On Doing Stuff Alone (Part 2)

Thoughts

Today, I had another alone day (although not completely by choice, I’ll admit). I’ve been in Alexandria, Virginia – right outside of Washington DC – for the weekend, and was left today to figure out how exactly to spend my day all by my lonesome.

Surprisingly (or dare I say – unsurprisingly?), I had an amazing day. I started by slowly strolling along the Potomac River and followed some signs to a park where a festival was taking place to commemorate the bicentennial something or other of the War of 1812 (although, given that this is 2014, it’s technically bicentennial + 2 years, no?). As I was about to leave, I caught sight of a bunch of people dressed up in colonial gear with musical instruments – a drum corps from the Army, they marched to the park and proceeded to play patriotic tunes while marching around. Army drum corps in colonial gear, playing patriotic songs in front of the Potomac River – I would say this is as America as it gets. In fact, I think that’s how I would sum up Old Town Alexandria, VA – “As America as it gets.” Anyway, the drum corps was awesome!

Afterwards, I wandered around and saw a cute cobblestone street, walked into a Christmas attic store and did some shopping at a boutique called Lou Lou’s. I then went back to Killer ESP, a coffeeshop where we’d gotten gelato the day before, to grab a salted caramel soy latte (seriously amazing – also, free WiFi at this place!), settle down, and write a birthday card for a friend. All this because I was biding/killing time until a piano performance at the Lyceum by pianist Thomas Pandolfi. I had never heard of him before but was excited by the program, which I’d found online last night.

I was probably one of the only people under the age of 50 at this recital, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I sat in the second row, right in the middle, with an amazing view of the pianist, his hands, and his feet. The program that had been posted online was wrong, so he did not play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu or Gershwin’s Rhapsody. He did, however, play Beethoven’s famous Sonata Pathetique as well as various other tunes that I was able to recognize. It reminded me how much I really love classical piano music (with the exception of Debussy – he played two Debussy pieces, including Claire de Lune, and I remembered again how I strongly dislike the impressionisticky/too-lyrical sounds of Debussy). I was especially impressed by the Chopin Etudes and the intimate setting of the concert really engaged me much more than I expected. It also went for two hours – also longer than I’d expected, but again, I was so happy to be there and had such a great time listening and watching him perform.

After the concert, I went to a Greek restaurant that we’d walked past the day before. They had taramasalata on the menu posted outside, so there was no question of where I was going to eat my early dinner. I asked for a table for one and actually had such a wonderful experience. Loved the ambiance of the restaurant, loved the food – the tastes were flavorful and just really delicious – loved the service, and actually really loved eating by myself. I wonder if eating alone (and not being able to talk, really) made me enjoy the food more, because you actually think more about what you’re eating and the flavors that are in your mouth.

It’s interesting because, while I thoroughly enjoyed my day/meal alone, I was texting a friend who expressed being tired of eating alone because it felt lonely. I think that there’s a difference when you eat alone or go out alone because you choose to have an alone day for yourself versus when you eat alone because you’re new to a city or don’t know anyone to go out with. It’s been a cool experiment to try to do stuff myself, but I’m also fully aware that it might seem more “fun” because I’m consciously choosing to go out alone.

Thank you, Alexandria, for a lovely alone day today and for a beautiful weekend. Special thanks to the Navy Band, the Army drum corps and Thomas Pandolfi for the beautiful musical performances this weekend – I’m really starting to recognize how important and meaningful music is (has been, and will be) in my life. I hope to blog more about music in the future as I use this blog to figure out my goals in life, because I’m fairly confident that music is a field I feel particularly drawn to.

On Doing Stuff Alone

Thoughts

A while ago, I got it into my mind that it might be fun to do an activity by myself. Being a natural extrovert, I’m one of those people who dislikes going places alone. But ever since I graduated college and started working, I’ve started really appreciating the little moments I have for myself – and so I wanted to take it a step further. I subsequently decided to sign up for a whitewater rafting trip.

I’ve always wanted to try whitewater rafting, but never thought I’d sign up for it alone. Since each boat usually has 4-6 people, it definitely seemed like one of those activities that you would sign up for with a group of friends. So as the date approached, I found myself feeling wary about going alone and trying to find other people who would go with me. As fate would have it, nobody could/wanted to go – and so I ended up going by myself.

I got to the bus stop and realized, with a sinking feeling, that nobody else was there alone. When I showed my ticket to the guide, he said, “You and her?” pointing to a random girl behind me. I shook my head no: “Nope, just me.” I sat through the bus ride by myself and started wondering if I had been crazy to go on this trip alone!

Once at the rafting site, we milled around waiting for yet another set of buses to take us closer to the river. I wandered by myself for a bit, trying to look – and feel – nonchalant about the fact that I was there by myself. I was relieved to finally board the second set of buses and sat next to a stranger who was part of a group of 5. I wondered if my seatmate’s group thought it was weird that I had just come on alone, but quickly brushed it off.

I ended up on a boat with three other couples – two of the couples were friends, and the other one was separate. And you know what? I had so much fun. Once on the boat, it wasn’t a huge deal if you went with someone or not because conversation was light and easy. The most difficult part for me was probably lunchtime, because the group of four and the other couple separated from each other – and, feeling bad that I had already tagged along for the boat ride, I didn’t want to attach myself to either party. So I stood alone, in the vicinity of my boatmates but not with them – and just ate by myself. In retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal to stand with the group and make conversation.

The day overall was such a blast. The weather was absolutely perfect. Our boat ended up working together well enough that one of the guides told us to hang back after lunch so he could show us some more “advanced” routes. And I learned so much about myself.

If I had to describe the day in one word, I would probably use the word “empowering.” I felt empowered that I could go on this activity by myself and feel okay doing it – I even went out to dinner alone afterwards to continue my “alone day.” The biggest takeaway I have from the experience is an old adage: it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Any time I worried if I looked weird or awkward, I realized that even if someone was judging me, 1) I would probably never see them again, and 2) I actually felt internally confident so I didn’t really care. I learned to feel rooted in myself, knowing that I had CHOSEN to do the trip alone (well, if you ignore the part where I panicked/backtracked and tried to find friends). I realized that I was secure (and lucky) in knowing that I have family and friends whom I love dearly and that being alone at this one event meant nothing about me.

I really recommend doing an “alone day” – it’s so much fun and it’s nice to enjoy your own company. I wish I’d brought a book to read during dinner (and my phone ran out of battery) but even at dinner, it was so empowering to be confident that I had chosen to be there, alone, eating dinner – and I was happy to be doing so.