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Column: Seniors: embrace solitude, not isolation

Students+in+college+tend+to+work+late+nights+in+the+library%2C+studying+and+drinking+coffee+in+solitude.+Our+resident+senior+Caleb+Beck+advises+not+to+become+too+absorbed+by+our+own+solitude+and+to+instead+use+alone+time+in+moderation+and+understanding.+Photo+credit%3A+Jacob+Meyer
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Column: Seniors: embrace solitude, not isolation

Students in college tend to work late nights in the library, studying and drinking coffee in solitude. Our resident senior Caleb Beck advises not to become too absorbed by our own solitude and to instead use alone time in moderation and understanding. Photo credit: Jacob Meyer

Students in college tend to work late nights in the library, studying and drinking coffee in solitude. Our resident senior Caleb Beck advises not to become too absorbed by our own solitude and to instead use alone time in moderation and understanding. Photo credit: Jacob Meyer

Jacob Meyer

Students in college tend to work late nights in the library, studying and drinking coffee in solitude. Our resident senior Caleb Beck advises not to become too absorbed by our own solitude and to instead use alone time in moderation and understanding. Photo credit: Jacob Meyer

Jacob Meyer

Jacob Meyer

Students in college tend to work late nights in the library, studying and drinking coffee in solitude. Our resident senior Caleb Beck advises not to become too absorbed by our own solitude and to instead use alone time in moderation and understanding. Photo credit: Jacob Meyer

Caleb Beck

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A few months (or several lifetimes ago), I wrote about graduating seniors wading through the difficulties of shaky job markets and general education hang-ups, all while undergoing the listless malaise senioritis entails. These were thoughts from a dark place, the feeling of a looming capitalist obelisk blotting out the sunny idealism liberal education outlined… or something.

Thankfully, I now feel employable and capable on the other side. I am healthy, positive, and reasonably haggard. The existential crises are a dull roar of what they used to be, and if I don’t run out of steam I’ll graduate within the week, hopefully clean-shaven and better rested. Here’s a final spring thesis compounding my breakthrough: you’ve got to be willing to fall off the map for a little while, without isolating yourself entirely.

I admit that I love solitude, and the space it creates to tether whirring thoughts and tackle unseen hurdles. I like the adage “if you’re lonely every time you’re alone you might be in poor company,” because I think solitude is an important respite from a noisy world, where you can exist comfortably for a spell and resurface with fresh insight. Upon graduating, we might travel to new cities with few connections, and that’s a solitary, exciting and intimidating enterprise. It’s useful to understand how you operate alone, to some degree.

Still, I’m careful to advocate solitude too freely, because it can turn to isolation so quickly, solitude’s soul-sucking mutant cousin. My abridged thesis: don’t sacrifice your self-care and human relationships for your solitude. You will burn out and lose sight of your purpose. Your thoughts will not make sense to you or your friends. Clear space in your life by all means, but be very aware of how deep you’re diving into that pool.

Solitude is proactive and works by liberating yourself from noisy patterns, where isolation is in itself a desperate pattern. Solitude is taking a walk through Audubon around sunset with your headphones in, or biking alone to get the bi-weekly po-boy takeout (highly recommended). Isolation is locking yourself in a freezing office for the fifth night on end, eating zero calorie sweetener packets and coffee grounds to stay awake. Remarkably, it can take a few semesters to learn which is which.

Isolation will not make you more productive, passion will. Going “off-the-grid” is an idyllic escape plan for us trying to exist in this chaotic political hellscape, until you realize trying to force work into the lonely space you’ve carved for yourself can be about as effective as throwing a rock into the soil in hope of a bountiful harvest.

Pivot! Use your solitude to understand and subvert isolation. I’ve found a lot of joy recently in listening to authors, speakers and comedians that remind us how devilish our minds can be. Duncan Trussell, Alan Watts and Bill Hicks are my favorites. They are all keenly aware of how difficult it is to exist in your head.

Laugh frequently and don’t be sorry. Don’t apologize profusely when you have to lay low for a few weeks to better yourself. Within reason, your friends will understand that you’ve been working hard, and will empathize with their own struggles. Some of your friends won’t understand, and that’s fine too. You need to be whole before being anyone’s emotional ward, and that doesn’t make you selfish.

I’m laughably tired of the binary introvert/extrovert quizzes which sort energy expenditure between “I like reading a book on my porch alone” and “I like invading a nightclub with forty-five of my closest friends.” I feel you can exist anywhere between these camps comfortably, for as long as you can candidly tell yourself it’s healthy. Is that contradictory? As Walt Whitman said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Understanding how you operate might be a side-effect of higher education rather than it’s focus, but as I look out on a beautiful spring Sunday, I’m glad I came to it one way or another, with mistakes and triumphs abound. I found out for myself that what I wrote about fatalism a few months ago was much more an internal storm than an institutional one.

My parting advice as I make myself scarce from these grounds is to live by the individual strategies that keep you kind and productive and occasionally solitary, without becoming a complete stranger to yourself and the people that believe you have a lot to offer. I really can’t recommend the po-boy takeout enough, either.

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About the Writer
Caleb Beck, Wolf Editor

A lanky, beach-wandering fool, Caleb crash-landed in New Orleans at Loyola University's campus after spending his high school years on Destin, Florida’s...

1 Comment

One Response to “Column: Seniors: embrace solitude, not isolation”

  1. Aunt Debbie on May 7th, 2018 10:15 am

    You’re wise beyond your time on earth! Read this article with a tear of pride and a feeling that “this kid will make the world a better place”.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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