Keep things messy.
If I don’t have guests then I let things lie where they fall; piles of loneliness amass on the rug, at the foot of my bed, by the sink, where they threaten to topple over and break. Then they break, of course. Suddenly there’s no room for me to get into bed. There’s too much ephemera. My dog looks up at me like, please move your shit so I can get on the bed. OK, I say. I heave it all to the floor and we both go to bed. We will deal with all that in the morning, we agree. Messiness is acceptable, even agreeable. It’s good to fill up the space where a body might be. Did I once lie in that spot, helpless with laughter? Well, now there are three large and costly photo books stacked up, still in their cellophane, because I bought them on a whim but can’t afford to keep them. Perhaps I’ll give one of them to a friend as a present, and then when I visit on some flimsy pretence I can flip through it at my leisure. Isn’t my friend’s birthday party next month? Oh, it was last month, and I decided not to go.
Keep things clean.
Loneliness can be combated using this one weird trick: Hang clean laundry up. Doesn’t the air smell so good? I like to spend a long time in the laundry aisle of a supermarket, opening the bottles of fabric softener and sniffing them. I haven’t quite found the scent I am looking for: It is the particular scent of other people’s laundry. You see, other people’s laundry smells aspirational. I learned that there is nothing so healing, physically, to a lonely person, than to climb into a freshly made bed. It helps to feel swaddled, it helps not to succumb to squalor, and above all, it reminds me to take my makeup off at night. Always buy white bed linen. Always wash at a high temperature. Once a year, pile all your linen into a bathtub and let it sit overnight in bleach. What is a person supposed to sleep in, if all their linen is in a bathtub full of bleach? Well, just for one night, let yourself fall asleep in front of the TV, on the sofa, fully clothed.
Use your outside voice.
It’s all too easy to get accustomed to silence, or, even worse, the terrible sound of the radio, which just has bad politics and people laughing at things that aren’t funny. When I do speak, it is in a baby voice, to my dog, and I just say the same things over and over again. “Hi,” I say. “Hi, hi, hi. That’s your toy, isn’t it? That’s your toy.” I speak in affirmations: I am affirming my dog of his existence and, in a way, of my own. I remember to call my friends and family, even if they aren’t expecting it. When they answer, I remember not to use my inside voice, which has become so quiet that the sound of the nesting birds on the windowsill overpower it. Nobody can hear you if you use your inside voice. Instead I speak clearly, remembering that I am the sort of person who is heard effortlessly at a loud party. I project my anecdotes over the interference. Did I not mention that there is interference? There is a loud hum that resonates through every conversation, no matter where I stand in the house.
Keep a record of your days.
If you forget to eat, you will die. And it isn’t enough to eat toast at two o’clock in the morning. If you forget to eat delicious meals, with fresh fruits, dark green vegetables, oily fish, seeds, and water-efficient grains, you will die. If I don’t have the energy to cook a delicious meal, I will pretend I am making a delicious meal for somebody else. I will plate it beautifully and put it on the table in front of the best light, which comes from the garden. I’m sorry; obviously I know that the light doesn’t come from the garden. It comes from the sky. If you take a beautiful photograph of food and put it on Instagram, people like it. “That looks divine,” they insist. Then you send them the recipe, which, of course, they don’t follow. They don’t want to cook the meal, they would prefer to just look at it and imagine themselves sitting at a different table, eating a different thing. Everybody is imagining the way life would be if it was different. In this way through social media one can share every meal and make sure to keep well-fed.
I take brisk walks to the beach. My walking is always brisk, because I am from the city. I haven’t learned how to stroll yet. I am capable of only walking at a furious pace, or sitting in uncomfortable positions that make my legs go to sleep. I still wear the same shoes that I wore in the city, but now they are full of sand and often damp. The windows fog when I come in from my walks and put my damp clothes on the radiator to dry. Each surface is covered in shells, which each day I collect as souvenirs. It’s tacky to live by the sea and to have nautical-themed homeware. It’s better to avoid a blue and white colour scheme if at all possible. And yet I don’t want to forget that I live by the sea. A good idea is to get into the sea. If I swim in it, I will remember it. At night I smell it under my fingernails, and feel it in my hair. I remember the dead dogfish and the sudden change of the current, forcing the air out of my lungs. Treading through the grit and the sharp pebbles on my way out into the sea leaves my feet smooth and pink, so they feel and look like new little feet. I wash them before bed, exhausted and thrilled.
Recently I have been trying to think of myself and my life as things so brief and transitory that they might as well not exist at all. For instance, when things feel too much, I look at pictures on the internet that show the scale of the universe. When I read statistics about how many acres of rainforest we (humans) have burned down, I look at a graphical timeline of the universe. I basically think about the universe. It’s hard to think of oneself as brief and transitory and of no importance. People would prefer you to think of yourself as very important and beautiful. If you think of yourself as very important and beautiful, you are entering into the Spirit of Things. Unfortunately, the Spirit of Things gives me anxiety. I tried transcendental meditation. It didn’t quite work for me, but I still remember my mantra from time to time and repeat it to myself. The worst thing about it was that I asked the teacher whether meditating would help me with my fear of death, and he replied, “Oh, there’s nothing scary about dying. It’s just like taking off an old coat.”
Don’t be alone.
Invite someone over and tell them how much you have gained from living alone. Gesture around you, taking in the cheap furniture and postcards that have been tacked to so many walls that they are ruined, and say, “It’s not much, but it’s mine.” Allow them to tell you that you are brave. Hold things up to the light so they can be properly examined. Take gifts immediately, and unwrap them in secret. Don’t let them see that you are hungry for new things. Interrupt people often, so that they are less likely to raise a topic of conversation that disinterests you or alarms you. Call people on the telephone, even if they are right in front of you. If they object, simply say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot that you were there.” Check your watch often, as if expecting other visitors. Invite too many people over, so that the neighbours call the police. Make a nuisance of yourself. In the middle of a kiss, remember a different kiss, and sigh.
Eli Goldstone is the author of Strange Heart Beating.