The Wizard of Loneliness was the title of a book I read in middle school. I remember literally nothing about the book other than the title. I even looked it up on Amazon and read the description and still didn’t remember anything about it. It obviously made a big impression on me. Nonetheless, the title popped into my head today because I’ve been thinking a lot about loneliness.
Being lonely when you’re actually alone somewhere is a heavy burden, and I’ve experienced it several times. I’ve brought it on myself, of course. Over the past eight years or so, I’ve had the habit of showing up places where I know absolutely no one – or close to absolutely no one – and staying a while. I did this in Cuba (2004), Argentina (2009), and Brazil (2005 and 2010). The times I’ve felt most acutely lonely in my life were these times, when I found myself in a foreign country with few friends and, even worse, few distractions.
I distinctly remember dreading Sundays in Brazil, both times that I lived there, because Sundays are family days, when Brazilians get together with their loved ones to eat long lunches, drink beer, and catch up. On Sundays, I’d take myself to the movies or go to the gym or sit in my apartment doing crossword puzzles, waiting for the day to be over.
When I went back to Brazil in 2010 for work, I wasn’t prepared for the riptide of loneliness that sucked me out to sea as soon as I got there. It was easier the first time I had moved by myself to Brazil, in 2005, because I had been truly alone – no boyfriend back home – and I was twenty-three. It must be said that meeting people tends to be easier when you’re single and twenty-three. But in 2010, I had left behind my then-boyfriend (now husband) and it hurt, almost physically, to know that he was still in Boston with our friends, while I was completely and utterly alone in a city of 20 million people.
It took me a long time to make good friends in Brazil, both times that I lived there. Making friends as an expat in Sao Paulo requires a Herculean effort. I forced myself to go to Meetups and Internations events and then forced myself to introduce myself to strangers, to walk up to clusters of people talking and ask if I could join. I set myself up on blind friend dates. I accepted every social invitation I received, even if it was for something I didn’t particularly want to do. Eventually, it paid off, and I made friends, some of whom I’m still close to. But man, it was hard.
Here in Johannesburg, things are different. I feel a small tug of loneliness during the day, as I begin to write, take my gym break, eat a solitary lunch, and return to my writing. Usually, by the time I wrap up my work for the day, there are several long hours before Al will return from work. Without friends to visit or talk to, those hours can drag by. But I’m not experiencing loneliness as a lodestone around my neck the way I have before. I know that, no matter what, on weekends, I have my husband to cook dinner with. I won’t ever have to go to the movies alone.
But while I relish the solitary lifestyle of the writer (I have always worked best when left alone), I also want to have the option to close my computer and go meet friends for drinks or dinner. It’s a big burden on Al to have to be my only companion in this country. Even though he is endlessly fascinating and wonderful and I love being with him, we both realize I’m going to be miserable if I spend the next eight months here without my own group of friends.
So, I’m starting the process again of reaching out, of joining Meetups, of contacting friends of friends. It’s hard. And slow. And difficult without a car and GPS. But it’ll happen. No Wizard of Loneliness in this house.