From the beginning of September until the end of May, our lives are a blur of people. Nine months of constant companionship. From morning coffee to a late night shower, the college student is always surrounded. In the airtight bubble of Harvard Square, someone from section is sipping tea at the next table or a friend is in the adjoining fitting room even when you aren't on Harvard property proper. So the summer is for breaking out. Three peaceful months of respite from the tedium of continual human interaction and from an active gossip mill (one that keeps churning despite the scarcity of worthwhile grist).
So how goes solitude? Is it all it's cracked up to be? Time for oneself to be pensive and find that deep inner core? Or does loneliness set in and communal living take on a rosier gloss? It depends. Like most things in life, I can't promise that a solo summer will solve all problems or even be a blast, but for some it could be just the change of atmosphere necessary to clear the cobwebs in your head.
Though college may have a semblance of independence, our lives are run like clockwork by our dining halls, our classes, our extracurriculars. Stranded on our own in the big bad world, little daily routines, such as meals, suddenly take planning. Swiping cards is worthless in the third world country of your choice (though occasionally Visa may be a lifesaver), and you have to remember to buy groceries or go out to eat. Depend on yourself. No momma, no daddy, no big brother Harvard to steam your vegetables, it's all you.
And then there are all these hours of the day that are yours and yours alone. No lunch dates. No meetings. No going to the gym. 24 hours that you must fill up, plan and organize daily. On your own, your time is truly your own. Despite the circularity of the argument, it is painfully true. Even with one other person, daily planning turns into decisions and compromise-making sessions--but solo, you play big kid and get to do both what you please and what needs to get done.
On the one hand, such independence can be liberating. You can have dessert first, you can stick your tongue out at all the art critics and bypass world famous art museums. However, it can be a major pain to remember to bring home the bacon and not just go and crash in the home/hostel of your choosing. Why isn't there anyone bringing the hot chicken soup to your bedside?
Whether tending to your own daily upkeep is a joy or a drag, one of the side-effects of being alone is all those little voices bouncing around in your head when you are all by your lonesome. What to do with all those deep thoughts?
It can be great. You can think them through, mull them over, with no snotty kid pointing out that they had in fact figured it out light-years ago. What took you so long? However, babbling with a pal can also be the way to enlightenment.
Will you find your true self, alone with a back-pack on the highways and byways of the world? Maybe. Free from the constant influx of ideas that ooze around our red brick homes we can think about ourselves and be pleasantly self centered without constant distraction.
So being alone can be fabulous. Take care of yourself, think about yourself...but loneliness can eventually take its toll. Whom are you going to tell about your brilliant self-revelations? Whom are you going to share dinner with? Whom are you going to wander with in the galleries of the museums you stop by? It can be a little too lonely.
But change is good. The bottom line is that even if you don't have the time of your life, it can't hurt to reorganize the brain away from the input and opinions of all those you care about or don't. Masses of things become infinitely less important, a couple of choice people, activities, ideas become all that more meaningful. So it surely can't hurt to be just with you. So if you didn't get a chance this summer yet, grab a couple weeks for yourself or plan ahead for next year and do some new-age "you-time."
Sarah B. Jacoby '99, a history of science concentrator and resident of Mather House, was traipsing around alone but is now back among people.
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