Half a year ago, I was invited to write a piece for Me & My Shadow, a design project to encourage solitude in today’s hyper-social society. I’ve neglected this space since moving to New York City for my MFA in Design Criticism, but I’m in the midst of revamping it and blogging again. Consider this a pause, while I gather new adventures and thoughts.
My childhood ambitions all revolved around becoming someone who is typically seen as a solo character — one who relies on his or her abilities and single-mindedness to complete seemingly impossible tasks.
Today, I am a writer. While this occupation has none of the excitement that I wished for as a child, it is certainly just as ‘solo’. The stereotypical image of a writer is one who is cooped up in front of his computer churning out words for a living; and this is how I would describe myself as I write this essay.
Writing is truly a solo activity, and I work best where I am all alone with myself. Even when working at a café or kopitiam, the people around me dissolve into the background as I need to hear myself in order to write. You could say that writing to me is a transcription of conversations with myself.
It is certainly not something everyone enjoys. Many people I meet are always amazed at how I much time I spend on my own, but for me, it is a source of strength to know that I can do so — that I do not need to rely on too many people and resources to get by.
One reward of having spent so much time alone is becoming very familiar with who I am. Away from the madding crowd, the cacophony of opinions, and endless distractions, I can hear my thoughts and I am sensitive to my feelings. This has helped me understand what my personal values and beliefs are, as well as how I function.
And it is being on my own that I have discovered the difficulties of being alone. One person can only achieve so much, it is easy to become insular and ignorant to the world outside if we simply keep to ourselves. The yearning to be part of something bigger than myself is also never too far in the background.
These reasons are why I find the image of a writer as a solo figure, a tad romantic, and even misleading. Most of my time is not spent in front of this computer, but out and about: whether it is attending meetings, seeing exhibitions or meeting friends. In order to write, I need to have something to write about, or at times, someone to write to.
In this context, the act of writing for me is akin to pressing the pause button in life. Momentarily, I shut out myself from the world to reflect. When I come out of my cocoon, I resume my life with an appreciation of the past and a clearer vision of my future.
To me, going solo is a state of mind rather than just a physical act. It is being able to recognise that it is the space in between words — the invisible pause — that are essential in establishing meaning. Just as being alone is not the same as a lone person, one should not be afraid to press pause to dictate the rhythm of your life.