When I was younger, I loved August. August meant ice cream and bike rides, sherbet sunsets that stretched for hours, ozone-sharp air just before a storm and rescuing worms from the sidewalk afterward (a mission that, I’ve recently been told, was definitely futile).
Mostly, I loved Augusts because they were unproductive. Endlessly, arrogantly, joyously unproductive in the way that comes so easily to kids. Augusts were long and lazy, a month of sun and green and growing things, when summer camp had ended and school hadn’t started, full of time to do nothing, for myself and by myself.
It’s August at present, but I am twenty-four now, pulling together all the trappings of an adult life. I pack myself lunches and I take two buses to get to work and I spend way too much time in my Google calendar. I have Wednesday dinners with one of my best friends and plan cross-country flights to see the others. I call my parents regularly and return my library books on time, and sometimes I even remember to buy shampoo before I run out.
Somewhere along the way, I lost the ability to celebrate my alone time in the same way I once did. Instead, I started to code solitude in reductive ways: just a thing to be chosen when no one chose me. In the relentless inertia of #hustle culture (that particularly modern crucible), it felt like the only acceptable form of solitude was the useful kind: time to study, to learn a skill, to get organized, to build something productive.
Somewhere along the way, I lost the ability to celebrate my alone time in the same way I once did. Instead, I started to code solitude in reductive ways: just a thing to be chosen when no one chose me.
In Kim Addonizio’s brilliant poem Quantum, there is a line that I’ve saved for years. It read, “. . . the body of the world which is also yours and which keeps insisting you recognize it.” I read it just after I had started my first full-time job. I was freelancing and working and trying to see friends and feeling guilty every moment that I wasn’t doing any of those things, and it felt like permission I didn’t know I needed. Permission to own a little space.
Now, every time I read it, it reminds me that I can insist on recognition, that I can teach myself entitlement—to my own space, my own opinions, my own time. Time to shore up the boundaries, to patch up the hurts; time for all the small solo rituals that remind me that I am not just my work.
So every Friday, as often as I can, I leave work a little early and walk to my favorite local bookstore, just a block away from my office. In the back of the store, near the YA novels and the children’s section, are the used books: always much-loved, always well-worn, often just a dollar. I buy a book and I take it to a restaurant I’ve been meaning to try—something a little swanky, a little candlelit, a little luxuriant, a “first-date-with-someone-you-really-like” kind of restaurant—except (and because!) that “someone” is me. I get myself a drink, or a plate of fries, or just appetizers for dinner—and for an hour, in the warm glow of candlelight and the low hum of other people’s conversations, I take a deep breath at the end of the week.
I can teach myself entitlement—to my own space, my own opinions, my own time. Time to shore up the boundaries, to patch up the hurts; time for all the small solo rituals that remind me that I am not just my work.
For some of my friends, I know that would be the opposite of a deep breath. And that’s the thing: there is no right kind of solo ritual, no right kind of solo space. Over moves and jobs and years, even my own have changed.
There was the movie theater next to my first office, with rickety seats and a projector that always crackled through the previews, where matinee tickets were $5 and the popcorn was always just shy of stale. The bar near my first apartment, where they served every drink with a dish of briney, green, perfect Castelvetrano olives that never seemed to empty, no matter how many you ate. The bottomless coffee at my favorite diner, where someone at the high-top before me had always done just enough of the Sunday crossword that I could finish it.
Which is all to say—there’s no one perfect solo ritual! The only rule is this. That for at least a single hour, once a week (ideally), you are not working, not useful, are exuberantly, wildly, radically unproductive. Everything else is, as they say, your party.
BY Julie Zhou - August 7, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
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