Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Alone Again (Naturally)

To quote the words of John Cooper Clarke (1984, p. 102), Geordie poet extraordinare;

"nothing isn't anything

it's tasteless and it's flat

nothing, if it's anything

is even less than that

Most of us would reply, when asked what we are doing when alone, "Nothing".

Doing nothing these days is considered a bit of a luxury, or seen as being a bit anti-social. Yet when I was growing up, doing nothing for at least part of the day was normal. Normal to have time to recharge and be comfortable in your own skin.

Catherine Woulfe from the Sunday Star Times Sunday Magazine said in an article recently (29 May 2011) “To me, alone isn’t lonely at all. In fact, loneliness is not a state I’ve ever felt. ‘Alone’ means just being in my own head”. Woulfe pointed out that nearly a third of a million New Zealanders live alone. That's 20% of Kiwi adults. Granted, some by circumstance, but probably a lot of us by choice.

Woulfe (29 May 2011) went on to say that psychologists are apparently advising us to spend more time on our own, because of the benefits to our moods and empathy and increases in creativity and memory, plus the added bonus of a decrease in stress. That whole "time out" thing.

Time to reflect, time to assimilate, time to be yourself without constraint. That's a good thing. Making sense of the world might be difficult, but the idea of meditation - prayer - doesn't necessarily need to be solely the province of an organised religion.

Woulfe (29 May 2011) quoted an Auckland-based clinical psychologist, Dr Susan Hayes. Hayes thinks that alone-ness is a coming thing. Hayes was quoted as saying “There’s a very strong human need for just space, to recharge. I think our culture is very judgmental about aloneness and I’m not sure where that came from. I mean, we are social animals and we do need social interaction… We do need and crave a sense of belonging and connection to others, but we also need and crave space to ourselves, just to think. And I think a lot of us get peopled-out without realising it.”

Interesting phrase, 'peopled-out'; one I have used for years when I crave some 'me-time'. That is solo time; not time with someone else about, where, no matter how relaxed you are with their company, you are on the alert for the other's cues. And not time with the telly either, because, although that's further down the involvement continuum, it's still people-watching.

What we are after here is solitude. Time to be willingly alone with our own thoughts, to reflect on life, to be free to be ourselves and meander around naked in our heads. Solitude deliberately created by turning the phone off and reading, listening to music, walking, spending time with animals, painting, drawing, woodworking, carving, maintaining, sewing, sunbathing, skimming stones, gardening or just enjoying the view.

What was thought-provoking is Hayes (Woulfe, 29 May 2011) on the reduction of creativity when group brainstorming. “It’s almost like the thing where if you close your eyes your hearing improves. It’s like if you shut down everything else then the creative energies come through more strongly. You’ll find most artistic people far prefer to work in isolation". Hayes felt that this was due partly to dealing with the strain of other's demands, and partly that being alone gives us a better self-connection.

I am not so sure about group brainstorming reducing creativity, and no proof of Hayes statement was offered by Woulfe (29 May 2011). I tend to think that both strategies (solo creativity and group brainstorming) are different processes with different aims, objectives and outcomes. Group brainstorming is necessary for consensus, shared goals and socialising; solo creativity is for individual development and personal wholeness.

Hayes (Woulfe, 29 May 2011) also talked about the benefits of creativity on our individual happiness, about it being "incredibly healthy" to lose track of time through absorption in solo tasks.

Hey, talk to any model railway builder and they will tell you all about being healthy :-)

  • Cooper-Clarke, John (1984). Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt. UK: Arena.
  • O'Sullivan, Raymond Edward aka Gilbert (1972). Alone Again (Naturally). UK: Management Agency & Music Ltd (MAM)
  • Woulfe, Catherine (29 May 2011). "Me, myself and I". NZ: Sunday Star Times Sunday Magazine. Retrieved online 8 June 2011 from http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/5070149/Me-myself-and-I


  1. Hello! Hoping you can help me. I want to use a line from the same poem you've quoted by John Cooper Clarke ("It happens once and then it's gone leaving bugger all"), the only thing is apparently he didn't write that poem (https://www.esquire.com/uk/culture/tv/a34861110/james-may-oh-cook-male-idiocy-tv/). Can you point me in the direction of your reference so I can confirm for myself. Thank you!

    1. Kia ora Marge, thanks for getting in touch!

      I have John Cooper Clarke's book of 1983 (reprinted 1984) poetry which contains that poem, with that ending, on page 102 (as cited above in the article). As JCC was a beat poet, his work evolved, and correspondingly, he published a number of different versions of his poems. As I have the poem right here in front of me as I type this, I can say with confidence that Esquire has the wrong information. There is a version of this which has been recited by another person at https://youtu.be/agJib2yG4rU, and this is the version which is in the Arena publication. I hope this helps! Nga mihi mahana


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