In about two weeks I’ll be left alone in the apartment I normally share with a close friend. The period of isolation will likely last for 16 days until I leave the United States to go home to Norway. I dread this event and its consequences for my psyche, health and social life.
I worry that I won’t get up in the morning. I worry that I’ll stop cooking and resort to bread and peanut butter for all my meals. I worry that I’ll drink five cups of coffee a day and only read.
But mainly I worry that the only reason I function regularly is because I have some external presence that can keep me in check. Don’t get me wrong, my roommate is not very intrusive at all, and we’re both extremely private people who need to be alone a lot. Yet somehow I function with her; I can feel like alone and focused although she’s sitting next to me. It took some time to get to this point, about all of last semester, during which I was conspicuously absent a lot of the time because I was still getting adjusted to sharing my space with someone.
Not that she’s my first roommate ever. I just find it so much easier to live with people I hardly know. We leave each other alone, and I can be as antisocial as I want. Now, I’m usually quite good at talking to people I both do and don’t know, and when I’m in a social setting I give it everything I have. Then, when I go home afterwards, I need to charge back up by reading, cooking, drinking coffee, staring into space. After the tumultuous unpredictability of interacting with other humans I can finally escape into the safe canyons of my mind—I don’t know the terrain, but it’s an exhilarating exploration that I love and only feel like I can do alone.
Until I got used to living with my roommate, that is.
I sometimes secretly desire an hour or two alone in our apartment. I think it’s what I want, and I drink cups on cups on cups of coffee and work out in our living room with loud music (otherwise I’d be too embarassed) and bake bread. I enjoy myself!
One, two hours go by, and I miss her. I want to tell her stuff. I want her to make me fried eggs with onion. I want to show her things I made. I want to sit quietly in the same room as her with headphones on. I know she’s there.
The premise of the project Dear-Data is beautiful to me: two women send each other postcards of their graphic visualizations of the personal datasets they’ve gathered throughout the weeks. They decide what they’ll collect—drinks in a week, compliments received and given, efficiency—and then they send each other a postcard with a graphic representation of this as well as a key with how to read it. It’s often beautiful, at times hard to read, and always surprising.
That is why I’m afraid of my roommate leaving. No matter how happy I might be alone, this desire is always, always a deception for me. I begin missing her. I want to speak to my family. I text a friend and ask to see her. Do I want to think of myself as a loner? Do I tell myself I am? Or am I just a normal human being? Likely.
Last week I wrote that I’m constantly surprised by people. One of the reasons I sometimes choose to isolate myself is because I know what people are going to do. They’ll burden me, demand things from me, confine me into a box and worst of all, try to do things for me or even spend time. It’s scary as shit, all of the time. Getting a text message is wonderful, but then I have to reply, and then all I want is to be left alone.
It’s weird how I make myself do a lot of things for another person who doesn’t even know that they’re my catalyst. I’d likely not do a lot of the things I do daily if it wasn’t for her. The thing is, I just want to be as good as I can. Not for her, not so she can see it and then care about me. But rather, because someone else will see me I am forced to have the self-respect to change out of my pajamas and sit up straight in my chair as I do my homework. Is it self-censoring? Is it Foucault again (four years of undergrad and I’m done with him, hopefully forever)?
I like to think of myself as independent and relatively autonomous, but I’m not. Everything I am is made up of other people, and this isn’t a bad thing, but I’m realizing that this even applies on the tiniest level of when to set my alarm clock in the morning.
Dear-Data goes beyond the Quantified Selfers in this way. They’re accountable to one another. I suspect that, when you know someone else will be reading it, you make it more understandable.
Meanwhile, I’m constructing an intricate and completely packed schedule for the 16 days I’ll be spending alone where I see at least one other person every day.