In a world where overpopulation becomes a greater concern with each passing day, Japan seems to be having the opposite problem. As their average age rapidly increases and their birthrate falls, it is estimated that by the year 2060 there will be 40 million fewer people in Japan than there are today.
This is most noticeable in the countryside, because the nation’s youth tend to relocate to the larger cities to find work. This has caused more than 10,000 villages to become depopulated, their homes and shops crumbling from lack of use. The jobs go, the youth go, the schools go, the aged pass away, the infrastructure stops being maintained, and then the ghosts seem to move in.
The village of Nagoro now has a population 35 people, all over the age of 65. Nagoro’s residents can remember a time not so long ago when it was a bustling little community with hundreds of families. Now things are too quiet. Everything, including the school, has shut down.
So Tsukimi Ayano, one of the few people who remain, decided to populate the deserted village with more than 400 scarecrows. You see them everywhere. At the bus stop, the post office, the school, in the fields, sitting on bicycles in the roadway, at the vegetable stand, fishing in the creek and sitting in the cafes. She greets them every day, and many of them have been made to resemble a resident who has passed away or moved on.
This scarecrow village has started to attract tourists, which is wonderful, but I think I’d find a visit there to be rather depressing. Although their creator may not agree, I can’t help but think that these scarecrows represent a longing for the past. Just gazing at photographs of them causes me to ache with loneliness. I suspect that when the tourists depart at the end of the day, one looks around in the silence and hears the echoes of what once was, and what will probably never be again.
So, nope, I still haven’t found romance in the Pacific Northwest. How I feel about that depends a great deal on which day you ask me. Most of the time, to be honest, I’m too busy to worry about it. My world seems to revolve around my upcoming anthology.
But yeah, sometimes I’m painfully lonely. Other times I’m resigned to my fate or frustrated beyond words. Still other times, I’m optimistic. But mostly I’m surprised. I think I’m a catch. This is the longest time I’ve been single in decades.
But the other day a friend of mine altered my perspective a bit. She asked me if I had made room for someone to be in my life. Could someone share my living space with me? Is there room in the closet? Places for his stuff? Frankly, no. And it makes me tired just thinking about accommodating someone at this point. I haven’t even finished unpacking, and I’ve been here for nearly two years.
My lifestyle is such that it would be hard to make time for another person. My schedule is weird. Sometimes I work day shift, sometimes I work swing shift, and I work every weekend. That isn’t likely to change any time soon.
All of this means that I basically sleep when I want to and/or can, and sometimes wake up, quite happily, at 3 a.m. Other times I’m only just going to bed at that hour. It would take a special person to adjust to that. And then there’s the fact that I still grieve for Chuck more often than I care to admit.
I think all of this tells me that now is not the time. And oddly enough, I’m okay with that. Mostly.
I used to like to say that I couldn’t get through the day without at least one good flirtation. I’ve had to scale that back considerably in the past year, because now that I’ve moved to Seattle without knowing a soul, the vast majority of my human contact is with coworkers. Flirting with coworkers is a bear trap I absolutely refuse to step into.
But slowly, agonizingly slowly, I’m starting to meet people outside of the workplace. So the other day, I blew the dust off my flirty self and let her come out to play. What a rush. I was actually much more bold than I’ve ever been before. Making up for lost time? Dealing from a deck of frustration and boredom and loneliness? Nothing ventured, nothing gained? Probably some combination of all of the above.
Actually, ever since my recent epiphany about loneliness (which was yesterday’s blog entry), I haven’t really been feeling lonely at all. Maybe that has liberated me to flirt with impunity. If you don’t feel lonely when you flirt, you won’t be inhibited by fears of rejection. The flirt becomes the thing, rather than the other person’s reaction to that flirt. You can’t really go down in flames if you’re not that heavily invested.
So I just had fun being slightly wicked and playful. And I suspect the recipient of my attention was more than a little experienced with flirtation as well, because his response left me rather uncertain as to his thoughts on the subject. Positive, I think, but I’m not at all sure. That kind of makes it fun, too, because it means I might, or might not, have something to look forward to.
That makes me smile.
One of the problems about writing a daily blog is that you’re always left with a vague sense that you’ve written all of this before. I could swear I wrote this blog entry within the past couple weeks, but I’ve searched and can’t find anything. So, if you’re a regular reader and are feeling a sense of déjà vu, my apologies. On the other hand, maybe I just thought about writing it and then never got around to it.
I had an epiphany the other day. Loneliness really makes no sense at all. It’s the mistaken assumption that someone out there, whom you’ve yet to even meet, holds the key to your happiness. How absurd.
First of all, from a mathematical standpoint that would also mean that I hold the key to some stranger’s happiness, and I’m keyless and clueless. So that formula is easily disproven. (And I don’t even like math.)
Also, loneliness means you’re giving all your power away. I don’t like that concept at all. I’m not going to live in some emotional limbo, on the off chance that some random person is going to come along and care enough and be capable enough to fill my every emotional need.
Ever since I had this epiphany about two weeks ago, I haven’t felt lonely at all. It’s like a weight has lifted off my shoulders. I sort of feel as though I’m back in the driver’s seat of my life. What a liberating feeling.
Not that I plan to go live in a cave in the wilderness, mind you. I still want friends. I still want companionship. I still have itches that I very much would like to have scratched. But suddenly the urgency is no longer there. The sadness is gone. I appreciate my life for what it is, and look forward to what it can be, in whatever form that may take.
I hope this feeling lasts.
So says a dear friend that I’ve known for 25 years. He’s now a continent away, and knows I’m struggling with loneliness in this new city of mine. He always gives wise, yet understated, advice.
Yes. Keep reaching out. Even when you’ve caught your hand in a bear trap of rejection in the past. Even when it seems easier to leave your arms at your sides.
Keep reaching out or you’ll never grasp hold of anything new. Expecting others to make the first move is akin to expecting them to read your mind. How can someone else know what you want or need?
Keep reaching out, or you will bump into things as you move forward. Explore. Investigate. Search. Discover. Bring newness into your life.
Most of all, don’t give up.
After pulling up stakes and moving 3000 miles across country to a place where I know no one, essentially starting over at age 50, I spent a lot of time beating myself up because upon arrival I didn’t instantly have it all figured out.
I don’t know what I was thinking. Was everything supposed to fall into place, as if I could just pick up where I left off in Florida, like the new job and the new place to live and the 3000 mile drive were mere hiccups in my day-to-day routine? Reinventing yourself isn’t for sissies, let me tell you.
Fast forward 6 months, and yes, I love where I’m living. I’ve even more than halfway unpacked. I love 95 percent of my job, and I actually go long periods of time not dwelling on the other 5 percent. I’ve even started to establish a stable, albeit quirky, routine. And I can now go several places, like the library and the grocery store and to work, without relying on my GPS, which is nice.
But yeah, I admit it. I haven’t made a single friend outside of work yet, and that sucks. I’m lonely. And before you even go there, I’ve been given a million suggestions about how to rectify that. If I pursued them all I’d probably be so popular that I’d have to change my phone number just to get some peace. So I feel kind of guilty. I should be on top of things. I have all the tools. And yet, here I am, alone.
But today I started humming the Arlo Guthrie version of the Garden Song, which has also been famously sung by John Denver; Pete Seeger; and Peter, Paul, and Mary to name a few. I’ll attach the video so you can check out Arlo’s hilarious take on it, but meanwhile you know the song. It starts, “Inch by inch, row by row, I’m gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground…”
And I suddenly realized that what I’m doing is transplanting my life. I uprooted myself from Florida and I’m putting down roots here. That’s going to take some time and patience, some love and care. I just need to go inch by inch. I don’t have to beat myself up when, at the end of the day, the whole darned garden isn’t planted and in full bloom.
I need to give myself a break, do things correctly and with positive intention, and it will all work out in the end. Yes, I have the rake and the hoe. I’ll get there.
Next stop for me is signing up for a pottery class at the nearby community college. That starts in April. I’m looking forward to it. And I’m sure I’ll meet some amazing people.
Forward motion is what counts. Even if it’s only an inch at a time.
I had an epiphany on my way to work today. (Kids, try to avoid epiphanies when you’re behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.) Here it is: I don’t think I’m lonely after all. Here I’ve been, obsessing over my loneliness since I’ve moved to Seattle, and trying to figure out ways to make friends, when in fact loneliness is not my issue.
I haven’t had to think about this in decades because I’ve always had someone in my life, but the fact is I’m perfectly capable of entertaining myself. I’m not bored with my own company. In fact, I’m quite comfortable when I’m alone. It’s the only time I can truly be myself. I like being able to sleep when I want and do what I want and eat what I want. I enjoy the luxury of a total lack of need for compromise. So it’s not loneliness that I’m feeling.
I don’t think there’s a word for what I’m feeling. It’s part grieving for my late boyfriend, and I think that is effecting me in a whole multitude of ways. And it’s definitely part unsatisfied sex drive. (Why does nature bother putting these urges in people beyond child bearing age? Life would be so much easier without them!) But I’m not an animal. I require an emotional connection with someone before I can feel intimate, so this attempt at connection has been disguising itself as loneliness, I think. And then there’s a need for reassurance, as driven by self-doubt. It would be nice to have someone around to say, “You’re doing okay.” (I really need to work on not needing that so much.)
Once I figured out that I’m not lonely, I felt this massive weight lift off my shoulders. It’s not some social deficit on my part. I haven’t failed some test. I just need to shift my focus and re-prioritize and let the universe unfold as it should. I’m doing okay.
[Image credit: seethegood.net]
Everywhere I go in my new city of Seattle, I seem to practically trip over attractive men in my age group who at least appear to be straight and single. And they’re all very nice when I interact with them. These are all good signs.
The thing is (yes, there’s always a thing) they are oblivious, usually, to my interest. I’ve seen this in male friends my entire life. I’ll say, “Couldn’t you tell that girl was hitting on you?” and inevitably they reply, “She was?” Clueless. As dense as a London fog.
Of course, there is the possibility that every single one of them isn’t the least bit interested in me. But if I believe that, I may as well throw in the towel right now. And then I’d be without a towel. That would never do.
I think what I need is an ad executive. A professional who will come up with creative ways to put my intentions out there. Find a way of saying, “Hey! Don’t just smile and jog past! There’s potential for romance here!” “Hey! I appreciate you holding this door open for me, but I’d rather you stop and actually talk to me.” “Hey! Thanks for the advice on fun places to see in Seattle while exchanging meaningful eye contact, and thanks even more for drawing me a map on how to get to these places. Now ask to come with me.” Or maybe I should start with simply, “Hey!” Because I don’t even seem to be getting that across without help.
I’m thinking of getting a t-shirt that says, “My dogs love me. You would, too.”
I love the virtual world of Second Life. If you are feeling lonely, it’s a great place to meet people, make friends, find romance, have fun and pursue interests in art/music/religion/culture even if you can’t or won’t leave the comfort of your own home. I hate it when it’s referred to as a game, because you may be using an avatar that looks like a cartoon, but there are real people with feelings behind those avatars. You’re not there to earn points or prizes or virtual power or rise to a higher level. You’re there to socialize with other people.
In a wheelchair? In Second Life you can dance! Agoraphobic? In Second Life you can explore Paris or outer space, anxiety-free! Want to own a mansion and sit on your veranda overlooking the ocean with good friends? All you need is a laptop.
One thing that Second Life has taught me, though, is that a lot of people are living lives of quiet desperation. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people in there who are unhappily married or unhappily single, and come in to Second Life because they’re desperately lonely. It’s been so long since someone has touched them with even the slightest bit of affection that they’re willing to settle for virtual touch, virtual companionship. Is this healthy? That’s a topic for another blog entry. But it’s a fact.
I have to admit that I am one of those people. When I first came into Second Life more than 6 years ago, I was trapped in a depressing and loveless relationship, one in which I was never touched, never heard, never understood. I was so lonely it was actually physically painful.
I’m a lot more jaded in that virtual world than I once was. I’ve seen it all. I’ve pretty much done it all. I have an inventory full of virtual t-shirts to prove it. I’ve made good friends and established myself in the virtual art world, so my Second Life is fairly stable, and I’m therefore less apt to suffer fools gladly. But in the beginning I was much more tolerant and open and patient and understanding of people’s needs to connect.
That’s how I met a guy who called himself Aeon. In hindsight I suspect he was a very young and extremely lonely guy who was just trying to impress me. He claimed he was somewhere on the west coast, in the military, wearing some virtual reality suit and floating in a sensory deprivation tank, doing experiments for the federal government. Yeah, right. Whatever works for you, I suppose. I just accepted him as another lonely person trying his best to reach out, and we would dance for hours on end. Sometimes you just need to be held, you know? We would dance our way through my graveyard shift, night after night. I hope he derived as much comfort from that as I did.
Eventually, though, he strained my ability to suspend disbelief to the breaking point. One day he said one of his coworkers, a female, was going to test out the suit, and she would be talking to me through his avatar. Okay. The only problem with that is when “she” started talking to me, she made the exact same spelling errors that he did. I had no doubt that this was the same person. And then “she” proceeded to tell me that she was in love with Aeon, and that I needed to back off or she would hurt him. That’s when I knew this guy was a) wanting to move on, and b) a lot more disturbed than I was capable of dealing with. I quickly exited stage right. In spite of that, I hope that where ever he is now he’s found happiness. And therapy.
Everyone has their own reality. Everyone wants to connect. Fortunately most of us don’t need a sensory deprivation tank to do it.
[Image credit: vrealities.com]