There are those who worship loneliness, I'm not one of them,
In this age of fiberglass, I'm searching for a gem,
The crystal ball upon the wall hasn't shown me nothing yet,
I've paid the price of solitude
but at least I'm out of debt ...
Bob Dylan, 'Dirge', 1974
After an uneventful holiday at home in New Jersey I rode the Amtrak train back to New England in early January of 1986. The train was headed to Boston, with a connecting bus to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I was headed inward, hoping for a connection to I knew not what.
In one of life's happy coincidences (or the Universe's intelligent designs) I inherited a small amount of money from my grandparent's estate. It was only about $2,000, but with my already frugal lifestyle it gave me enough money to live on for a few months while I focused on this 'inward project'.
When I got to Portsmouth I tried to bring some focus to my life and quest, so I began a routine of waking up and walking downtown to one of several cafe's that I frequented. There I would order coffee, sit at a table by myself, and write. The writing was stream of consciousness and wandered all over: what I was thinking today, memories of childhood, dreams of last week, conversations around me. I didn't know what else to do, so I just kept writing. When I wasn't writing I would strike up conversations with the people around me. This led to some connections with new people, which led to interesting conversations, which led to more writing.
I found that the approach I tried worked out well. Each day I would look at where I left off in my writing, see if there was more to dig up and continue. If not, I would let my mind wander around the garden, looking for another root to trip over. Eventually I was no longer tripping over the roots and I had to probe for them. With the soil looking clean I naturally began to turn my attention to what was above ground as well.
The Long Winter
I was something of a zombie that Winter. I eventually got a job washing dishes in a restaurant to pay the rent and buy a little food. I stayed mostly to myself, but since I was spending a lot of time sitting in cafe's I ended up meeting and hanging out with other folks who spent a lot of time at cafe's. I found that many of them liked to talk about deep thoughts like I did, so, added to the friends I had already. During this time I didn't go out much and certainly wasn't off partying. I was too serious for that. I was alone most of the time, but I don't recall being lonely.
What Was Accomplished?
Describing the results of this season of deep thought and self-analysis is difficult, because it was at such a deep and fundamental level. The best analogy that I can offer is that it is like unpacking everything inside yourself, examining it, getting rid of what is not important, and re-packing the rest in an organized way. The result was that I left this phase in my life feeling much lighter, much more sure of who I was, and much more focused on getting back to the business of living.