing in line alone, but I soon realized it wasn’t that bad… even sort of nice. Eating dinner alone at restaurants and drinking alone at bars aren’t quite as fun, but I’ve done both more than once.
As far as doing things alone goes, I have this strong memory from when I was 29 and single and living in DC. It was a Saturday evening. My roommate was gone (she spent most weekends in Maryland with her boyfriend), and all my friends were busy people with whom I had to make plans weeks in advance. So I was alone in the quiet house.
I was looking online at events for the next weekend when I realized there was something called “Super Art Fight” going on at one of my favorite venues on H Street… and it was starting in forty-five minutes.
It was too late to call around and find someone to go with me, and I wasn’t sure that any of my friends would actually want to go. Besides, I always felt guilty when I invited people to something that ended up being lame, and I had no idea what this “Super Art Fight” would be like. So, without giving it too much thought, I put on a pair of boots, grabbed my ipod, and headed out the door.
It was a cool night, but not too cold. Feeling invigorated, I hoofed it the two miles to H Street, listening to my favorite songs on my ipod. I felt oddly exhilarated and free. I could stay out as late as I wanted. I could leave whenever I wanted. I didn’t have to feel guilty if the event sucked. I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone by myself. I smiled and took flying leaps over cracks in the sidewalk. I was strong and independent and a little bit wild! It was the happiest I’d felt in a while.
The happy feeling continued as I walked into the club, bought my ticket, and ordered myself a beer. Then I stood waiting for the event to start. With no one to talk to, I was hyper aware of myself and my surroundings. I watched the couples, the groups of friends; I noticed their body language and clothing and tried to guess at their relationships to each other. I wondered if people assumed I was waiting for someone, or if they realized I was alone. Maybe someone would come talk to me. I took a swig of beer.
No one came to talk to me, and after a while I realized that, in all likelihood, the other people at the club hadn’t noticed me at all because they were busy having conversations. The exhilaration from my walk was gone. I felt awkward and alone.
Then the show started. Two artists competed, each drawing on giant paper canvases while a punk band played video game song covers. It was (nerdy) fun, but I wished I had someone to talk to. Instead, I had to make comments to myself (in my head) about the action on stage. When intermission came, I checked my watch. Ten o’clock. My feet hurt from standing. I didn’t want to spend the twenty-minute intermission standing alone, feeling awkward. So I walked home. Despite how it sounds, I was glad I went.
I think this sums up what it’s like to do things on your own, at least for many of us. It can feel liberating and empowering. But it can also feel awkward and lonely, especially if you’re at a place where everyone else is being social. But I think it’s an important thing to do, especially for writers and artists. Because being alone makes you more aware — of both your surroundings and yourself.
In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests we get into the habit of taking ourselves on weekly excursions she calls “artist dates.” This could be a trip to a museum or a park or a bookstore (or to see a Super Art Fight). It’s simply spending quality time with your inner artist — and no one else. When you go on an artist date, she says, “you are receiving — opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.”
Sounds like a good idea. And yet, I didn’t want to do it. I’ve done the alone thing, I thought, when I first read about artist dates. Now that I have Paul, I don’t have to do things by myself any more. But I think I should, at least sometimes.
Think about it — you go on dates to get to know someone better, right? Well, even though going places alone isn’t always fun, it will help me get to know myself (and my “inner artist”) better. Even though it might bring up insecure feelings of loneliness, experiencing these emotions might be important. Arist dates will help me to really notice the world, what I think of it, and where I fit into it. And like Cameron said, artist dates are a way of opening myself up to insight. I won’t be able to hear my muse if I’m having a conversation with someone else.
So this past Saturday, I went on my first official artist date to the Macy’s Flower Show. And I made a list of other date ideas (besides taking solitary walks, which I don’t think counts for me since I do that all the time already.) I don’t know if I’ll go on an artist date every week, but I’m definitely going to try to take myself out more and get to know myself better!