Captain of your soul
Loneliness vs being alone, and solitude. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to steer my ship.” — Louisa May Alcott
I’ve been talking recently with writers who would like to contribute to Understandably. (If you’re a reader who would like to learn more, check out my ad here.)
As part of that effort, I had a great conversation recently with a writer named Circe Olson Woessner. Circe has spent her entire life steeped in military culture: first as the daughter of Department of Defense civilians stationed overseas, then as an Army wife for 20 years and the mother to an Army veteran, and now as a retired federal employee herself.
Recently, she relocated to Hawaii, and she wrote in Circa Zine about how that experience reminded her of what she learned as a military wife about the differences between being alone, loneliness, and solitude—along with practical suggestions on how to beat loneliness.
I especially liked her final suggestion, and I asked Circe if I could share the whole thing with Understandably readers. Here it is.
Alone vs lonely
by Circe Olson Woessner
As a military wife, I have been alone for much of my marriage. Sometimes I’ve even been lonely.
Being alone and lonely are not always inclusive. Sometimes it’s how you look at it.
I’ve recently moved 3,000 miles away—away from family and friends (in the middle of a pandemic), to a place I’ve never lived before. It’s made me remember how susceptible I am to loneliness.
In writing this, I hope to give myself a much-needed pep talk and to offer anyone reading some fresh ideas on how to make solitude work for them.
At the outset, notice that I wrote “solitude” in that last paragraph, rather than “loneliness.” It’s an intentional change.
Solitude is positive, calm, and tranquil. Loneliness is heavy, moist, and stomach-clenching. Loneliness is being adrift and rudderless.
Here are some of the strategies I’ve learned:
Follow a daily schedule. There is such a thing as “too much Saturday.“ So, make daily routines with overarching themes (like “Writing Wednesdays” or “Fun Fridays”). You can always be flexible and break your schedule if something exciting comes up, but by making a disciplined effort to live purposefully and by penciling time for exercise, meditation, fun, and work, you won’t feel like you’re wasting what’s left of your life.
Get up and move. Maybe you’ve put on a few pounds during the pandemic (like me), and justified it by thinking, “What does it matter if I look good or not? I haven’t been out of yoga pants in two years!” Stop that thinking right now! You’re working out to make yourself healthy; looking good is a side effect. Plus, when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, you want to be running in front of the zombies, not lying underneath them!
Keep things ship-shape. I have the house “zoned” into areas. There’s a cozy reading area, an office space, and a place where I work out. Throughout my day, I deliberately move from office space to work out space, and so on. When dining alone, turn off the TV and turn on some music. Light a candle, use your nice dishes, and practice mindfulness while you eat. Chew, taste, savor and enjoy!
Dinners for one? Just because you’re on your own, there’s no reason not to make delicious food for yourself. I cook small portions daily, but if I make larger amounts, I divide them into meal-size servings and freeze them. I have a few friends cook a few favorite dishes once a month and divide them into small portions to share with their friends. One day of cooking results in a variety of dishes for the month!
Find your crew. Making new friends and finding activities to do is hard, especially in a pandemic. I never thought at nearly 60, I’d be starting over. It’s taken me a year, but here are some ideas I have found that work:
Volunteer, for example, as an usher for a theater company. For very little work, you‘ll get to see a play free! Become a docent for a local museum or historical society, or like my friend, volunteer at the zoo! My 85-year-old grandfather used to drive over to the local nursing home to play the piano for the “old people.”
Join things. A book or writing club, maybe? You can find groups through your local library or searching online. Many groups have Facebook pages as well as websites; you can interact with members between meetings. I belong to a writers’ group in Hawaii. I hope, once the pandemic lessens, to meet some of the members in person.
Walk. Strolling around your neighborhood is a good way to meet neighbors. I know every dog (and its human) within a mile radius. Also, many neighborhood associations have private social media groups; reach out; I think I’ve met more people in my neighborhood through Facebook than in real life. That may be a sad indictment of our society, but at least I know my neighbors.
Armchair travel. I’m still a little hesitant to fly or cruise, and travel costs are rising. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t see the world from your corner of it. Each month, pick a country that you want to explore. For that entire month, immerse yourself in travel documentaries or movies about that place. Explore its culture by reading books and listening to its music. Seek out online experiences such as virtual exhibits or walking tours. Indulge in take-out or try making a new recipe at home.
Start thinking of ways you can move from lonely to lovely. You enrich your life. You are the captain of your soul.
7 other things worth knowing today
More than 40 migrants were found dead Monday in the trailer of a big-rig truck in San Antonio. The grim discovery was made early Monday evening in an undeveloped area of southwest San Antonio near the railroad tracks. Someone who works in the area reported hearing a cry for help and spotted at least one body. “We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies,” the fire chief said. (NBC News)
Yelp, which is the company whose reviews you see if you look up restaurants and other locations on anything other than Google, says it's closing its offices in NY, Chicago, and DC to double-down on remote work. Hybrid office work is “the hell of half measures” and "the worst of three options,” said Yelp's CEO. (WashPost)
Interesting take on why the U.S. Army is 23 percent behind its goals in recruiting this year. Yes, there's the fact that it's about joining the military which is not for everyone. But: Poor advertising, dysfunctional websites, completely messed up quotas and incentives; it's almost a wonder they can process anyone's attempts to join. (Task & Purpose)
Two Russian missiles slammed into a crowded shopping centre in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk on Monday, killing at least 16 people and wounding 59, officials said. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said more than 1,000 people were in the mall at the time of the attack, which witnesses said caused a huge fire and sent dark smoke billowing into the sky. (Reuters)
Gold miners discovered a rare, mummified baby woolly mammoth in the territory of Yukon. The Yukon government said the baby is female and likely died during the ice age, more than 30,000 years ago. I don't know how I can share the photo in the newsletter for copyright reasons, but if you click through you'll see it. (Alaska News Source)
Google has asked the Federal Election Commission to green light a program that could keep campaign emails from ending up in spam folders. Why it matters: Google has come under fire that its algorithms unfairly target conservative content, and that its Gmail service filters more Republican fundraising and campaign emails to spam. (Axios)
Hat tip: My wife! She pointed out the newsletter needs some lighter "other things" these days, and came across this one. An international women's soccer match between Chile and Venezuela was interrupted when a dog ran out onto the field and ran from player to player demanding belly rubs. The dog—I assume a stray, but looks a bit like a Lab or a Lab mix to my untrained eye—was finally carried off the field. (Yahoo Sports)