I am an only child, except for my sister who isn’t my sister.
When I was very young my immediate playmate and companion was my nine-month-younger cousin, the daughter of my mother’s sister, whose relationship to me in my own cradle tongue was “sister-from-aunt” and whom therefore I have always and confusingly referred to as simply my sister.
She and I had a wonderful time when we were little. We did make-believe like it was nobody’s business. With the assistance of a brace of wooden cooking spoons which doubled as swords, and my mother’s blue satin dressing gown which served as anything from a royal cloak to the robes of Cardinal Richelieu, we parceled out the necessary parts and pretty much comprehensively rewrote The Three Musketeers according to which characters could be interacting at any one time. She was D’Artagnan. She was always the action hero and that was fine with me. That meant I got the INTERESTING parts. I got to be Richelieu.
We also played games that we made up ourselves. But outside of this rich little world of shared sisterly imagination, she was the gregarious sort who had hordes of friends with whom she hung out at all other times… and I was more of a solitary. I had my sister, I had my books, I had the dolls whose lives I embroidered with such enthralled storytelling glee when I played with them. I was on my own, and that was okay.
I was beginning to discover that storytellers often are.
When I was a little older, and I’d moved away from all of that, into a new world, a new continent. I persisted in the solitary state. I had a friend here and there as I began to drift through school after different school, never really staying in one place for long enough to fall into a group, a gaggle, a clique. Always on the edges looking and observing, always on my own. Always in my stories, inside my head.
At some point – when I was maybe thirteen, fourteen – I had a book whose exact title I don’t now recall but which was something along the lines of “Games you can play on your own”. I don’t know what it says about me that I even knew such a book existed, never mind that that I owned a copy. At this point I have mercifully forgotten most everything it contained – but I do retain, verbatim, one particular game instruction. It involved something they called “keeping your mind fixed”. What you had to do is choose a thought or an idea or an object and keep your mind fixed on it for a certain designated stretch of time. The verbatim thing I remember is this: “This isn’t as easy as it sounds because the moment you think ‘My mind is fixed’ it is not because if that were the case you would not be able to think about your mind being fixed. Cheating is easy but pointless.” So was the game, really, but apparently this was the sort of thing, the sort of game, you could play with nobody other than yourself – it was a retreat into the mind, into inner worlds. But I was already all too good at that. I transcended the games-for-one book pretty quickly. I don’t know what became of it.
At this point it serves as a signpost, I suppose, I was on my own, and it was okay. I was the one sitting in the library at recess, with my nose in a book. I was the one who was never picked for a sports team but whose schoolwork was always in demand from those popular people who WERE so picked and had far too much of a good time in their social circles to bother about turning in their math homework on time. I was the dreamer, the learner, the prism through which the world refracted and was re-shaped; I looked and observed and kept meticulous notes.
I may not have had dozens of friends or gone to hundreds of parties, but I saw more sunsets, walked in the comforting shade of more trees on more summer days, listened to more birds and learned their language, read more fairy tales and used them to understand the real world, told first myself and then others more stories. I was on my own and that was okay.
I am an introvert, and although I can come out of my shell and be as gregarious as the next person, it is usually for a short period of time and then I have to crawl back into a quiet place and plug myself back into my solitude to recharge. There are very few people in this world in whose company I am completely content for longer than a limited period of time before I need to escape again. There are really times that I can’t handle anything bigger than my cat.
On the face of it, I am one of the lonelier creatures on this planet – but it isn’t really that. I DO have friends, and there are definitely times when some of them live too frustratingly far away from me to actually practice that friendship – but we’re always a couple of typed lines away in email or social media, so it’s mostly OK. Those who are like me are a lot like me — we all walk our own paths and are content if they occasionally cross but for the most part quite at peace with otherwise walking alone.
We’re on our own, we storytellers, in the end, and that’s OK.
There are certainly those who write and create who are far more extroverted than that – and that works for them, so that’s OK too. But for the most part those of us who live with a part of ourselves in a world that is often so completely unlike our own that it gives us vertigo when we look from one to the other. We are used to the fact that at SOME point during the process of creation we will need to be alone with what we are shaping. Because for the process of that shaping… there can be only one.
It’s in a single mind, a single pair of hands.
I guess the solitudes of my childhood and my young days have served me well, in that, at least. I know how to be alone, and how to deal with the intrusion of the clamor of voices which don’t exist outside my own mind into the more solid reality which I share with others of my kind. Occasionally I get a distant look and begin to listen to songs which nobody else around me can hear. I’m on my own, then. When I dream, when I write. At least until it’s done, and it’s ready to be shared with others.
I’m on my own. And it’s okay.