Friday, April 30, 2010

One Thought Per Tweet

Yesterday marked my 100th post and my first hater comment.  I'm feeling all legitimate now!

Anyway, if you're not on Twitter by now, you're way behind.  It's an amazing, real-time stream of what's happening.  The Top Tweets section is a turbo-charged and for now, more democratic version of the CNN newsticker.  Just try and stop reading it after thirty seconds.  Bet you can't.  

Like all nascent media formats, there is unevenness in the quality and usefulness of Tweets.  So I was very happy to run across a post entitled "The Elements of Twitter Style." It's on Red Sweater and contains such nuggests as: one thought per Tweet; complain constructively; and write each Tweet by hand.  The post also describes technical issues such as tagging and acknowledgements. 

If you're in absolutely any industry that serves Gen Y, or if you market or sell anything at all, you need to understand how to use Twitter.  If you have kids and want to actually be able to talk to them, you'd best learn it too.  Just get on it and see what it's like.  Then follow me at http://twitter.com/sue_boggs.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Five Truths About Only Children

There are more of us than there used to be.  Among my friends growing up in the 1970s, I was a novelty, an only child.  My mom's childhood, which included an older sister born blind and deaf (a fact she discovered, not until I was well grown, was due to her mother's contraction of German Measles during her first trimester) kept her from having more children.  I was a breech birth and quite tiny, but made it through well. She wasn't about to push her luck.

It's a circumstance that defines one's life.  One of the kindest things I've heard on the matter was from my friend Joanne, who spent a summer in Belgium and told me she loved their term for only children: un enfant unique. If you've got a good friend or a significant other who is an EU, this list of our quirks may help you interact with him or her just a little more gently.

We worry that we're living up the stereotype.  If you've been married to an EU for any length of time, you know you can instantly win an argument by saying, "Well, clearly your upbringing made you selfish. You never had to consider anyone else."  No matter how hard we try to be thoughtful, considerate people, we always worry that everyone assumes, correctly, that we are spoiled.  (Hint: if you want to be happily married to an EU, don't trot this one out often. Eventually we realize you care more about being right than you do about us.)

We worry that we're needy.  Because we've been the center of the universe for a couple of decades at least, it's hard to know what to expect or ask from friends and spouses.  As a friend married to an EU told me, "I once saw his parents crinkle their noses over something he said."  She is the youngest of six kids, so sitting around watching the sun shining out of his butt, was, well, a bit annoying.  We don't always know when we are supposed to cede the floor--we assume, from experience, that what we have to say is endlessly charming to all--or how to return favors.  Please give us very gentle pointers in this regard.  I would be insufferable if not for my university housemates.  Thanks, friends.

We're jealous of people with big families.  So many of the friends I was attracted to in high school had large, loud families.  I loved spending time at their houses, listening to the banter and watching the brothers throw things at each other and the sisters scream about borrowed jeans that were never returned.  And then, exhausted, I would have to go home to my perfectly tidy, quiet room.  As an adult, I know lots of people who say their families are strangers and their friends are the people they count on.  I want to believe them, but am still painfully envious of them for all the people to whom they are bound by blood.

When we have a fight with you, we feel like it's the end of the world.  I watch my children have big, loud arguments and, five minutes later, be talking about what's happening at school.  They are very close (my fondest wish, not surprisingly) and seem to just know that the bond between them can't be broken by garden variety conflict.  For EUs, there is no garden variety conflict.  In the workplace, I am not afraid to wade into differences of opinion, but in my friendships and romances it's profoundly difficult.  There is no peer bond like that between siblings I've experienced, and even in my longest, strongest friendships, I assume if there is a fight that the relationship is over.  Conflict is of course inevitable, but us EUs think that if you're mad, you've written us off forever.

Our friendships sustain us.  When I got divorced, my father told me his greatest worry was that, "when your mother and I are gone, you'll be all alone."  I felt bad for him, but the notion that I am all by myself seemed rather funny.  EUs don't take friendships for granted, and we do our best to stay close with those we care about.  So when we really need others, we know the people who will be there are with us not because they are obliged to love us, but because they have chosen to do so.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Neighbors' Marriage

The people who live behind me have an interesting marriage.  I know this because I listen to them all the time--it's impossible not to.  At this point in our relationship, they are, in my mind, The Loudey's, and because they both have the ability to project their voices across the neighborhood, I'm pretty sure plenty of others are privy to their discussions, too. 

The Loudey's behave appropriately as neighbors, in a friendly but good fences way.  They wave and say hello but don't intrude on my talks with the children and or peer through the wall of bamboo that serves as the visual boundary between our yards. 

Athletic and attractive, it seems the Loudey's are among the charmed individuals who've retired at around the age of fifty.  Not sure how they managed this, but I intend to look into it.  I suspect, however, it has something to do with two professional incomes for about thirty years. Oh, and a lack of progeny.  Kids are the best thing I've ever done, but they are expensive little critters.  So that they don't lie awake at night comparing the tuition costs at various Texas colleges might explain the fiscal and physical health of the Loudey's.

According to Judith Wallerstein's influential book, The Good Marriage, there are four models for long-term, successful marriages: traditional, rescue, romantic and companionate.  There are relative weaknesses for each--the traditional types focus so much on raising kids that they dread the inevitable empty nest; the rescue types learn to push each others' buttons and end up hurting each other in the precise manner of their original emotional wounds; the romantics are so into each other that they ignore their kids; and the companionate folks turn into roommates who get the yard work done but have a television in their bedroom. But when they work well, couples who successfully practice these models have the sorts of unions the rest of us envy. 

The Loudey's live an orderly life; my dad, who serves as my own personal yardstick of landscape tidiness, marveled at the kemptness of their property, insinuating they might be a bit over the top.  They walk together at regular hours, he charging ahead with a large walking stick, she behind with Bo-Bo, the chow dog.  Bo-Bo is, from what I gather, the center of the Loudey's universe.  "Hello, baby bear!" she trills.  "Look how cute he is!!!!"  From him, "Hello, baby dog. You're so smart."  They banter happily with one another about real estate prices and perennials, and so far I haven't heard a cross word between them.

This is in contrast my yard: fourth-grade boys blowing up water bottles with the pellet gun and me telling Gus, our neurotic terrier, that he is a total idiot and a pain in the ass.  I'm also enjoying having fun friends over, and of course we all become a good deal more clever and amusing as the evening progresses, so we're not exactly quiet neighbors. But by the time we all grow hysterically funny I am pretty sure the Loudey's are in their bedroom watching Jon Stewart.  But maybe not.  Even us eavesdroppers don't know what goes on behind closed doors.

Friday, April 23, 2010

House Proud

You shouldn't fall in love with a bond or a stock or a piece of gold, because if you do, you're a bad investor.  The problem (as people who sell and fix and build houses understand) is that you just might fall in love with a house.  What a dumb reason to make the biggest financial investment of your life.
--Seth Godin, "How to Buy a House"

My relationship with my house is definitely a mid-life marriage.  I looked for the right attributes, made sure it was solid, and made a decision pretty thoughtfully.  I'm at an age where I know what I want.  Before the big day I wasn't giddy or emotional, and I didn't cry with happiness the first night there.  But I didn't have cold feet, either.  It felt right. 

As the days go on, though, I find myself loving my home more and more.  I've found the squeaky floor joist in the office, cleaned up the pretty atrium tucked in behind the shed where someone decades ago laid beautiful fieldstone and made a little area for potting plants.  The back yard, now that the piles of leaves are gone, has revealed thoughtful landscaping where things bloom in stages.  It's private and so peaceful. I surprise myself frequently by truly sitting still for an extended period of time, probably for the first time since I was a child. 

I really have fun entertaining friends at my house, but my enjoyment of it isn't because it impresses others.  The kitchen cabinets don't close quite right, and there are little nicks and cracks here and there.  It's not a new and fabulous structure, but it's weathered time well and doesn't try to be anything it's not.  And it makes me really, really happy. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Five Ways to Be an Okay Parent

Once I wrote an advice column on parenting. It was vetted by a non-profit which specializes in these things, but I was the person who made the questions up (you always wondered, now you know) and then answered them.

When my kids were preschoolers, a very earnest mom I knew was talking on the playground one day about how to get her kids to eat vegetables.  "I read this thing in last month's issue that said you should give them options and set a good example," she said.  "I actually wrote that," I responded, and she stopped dead to quit glaring at my son as he brandished a stick after her kid. She looked me in the eye and realized I wasn't kidding.  As my best boss once said, you know you are a grownup when you realize the people in charge don't know anything. I'm pretty sure she wrote off anything in print after that.

I am no expert, to be sure, and take minimal credit for how well my kids are turning out.  So far, so good. They are interesting people who make good grades and get invited back to other people's houses after they've visited.  I take this as the most positive sign I'm going to get. So, here's my advice at the stage before real teenagers but well past potty training:

Rely on benign neglect.  Sure, when they were little I played with them and took them to stuff.  But at home, as long as I could see them out of the corner of my eye, I stood at the counter in my kitchen and read library books.  To myself. If I sat on the couch and tried to read, they deduced I was relaxing and of course that wouldn't do.  If I stood up, I must be busy, so they let me be, sometimes for three or four minutes at a time. 

Know they're smarter than you.  Think you're more intelligent than your kid?  What color, exactly, is the sky in your world?  When pregnant, our generation takes vitamins and eats spinach; our moms smoked and drank the odd highball. They had fun, and we, armed with knowledge and good intentions, are making a bunch of smarty-pants. Careful what you wish for. Anyway, you are the parent, so make up the rules and hold your own. Then listen, because you'll learn something about them and maybe the world. This is the good part. Just remember, they know more in sixth grade than you'd forgotten by your sophomore year at Brown or wherever you couldn't get into now. It's evolution.

Childhood isn't a total minefield.  My dad is a former a cop who saw lots of very bad things, and yet he and my mom still let me run around all day with a pack of kids in my neighborhood.  Now he says it was because we lived in a small town, but he hasn't objected when my own progeny have gone for twenty-minute bike rides to the store or to a friend's house.  As he says, what else can you do?  Let go as you can, based on where you live, but remember bubbles of imagined invincibility burst eventually. Better this takes place in a non-traumatic way at eight than in a what have I done with my life way at thirty-five, because in the latter case they will likely be watching your television and eating your food when it happens. 

Know their friends.  This is the best shortcut I've found.  If you've done things right, your kids will have cool friends, who will in turn have equally fun parents who will eat dinner/drink wine//walk the floor with you and talk about which teachers you want next year. You'll know which kids not to invite over before they wreck the house or throw a tantrum and lock themselves in the bathroom. In the best possible world--my twenty year-old self is screaming loudly now--you can pick out your in-laws ahead of time. This could determine the quality of your Thanksgiving holiday for the rest of your natural life. Choose well.

It ain't you, babe.  When we are in the stage a wise friend of mine refers to as The Milky Haze, biology is keeping us close so we can keep those infants alive. Time marches on and life intervenes, and we learn we can't do it all.  At some point, it's important to understand there are others--a sitter, a teacher, the other parent, even--who will inform your child's universe. You can't control it all, try as you might.  It's a major moment when you look to kind and wise hearts to jump in at the inevitable moment when you are not around. These souls (who don't need to share our every belief about how the world works, by the way) are among best gifts we get as parents: hard as it is to imagine, there are people in this world who love our kids almost as much as we do.  When they show up, we must be grateful they've been sent, and have the humility to understand we, like every other parent, need them. Most especially, I hear, when we have teenagers.  And if we're lucky, someday we'll be called upon to return the favor.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Confessions

I have the cleaning gene.  So said my former university housemate to my first-born during our visit last summer.  "Really?" said my child.  Having watched me as a renter for three years, she was completely unaware of this.  Sure, the major stuff got done, but my inherent desire for order frequently went to the dogs while sharing a shoebox with two kids and an actual dog.  Also, the shoebox wasn't mine, so there really wasn't any fun in it.

Yes, this is my dark confession: I actually like to clean.  It's not a manifestation of my perfectionism. When that bully has me in a headlock, it's for the like, life and death stuff, like closets that house things I can't make a decision about and a pantry that isn't efficient. A deck I have to mend, sand and refinish. It's about the fear I will soon go into a face-first tumble down that slippery slope into the category of a person who just doesn't have her shit together. There's an excellent argument to be made that I would be more fun in that case (d'ya think?) but that will have to wait until I have time to go back to therapy.

In the meantime, I vaccum, dust and put stuff away. On the days when I feel fat and hate my hair, sometimes I clean the bathrooms.  When I've been admonished by a lawyer or remind myself how many months it's been since I've gone on a proper date, the tangible results of getting things clean and tidy remind me that I still think enough of myself to take care of my own space, especially now that it's mine, or at least the bank's and not my landlady's.

Men say they like women who keep house, but I am not sure about this.  The messy ones don't like it because they see me as uptight and controlling. Can't imagine why, but there you go. The tidy ones say they like it, but in the end the women who win them are messy and chaotic and in need of someone to scoop them up and fix it all.  So for now I am on my own with my orderly house, at least until the kids get home.  They will come in, give me a hug, and mess it up.  And I will sit down with them on the couch and hear all about school and friends and boys and Legos.  The dishes will get done, but the dust bunnies will wait.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rules to Live By

"...don't run in the dark, don't be a jerk, get over yourself, do your work, avoid self-pity, pay attention, know that the law of gravity applies to you, too, and hang onto your old friends because there may come a day when there's no good reason for people to like you except out of habit." --Garrison Keillor.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why Do Women Tell Each Other More Stuff Than Men Do?

"I love listening to women talk to each other," my friend Hugh, a manly South African who by his own admission is fascinated by the fairer sex, told me once.  "It's like you're giving each other little presents, the things you tell about yourselves."  Not coincidentally, his wife is one of my favorite people to talk to, and he'd been very kindly listening to us do so for quite a little while when he said it.

Hearing my son, who is ten, talk to his friends, is a similar exercise to Hugh's: it's like I'm observing another species.  Sure they talk, but it's anecdotal--funny stories, mostly, and speculations along the lines of "what if you climbed a tree that was like, thirty feet high and then couldn't get down?" Then there are the fart jokes. 

Not much, at least from what I've witnessed, changes after that.  Even men lucky enough to have best friends who will let them sleep on their couches when their wives kick them out or brothers they play golf with every week still don't often confide their worries and insecurities to one another, although I do know some notable exceptions. My son talks about such things, but with me--and I think his sister--usually when we are sitting quietly alone together.  I've watched my father rely for more than four decades on my mom for the same thing.  I try to imagine what it must be like to go through a major life change without the support system I have with all the women I can call when I need to talk, and it seems awfully lonely to me. 

One day I was at a soccer game and sitting beside another mom I knew I liked but hadn't yet gotten to know.  During the game (the kids were in first grade and the ref seemed to be giving a clinic on the off-side rule, so there wasn't a lot of action) we talked about how she'd lost her parents when she was in college and the awful divorce her brother was in the middle of and how her mother-in-law had been widowed and then fallen madly in love ten years later at the age of 80.  I added in bits of my life, and thought it was an enjoyable but not unusual discussion.  In the car on the way home, the man who was my husband at the time said he had overheard bits and pieces and that "two guys could be best friends for ten years and never talk about even a fraction of that stuff." 

It's comforting to have our girlfriends to talk to, but as any seventh-grader can tell you, there is a downside: once another girl knows your deepest secrets, she can tell other people, and not so nicely if she happens to be mad at you.  If there is a boy involved, it can be really ugly.  The competition for male attention, the trophy house, the perfect family vacation, or the high-achieving child can make women turn on one another.  And since we typically have good dirt on our girlfriends, it can be an intimate and painful bit of conflict.

So maybe just talking about the game last night isn't such a bad idea--I can understand how men can see it that way.  But when one finds, as I have, some solid friendships with women I can trust with my cares and goals, however trivial they may be, it's a rich thing. Even happily attached women know that there are certain things that the men in their lives maybe would rather not have to listen to. Though of course these good men will try their best, at times it's as though they speak another language.  For my part, I will encourage my son to talk a little more to his friends, and will keep listening to him talk about whatever he wishes.  That he continues to do it is yet another great gift for me, and I'll keep up my end of the conversation for as long as I can. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Art and Life Intersect: Annie Lebowitz's "A Photographer's Life"

"It's the closest thing to who I am that I've ever done."  So writes Annie Lebowitz in the prologue to her collection entitled A Photographer's Life: 1999-2005.  As I took a quiet walk through the gift shop at the Dallas Museum of Art last week (I was waiting on the fantastic fish tacos from their deli, which are my excuse to get out of the office for twenty minutes and enter this place that is so serene, in contrast with my frenetic work life) I saw this ten-pound tome and decided it was time I owned this particular not-your-grandma's coffee table book. 

Soothing it's not, although it's clear Lebowitz didn't set out to be provocative.  Rather, she's honest, which can be even more affecting--and thus just as uncomfortable--to the viewer.  In addition to her best commercial work, she included deeply personal photographs. 

There are surprises here, both in her extraordinary work and in the way the photographs are arranged.  Gorgeous, color-drenched shots of celebrities are juxtaposed with black and white photos of family gatherings, grandparents dancing around the living room with little kids, and then birth and death, both personal and in places including Sarajevo and Rwanda.  Lebowitz doesn't pull punches, and some photos are shocking.  In addition to the famous shot of Demi Moore pregnant and naked for the cover of Vanity Fair,  there are several of Lebowitz herself in the late stages of pregnancy, not nearly so demure.  There are many, many photos of her partner, Susan Sontag, the brilliant author and clearly the major emotional force in her life.  There are some of Ground Zero in lower Manhattan and a couple of blood stains she shot elsewhere, with tremendous effect.

So you'll see Brad Pitt in snakeskin boots and animal print pants, Las Vegas showgirls in costume and not. Then O.J. Simpson looking directly at the lens across a courtroom as he leaves during one day of his trial back in 1994.  (You tell me what's in those eyes.  I've looked at it for a long, long time but can't decide.) Then a gorgeous portrait of her parents, faces lined with lives lived well, on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, followed by incredibly tender pictures of her lover going through cancer treatment and her father in his last days. 

Most of us divide our lives into segments of work, love, grief and joy.  The great accomplishment of this book is that Lebowitz is so very brave to put them all together.   

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Perfect Really is the Enemy of the Good

Perfectionism is a coping mechanism for unpredictability.  It introduces all kinds of comforting control.  You are not changing yourself by renouncing perfectionism; you're taking the first step to discovering who you are without armor. --Zoey Martin

A new house is a quagmire for perfectionists.  Like that first cup of coffee in the morning for the smoker or that unintended stroll past a favorite watering hole for the overserved and recovering soul, a change in living space offers innumerable ways for the perfectionist to torture herself.  

I made it through the moving process, giving myself several weeks to pack. I beat a respectable path towards purging things we didn't need, then labeling all of the boxes for each room and patting myself on the back when we were unpacked, all but for two boxes, after three days.  I hung pictures and cleaned, quite a bit I thought, and everyone who stopped by said we looked almost moved in after such a short time.  We even had a little party.  We invited a couple of houseguests, and they seemed pretty comfortable, and I was feeling proud and really happy. 

Then my parents came to visit.  I looked at the world through their immaculately organized eyes.  The two boxes remained unpacked, and the microwave that won't fit under the 1949 cabinets is still sitting on the floor beside the refrigerator.  The enormous deck--the place I envisioned being The Happy Place--needs a sanding and a coat of sealer or paint.  And, I am told, my hardwood floors have "a few specks of white paint" on them.  Perfectionism is a tough nut to crack, especially since many consider it a virtue. 

We perfectionists learn our habit--no, it's not a personality trait, as Ms. Martin points out in her guest post on Write to Done, a great blog on writing--from the cradle.  We understand quickly the unspoken assumption that if it's not perfect, it's bad, and spend more hours than necessary thinking about our closets, desk drawers, windows, or car interiors.  Or the briefs we've submitted to partners for critical consideration. (Other perfectionists take great pleasure in torturing those coming up. My best horror story from the law world is from a partner who wrote to a first-year associate: "Please re-write this brief as though English is your first language."  Mean and politically incorrect! Quite an accomplishment.)  

There are two big problems for perfectionists who don't find a way through their habit.  The first and most important is that the fear of making a mistake often leads to paralysis.  If you can't make a decision, you can't get anything done.  I push through this pretty easily at work, because demands from others mean dithering is worse than deciding.  At home I work ruthlessly to prioritize and do, but I have to continually remind myself to focus on what can get done today.  I push back the panic when I have to stop. After many years of practice, once I do I can relax and do something fun.

Secondly, perfectionism inevitably leads to self-criticism.  We beat ourselves up in ways our friends wouldn't dream of doing to us, because what we are concerned about has no bearing on their love for us. Since my habit primarily manifests through my home, I try to get away for a weekend every so often.  When I leave I am usually fretting about whether I've dusted or swept out the garage.  Then I come home.  I open the door, and after two or three days away the place looks pretty good.  It's home, and it's mine, welcoming me like a good friend, telling me I'm fine exactly as I am. 

Check out: 5 Battle Strategies for Winning the War on Perfectionism.  Great post on how to go from impossibly perfect to execution.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Will You Be Employable in Five Years?

I've spent my entire career thinking about what I would do if I lost my job.  This is because I had a great one right out of school--as a policy writer for the police force my dad worked for--and it went away because it was a contract position that got eliminated with a change of government.  I spent the next three months believing I was destined to be an unmitigated failure. 

Self-pity doesn't pay very well, though, and eventually I got another job, and have landed a several more in the intervening two decades.  But the early habit has proved a productive one, since it leads to another important question:  how can I make sure my skills are in demand in the marketplace so I can have a paycheck for the next thirty years?  Instead of getting blindsided by a layoff, I want to stay ahead of the curve.  Here are a few of my guiding principles to keep bringing home the bacon:

Never think your years of experience mean you can stop learning.  Yes, wisdom and experience are important.  But we are in a era where technological is accelerating faster than ever, and the skills that matter are not just simple technical things that can be learned:  social media is a mindset that is in great demand by companies, most of which are run by Boomers or Gen-X people who know for a fact that the way people communicate is in continual flux. If you say "I'm too old for Twitter" or "I don't understand blogs," you will go the way of the print newspaper.  On that note..

Look carefully at what's happening in your industry.  I got into journalism school, but decided a liberal arts degree from the best school I could get into was a better bet.  I could always be a reporter if I wanted to.  It was a good decision. All those people who thought the fourth estate was permanent, at least in its twentieth century incarnation, were dead wrong, and there aren't many jobs for those who've lost them. While politicians and their handlers seems to think Sunday talk shows and daily newspapers matter, they are now only relevant to well-educated people over the age of 50.  Most everyone else, meaning future voters, gets their political news on the blogsphere.  If you're in the telecom, pharmaceutical, or media industries, make sure you're looking at where the growth is, or think about another line of work.  Beware of your sentimentality about your chosen profession: as many unemployed print reporters can tell you, it's a liability.

Stay awhile.  But not forever.  I did a stint of recruiting for the first law firm I worked for, and I learned something about how resumes are evaluated, even in the staid professions:  jump around too much, and it's suspect that people don't like you or you can't stick to things.  But stay in the same position for more than five years, and it looks like you're unmotivated or scared of change. Moving within an organization is a good sign, especially if you've taken on diverse positions. This shows a willingness to learn and get out of your comfort zone. 

Ask yourself where you want to be in five years.  I know I sound like a high school guidance counselor, but this can focus your efforts. Find out about people who have jobs you think you'd like, and find a way to meet them.  Read industry blogs and learn who the players are.  Find out how they got where they are. Read the stuff they write, and learn about the companies where they've worked and their career trajectories so you can get a sense of how they've built a marketable skill set. 

Network.  It feels a bit awkward, and it is a bit like dating.  But it's critical to get to know people who work in your field but who aren't at your company.  Don't wait until you need a job.  Have lunch or coffee with people in the space where you want to play, now or in a couple of years. Find out what you need to know how to do to get there.

I've switched industries and reinvented myself a couple of times, and these days I am gainfully and happily employed in an industry that seems to have a place for people with my particular talents.  Experience in getting--and, more importantly, leaving--jobs has, I hope, taught me how to make sure I spend the rest of my working days at a really good gig.  I hope the nuggets I've collected help you in your quest for full employment.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Solitude. How Much is Enough for You?

I am an extrovert and also an only child.  I am not always the best judge of what's good for me, and nowhere in my life is it more evident than in my socialization patterns. 

Few people under the age of fifty spend time completely unplugged from others; for a significant number of us, being truly "away" could lead quickly to unemployment.  Many people don't get outside for any real amount of time each week, and most spend free moments with family or taking care of errands.  All the advice for balance and calm tell us that we should carve quiet alone time--reading, being outside, praying or meditating--in order to hold onto ourselves in the storm of modern life.  

This has never been a problem for me, until it creeps up on me. The selfishness charge frequently levelled at only children (second only to the near-universal notion of our spoiled rotten existence) hits the nail on my head, as I guard my rituals jealously.  No matter how kids and work keep me buzzing, each week I find time to read for pleasure, walk or run outside, and take hot baths.  At the office, I can go for long hours and not stop to talk to co-workers, as the vast majority of my work involves electronic correspondence.

And then I get lonely.  I've spent so much time inside my own head that I don't know the way out.  I don't feel comfortable calling up friends, knowing they have husbands/boyfriends/family taking up their time, and it's just easier to be by myself. After all, it's a skill I learned early, and it's a part of the self-reliance I am so proud of.  So much less emotional work is involved in staying home by myself and taking care of the many chores that need doing. And then I need to tackle the pile of reading I've left because work is so crazy.  As for why there is no significant other in my world, there are advice columnists who say only children stay single because they just don't get miserable enough when they are alone, as many, mostly married people, call single life. 

Once a friend calls--and I am thankful, if strangely reluctant, when one does, provided they give me a day or two for my only child brain to consider it--and I have an invitation, I know from experience that once I push myself to get there, I will have a grand time. I adore a good party, and once there I immediately remember that talking to people is tremendous fun.  So I spend several happy hours and come home with ten times the energy I had when I left.  But as a body in motion in solitude, I find it hard to move out of my state without an outside mover.  And unless I know the people there will be interesting to me, I find it a difficult force to overcome.

Do others experience it the same way, or do they long for time alone and can't get it?  I suspect my time (the dirty little secret of divorce is that mothers can take a bath without someone pounding on the door) spent in solitude is a luxury many wish they had but can never have.  It's just that sometimes the quiet gets so terribly loud.  Tell me about your time alone and what it feels like.