How to Find Inspiration While Living Alone
The end of the year calls for reflections, usually on the year that’s ending. I’ve actually been thinking about last year and how different it was from this past one. 2017 was a pretty solid year, I had a lot of fun, graduated college with a Masters, got a job in my field, started dating my amazing boyfriend, had some great hair days, took up rock climbing, and created this blog. All in all, not too shabby. 2016 on the other hand really.. well.. sucked. Actually 2016 was the worst year of my life so far and when it ended I really didn’t want to think about, I wanted to leave it in the dirt behind me and forget all about it. Now that it’s been a while I can think of that year not as a “horrible, no good, very bad” year but as “a year of horrible events and regrets that I managed to get over and learn from.”
From May to September 2016 I lived alone. After finishing undergrad, I moved back to where I grew up for the summer for an internship and wait tables and to make enough money to last me through grad school. I didn’t take a break. I didn’t have a vacation. I worked 17 straight weeks with I think 3 days off max for things like going to the dentist, not travel, not parties, not swimming. And for 17 weeks straight, I worked 70 hours each week. “Impossible” you say? “How is could anyone work that much?” you say? Well let me tell you - it wasn’t fun. I didn’t do it for fun. I did it because I needed to dig myself out of a hole, scrape up money for my graduate travel studio to France, and save enough money live on for 9 months. If I remember correctly, the last week of grad school I had $7 left in my account, so pretty good estimating on my part.
I worked 7 days a week. Five days I was an intern at an architecture firm. Four days a week I was a waitress. Two days a week I went from interning to waitressing. Two days a week I was a hostess or waitress in the morning and waitress and the evenings. I also held my first freelance graphic design gig designing the menus for the woman I waitressed for. One last thing, I didn’t have any friends to hang out with, not that I had time to hang out anyways, but I had no one to talk to, to vent to, to chill out with. I As you can imagine, when people complain to me about how much they work, I have very little if any sympathy for them. Do I sound bitter? I thought I wasn’t but thinking about it so much as brought back that horrible taste in my mouth.
So I worked an inhumane amount and oh yea - I lived alone. On the weekends I stayed with my parents, but during the week I lived in my uncle’s house that he didn’t stay in anymore. It was hardly a mile from the office, which was convenient since my house was 35 miles away. On days I didn’t have to pull a double, I would walk to the office, which is number one on my list of how I stayed sane and inspired that summer.
1. Take Walks
I mean a stroll or saunter, if you will. Not “I need to go to the store so I’ll just power walk there and back before the commercials end (who still watches cable?)” . Seriously - a nice easy walk. The best ones are when you don’t have anywhere in particular you’re going. You just kind of.. go. My best friend and I did this in college on Saturday mornings after eventful nights to walk off our headaches. We would walk nearly 3 miles in the morning to Boston’s Long Wharf, literally until we got to the ocean and couldn’t walk any further. But there’s something so serene about taking a walk by yourself, which I’ll bet no one reading this has ever done because no one under the age of 60 does that, except me apparently. The things you notice while walking alone are amazing. You’d never notice them while driving or talking to someone next to you. I don’t only mean noticing things around you, like that small tattoo parlor down the street you swore was a doughnut shop, but you’ll notice the way you think, how fast or scattered your thoughts are, what you spend most of your time thinking about, then you’ll ask yourself why you think about it, and eventually get down the the bottom of it learn something new about yourself, your habits, choices, priorities, and maybe attitudes or worries that need to change or stop completely. You could argue that this is a type of meditation - increasing your awareness of yourself and your mind. It’s a very liberating feeling, like you took your brain out of your skull, washed it with lavender-scented Dawn, air dried outside in a meadow no human has touched, and let it float back into your empty head. I hope that was graphic enough for you.
The small city where I interned, Glens Falls, NY, has one rotary circle with 5 radiating streets and if you go down any of those streets you have approximately 1000 feet of shops, cafes, bars, and art studios until you’d want to get in your car because the next closest shop isn’t close. I did say “small” city, right? Well walking past these storefronts every day made me actually look at them and realize that they had some intrigue. I had never really gone into or even looked at most of these businesses and I had lived here for 21 years! I saw a store that I heard about on the radio a million times and thought “ohhh that’s where it is” and turns out it’s a really cool outdoor clothing store I wish I had gone in years ago! There’s a bar that worked right next to that I would have never thought of going into. There’s a bakery that my mom took me to a couple times growing up and I thought it was weird and walked into it again and fell in love - the best iced soy lattes ever (sorry Boston, you need to get a Rock Hill Bakehouse). On one of the evenings I didn’t have to go waitress in Lake George, I randomly decided that instead of going home to read my homework, (oh right, the 12 book annotated bibliography for grad school. Still think your life is busy?) I wanted to pop a squat at a Mexican restaurant next the office cause they had dope outside seating in the middle of the sidewalk and I wanted to have a margarita with my book and watch people and cars navigate the busy street since I was indeed studying the characteristics of a modern city. And this brings me to number 2.
2. Go into Random New Stores and Restaurants
I find great inspiration and fresh lenses when I go to a new place, especially when it’s a random and unplanned visit to a store, restaurant, cafe, bar, or business. Waltzing through the doors of a place with no preconceived notions or expectations can make for good surprises or interestingly bad ones. You might get inspiration for a new recipe and lunch box item. You find the perfect new sweater to rock. You might find the sketch book and brush pen of your dreams! Then you can go and create more things you want and look good doing it!
I found the perfect set of running shoes, camel back, and ear buds by not really looking for them, I just stumbled upon them, and I’ve put miles on all those babies. Since I had no friends, and no where to really go all summer, and stared at a computer screen all day (much like I and everyone else with a desk job does currently) I loved to get outside as much as possible. I’ve always worked my butt off. I’ve had a job since I was 12. So I really appreciate the little time I get to spend outside. After work I’d walk home, have a snack, lace up, ear buds in, Nike running app loaded, and just go. Sometimes for more than 6 miles. So now I say..
3. Run Forest! Run!
No I don’t care if you’re not a runner, it’s all relative and just hear me out. This is similar to clearing your mind by taking a leisurely walk, but because it incorporates physical exhaustion and an element of “I can’t believe I just did that” there’s something personally rewarding about it. A reward that you don’t share with other people since they’ll never really feel the same way; it’s very personal. Everyone can do this in one form or another, it doesn’t have to be running, it can be biking, swimming, pushups, or maybe jumping up and down.. maybe.. I haven’t tried it. Anyways, I just fucking ran! Pardon my language, but it really is like Forest Gump. “I just felt like runnin’ “ is as simple as it gets. This was easy because I had access to a river-side bike path a couple miles long. Even though I was tired from working so much, it’s not the same kind of tired you feel after running 5 or so miles, that kind of tired actually feels good, like you did something. It releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy! And focusing on one single, solid, easy to understand task - fucking run - is oh so refreshing for the mind after a day of either arguing with computer software about the fire ratings of doors or arguing with customers about how they want their burger cooked. You just go until you can’t go no more and you body says, “Okay, that’s enough fun for today. Thanks for using me and not subjecting me to that horrible swivel chair 24/7.”
As I mentioned before, I had to do an annotated bibliography for school that summer. Most of my classmates didn’t actually read their books, just the back covers. But I read at least half of each book I picked out because also like I said earlier, I had no friends, and I just really wanted to learn. I hadn’t been the library in Glens Falls since about say.. fourth grade. It had recently been renovated and I walked in and didn’t a clue where I was or needed to be. I asked a lady where the architecture and urban design books were and went on my marry way. Maybe I’m a twisted little girl, but there’s something comfortable about being all alone in a big quiet building and seeing other people all alone, as if no one realized that there was anyone else in there. I also used to have so much fun searching for the right books, going on the dusty computer to find the dewy decimal number, traipsing up and down the aisles until I get to it and then finding like 10 other books right next to that one that I never heard of before but they look perfect and so I take them all in my arms and skedaddle to claim a big empty table all to myself and sprawl them out. I’m getting nostalgic just thinking about it.
4. The Library
The next time you need to research or learn or are just bored and have no friends, go to the library. Yup. I said it - the library. And yup - they are still a thing. Everyone has gotten into a Youtube hole, but have you ever gotten yourself into a book hole? You go the an area of the library that interests you, maybe find an author you’ve heard of see one of his or her books which is fine, but then you see a book next to that one with a cool typeface on the jacket. You don’t know what it’s about but it looks cool. Pick it up, read the back cover and it mentions a city you’ve been to or an artist you learned about in school. You realize you’re now in the section of the library about art deco - such vibrant colors on all the covers! There’s so many! There can’t possibly be this many books about art deco, can there? Look at all the things you don’t know; all the things they never taught you in school. Why did you even pay for school? There’s far more information here and it’s free! And the best part: no one will bother you while you’re here! There’s no salesmen asking if you need helping finding something and breathing down your neck until you amuse them. Your phone is on silent and if someone calls you, too bad cause you’re at the library and if you talk on your phone you’re considered rude. Seriously, to escape the world, and people, and cyberspace, go to the library. It’s a wonderful place to find inspiration.