Whether by choice or external forces beyond our control, we will all have the experience of being alone. It can be uncomfortable, saddening, and, sometimes, lonely.
There are large moments of loneliness (when we lose a loved one) and there are small moments (eating alone in a restaurant in a foreign country where no one speaks a familiar language), but there is something profoundly gratifying when we do find the comfort of company inside our own hearts.
Singer-songwriter and poet, Tanya Davis, decided to explore new ways to look at loneliness in her poem ‘How To Be Alone’. Aided by friend and filmmaker, Andrea Dorfman, the short film based on the poem is nearing six million views and a book featuring illustrations by Dorfman released Tuesday, October 22, 2013.
I had the chance to interview Tanya and explore what this poem means to her, the difference between being alone and feeling lonely, and what one can learn from the experience of solitude.
Daniel Jenks: What inspired you to write this poem? Was there a specific event/experience?
Tanya Davis: Andrea Dorfman (the filmmaker) and I had been talking a lot about the concepts of solitude, loneliness, & connection. We both spend a lot of time alone, in particular when we’re working. As artists, we both need ample solitude to fuel and nurture our work. So, when we decided to do a videopoem together (which was the original format for this poem) Andrea said, ‘Why don’t we do it on how to be alone?’, since we had been speaking about it so much. Then I wrote How to Be Alone.
Daniel Jenks: What do you think we can learn about ourselves when we stop thinking about “alone time” as “loneliness”?
Tanya Davis: I think there are endless things to learn about ourselves, really. And some of those can only be discovered when we quiet down and look inward, instead of filling our brain with the stimulus of other people. Some of the discoveries are fairly hidden; they’re cautious and they need coaxing out. Or, they need us to do the slow and steady work of reaching in for them. I mean, they need our time and attention. Who knows what we can learn until we give ourselves the time to self reflection. Also, ‘alone time’ is a total luxury, and not everyone gets to have it. I see it as a privilege, and not something to be squandered or taken for granted.
Daniel Jenks: What made you want to explore this poem visually both through the film and book?
Tanya Davis: I wanted to work on a videopoem with Andrea because I love her work, her aesthetic, how she sees the world. When the opportunity came up for a book, we both jumped on it, both glad to put this collaboration into yet another medium. I love picture books and illustrations of all kinds, so I was ecstatic to get to have words I wrote live on the page next to such beautiful illustrations.
Daniel Jenks: What are your favorite moments where you embrace being alone?
Tanya Davis: Some of my favorite moments alone are spent sitting in cafes with my writing book, either in my home city or while traveling or touring for work. I like to watch people come and go, to observe all the details that make up every day life; so simple and yet endlessly fascinating.
I also love biking solo to the lake (there are lots where I live), going for a swim, and then sitting on the rocks, just hanging out with nature. That’s rejuvenating for me, and it helps me to feel connected to the bigger picture, to get out of my head and my bubble a little bit. Puts things in perspective.
Daniel Jenks: Has there been a time when the poem’s content related to your life? What did you do to help yourself move away from the feelings of loneliness?
Tanya Davis: Oh, definitely. I used to dislike and avoid being alone; I would feel sad, lonely, or bored. Unloved, even. All of what I wrote in that poem applies or has applied to me. Years ago I moved to a new city alone and started doing all of those things I mention in the poem – going to movies alone, out to dinner, dancing…. At first, I was nervous, then comfortable, then, eventually, I was positively in love with it.
Embracing my own solitude was a significant part of me becoming a more joyful person. But I had to employ the idea of ‘fake it ’til ya make it'; as in, I had to pretend I was comfortable and confidant spending time alone (especially in public), until I actually was comfortable and confidant. I still struggle sometimes with loneliness and being alone, so the words in the poem serve as reminders to me, or counsel. To move away from the feelings of loneliness, I just keep practicing, keep reminding myself what a joy it can really be.
Daniel Jenks: What’s the best way to make loneliness a healing experience?
Tanya Davis: Dig into it. Sit in it, with all the thoughts and emotions and feelings that are sure to arise. Be kind and don’t berate yourself for having any of those thoughts and emotions and feelings. Remember that you can be your own healer. Practice gratitude to have that experience in the first place.
Daniel Jenks: Why is it important to embrace loneliness?
Tanya Davis: Why? Because it’s a part of life, part of a fully lived life, part of the human condition and experience. And it takes less effort to embrace it, than it does to fight against it. Then you can put some effort into one of the many other areas of life that calls out to you. Also, for me, at least, spending quality time alone contributes positively to me spending better quality time with people later. It’s a win – win – win!
Tanya Davis is a Canadian singer-songwriter and poet. Since bursting onto the Halifax music scene in 2006 with her debut, Make a List, Tanya has garnered praise from industry, audience, and peers, as well as multiple award nominations, including one for her sophomore release, Gorgeous Morning, for the 2009 ECMA Female Recording of the Year.