being alone vs being lonely

I’m about halfway through Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City. The memoir/art bio follows Laing’s solitary days twisting through the labyrinth of Manhattan, during which time she also researched and profiled some of the city’s most famous artists. In her book, she contrasts these names alongside herself, creating a cringe-worthy portrait of what it’s like to be lonely whilst lost in a sea of people.

While I was in Central America, I downloaded the sample of The Lonely City to my iPad, drawn primarily by my own loneliness. At the time, it was less the emotional and more the physical state of being alone that I found myself (granted, on purpose). Loneliness, documented by Laing through her own experience as well as the interpretation of others’, is different from being alone. Being abroad, particularly in Panama City where I was entirely by myself, created a certain type of loneliness that I found exciting, rather than depressing.

In Panama City, I lived by myself, explored by myself, and got lost by myself. Because of modern technology I was never really alone, but the sensation of getting lost in a crowd, one face out of many, was oddly comforting. It is, surely, due to my introversion and general preference for solitude. While reading The Lonely City, I find myself envious of Laing’s long walks by herself and of afternoons spent gazing at art, rather than sympathetic or repulsed.

Though I had my bouts of loneliness while in Panama City, I find myself struggling more with it at home, where I’ve lived my entire life. Rather than comforted by the familiar, it seems to make me feel more out of place. To get particularly poetic, perhaps I’m lonely because I’ve lost my sense of self. Laing traveled to New York in order to get away from home; now, where shall I go?

mary


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