Strangers ask me for advice on the internet. One of the most common themes in these questions is self-improvement. Sometimes it’s a word of encouragement for being a writer (poverty), other times it’s an opinion on style (pay attention) or people (pay attention). A big theme is being okay with yourself. “Uhauling,” “the urge to merge,” codependency, the bountiful examples of dysfunctional lesbian couples who leapt into a serious relationship without establishing trust and compatibility: neediness is at the root of all.
Last weekend, my girlfriend and I road tripped to Vegas for her Father’s 60th birthday. We were inseparable: one day dripped into another in a love drunk haze. I detest hypocrisy as much as capris, so instead of telling you what to do, I decided to lead by example. How can I reasonably rail against codependency when I am nauseating? I hatched a plan: Five girlfriend-free days devoted to quality alone time. Let the self-actualization begin with five simple steps.
Bask in Silence
Noise: Is there anything more distracting and less rewarding than the deafening clang and clatter of modern life? We fill our ears with other people without considering if we really care to listen.
Turn off the television. Log out of Spotify. Put your phone in another room. Do away with notification dings and empty blather, with talk show hosts and celebrity updates. You like noise because it drowns out your thoughts. You like listening to other people because they tell you what to feel and think. Noise is not stimulation. Noise is a cop out. Noise is for people who can’t stand their own thoughts because they can’t stand themselves.
Silence is a catalyst for freedom and focus. Silence pulls you into the present, heightening awareness. Silence allows you to think things through to resolution. To be alone in silence is to be free of all obligation and expectation. Silence is the escape and solution.
It’s a warm end of Summer night in Hollywood, California, so I sit outside with a glass of green tea and crack open The Beautiful and the Damned. Running my thumb over the hardback’s gilded edges, I take a deep, polluted breath. Silen- “¡Cállate! Tu eres un CABRON!”
Slamming the front door and bellowing in Spanglish, my neighbor revs his sputtering truck engine and connects it with an enormous hose. I check the time. It’s 11:51 p.m, and my neighbor has decided to pressure wash the house. And driveway. And car. The combination of engine, hose, and radio drown out everything but my neighbor’s occasional bellow into the house. I try to use this as white noise and reread the same paragraph four times before glancing up. This is a mistake. I make eye contact with the man pressure washing an ancient minivan. He does not look away until I go inside.
Double locking the door, I profoundly appreciate the sound of silence.
Acquire a Creative Outlet
That’s millennial for “get a hobby.” My hobbies include books and television. Yours probably do, too, but not all books and television are created equal. Instead of re-watching The Office or re-reading Harry Potter, work your way down Bill Hader‘s List of 200 Movies Every Comedy Writer Should See or NPR’s 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. Either will entertain and challenge you. A challenge is an antidote to boredom and boredom is a symptom of loneliness. Or is loneliness a symptom of boredom? Chicken or the egg with those two. Plus, the more important films and novels you read, the more witty references you can drop into casual conversation. Learning is wonderful but knowledge is power and power makes excellent company.