The first time she said it, it was a little startling.
To that point, three year-old Leila had been more of a proximity kind of girl, encouraging her parents and others to stay by her side even as she fell asleep or took care of business in the bathroom.
Anyone tucking her in would get a specific request: Stretch out on the floor by her bed until she nodded off. And she insisted on holding her Mom’s hand whenever, well, whenever nature called in a particular way.
Her sudden demand for some alone time — “I need some privacy!” — reflected Leila’s growing independence, of course. But it also reminded me how much being alone matters in a living arrangement focused on being together.
This is especially so for an extrovert like me. As anyone who’s taken the Myers-Briggs can tell you, we extroverts draw energy from being with others and, given the choice, usually opt for chatter with the group before quiet on our own.
Even though I managed to finish school without taking a single psychology course, I’ve been lucky to end up with someone who took more than her share. She and her pal Carl Jung have introduced me to the idea that, after midlife, it’s time for me to focus on my shadow side. Time, in other words, to explore the wonders of introversion.
But how to make that happen in practical terms?
Among the misconceptions about the two years we spent at the Beacon Hill Friends House was the presumed sacrifice of privacy. In fact, the room we shared and the expanse of the house provided all we needed. So too now, with our own across-the-hall apartment in Brookline.
But neither arrangement guarantees solitude. And unlike privacy, solitude is not simply the absence of others. It’s the absence of distraction.
Usually the first one up on our side of the hall, I spend some time alone most mornings before hanging the OPEN sign on our door. Especially lately, though, that’s yielded privacy without much solitude.
As I confessed in a post last December, I struggle with what amounts to an addiction to distraction, mostly worthwhile distractions like news and social media updates from friends and family, but distractions nonetheless. As easy as it can be to gloss over problems like that, it became more difficult after encountering an essay headlined with people like me in mind: Addicted to Distraction.
As I noted last December, the essay’s author, Tony Schwartz, described a strategy that he says works for him: Decide the night before what his most important task will be the next day. Come morning, he devotes his first 60 to 90 minutes to exactly that.
I set a more modest goal for myself in the course of trying to replace an addiction with a habit:
Decide the night before on something I want to address, one way or another, in the day ahead. And then, before news or email or Facebook the next morning, spend some time thinking and writing about my focus for the day.
It was not hard finding the privacy I needed to make that happen. For a while, I even found the necessary solitude. Then I didn’t.
I’ll let you know how it goes this time.
In the meantime, in the comments below, I hope you’ll share how you manage your time alone.