Katie's Voice

Loneliness and the Modern World

I’ve been thinking about loneliness these days, as I miss my sister and the students I taught at universities and find less comfort and companionship in social media than I’d like to, despite how amazing my virtual friends are as people. This episode of the Ezra Klein podcast talks about loneliness these days in more depth than I will, and I highly recommend it. I was saddened to discover that young adults are lonelier now than us old folks, those of us who grew up in a world without computer or cell phones or social media. I had thought maybe my loneliness was connected to my nostalgia for the old ways we used to get together, not after weeks of negotiating dates and times via text but more naturally, sometimes even running into friends and spontaneously agreeing to do something together. Yes, that happened more in college, and my nostalgia may well be for that time, which I loved to the depths of my learning-loving heart.

I just wanted to share a few things, then, that help me feel less lonely. One, of course, is poetry, which provides solace because I learn that someone else felt how I feel; someone else thought what I think. I came across this beautiful poem by Victoria Chang, which asks the reader to consider the difference between loneliness and solitude. “What if even my solitude doesn’t want to be alone?” Chang asks, and that resonated for me. We are supposed to enjoy solitude and, as an introvert, I definitely do. But solitude can turn to loneliness for me so easily that I go from peace to gasping for breath in an empty-seeming world. That someone else has thought this means that I am not, in fact, alone.

Other things that help me feel less lonely are a couple of alternatives I’ve found to the major social media platforms. Substack doesn’t have ads and brings people together by interest, and in fact I like it so much that I’ve started my own Substack newsletter. I’ve written about weight in this venue, and I find that I still have more to say about that issue. I’ve also subscribed to a bunch of other Substacks on topics I find interesting, and I’m looking forward to figuring out the “Notes” function and interacting with other writers through comments.

I also like Post a lot better than Twitter, because it doesn’t have ads and is committed to civil, factual interactions between users. I’m @katierpoet on that platform, in case you join and want to find me. It’s still all too easy to get distracted by trivial stories there, but at this point it seems to be a growing place where reasonable people can interact.

The other thing that helps me when I’m feeling lonely: leaving my phone inside and spending time in my back yard. My mind feels more restful when I can’t obsessively check email for poem acceptances or social media for likes and comments. I feel like I’m conditioned to check email obsessively because my first book acceptance came via email, and I had waited 18 years for my first book to be taken. And we know that social media is literally addictive, sending our brains little hits of dopamine for each like or comment–and yet becoming less satisfying each time.

I’d love it if you would comment with some of the things you do when you’re feeling lonely, whether it’s ways to cope or tips for feeling less lonely. We live in a world that too often lacks community, rewards work over socializing, and offers salves that often do more harm than good. Maybe we can help each other see ways to change that.

6 replies »

  1. Katie, I hear you so loud and clear. I just put up my first substack post today. nancygage.substack.com. I will go read your right away. I love Substack, especially Story Club with George Saunders (the unpaid option gives you his Thursday posts and comments) and Sherman Alexie. I see how it could be a major time-suck, and I’m working on a novel and trying to make that a priority. But I guess everything requires discipline and setting boundaries. I agree about getting away from the phone when I can, and also, yes!, going outside! Although it’s very windy here in New Mexico today.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Katie, you are definitely an “un-met” friend. My younger sister died ten years ago, and I miss her every day. I struggled with weight for most of my adult life. I’m 76 now and thin enough (5’6″, 150#). When you are 76, you are invisible anyway, but it stopped being about what other people thought a long time ago. My husband is diabetic, and he wants to know why ozempic isn’t making him thin (I think the diabetic dosage is less than the weight-lose dosage). I hate to tell you what worked for me (embarrassing, but I will–too old to care about these things): I had my teeth pulled and got dentures (which for five years never fit correctly–now that I have good ones, will I gain weight again?)

        I’m not at all sure what I’m doing on Substack, or why, but I’m going with the flow for now. Maybe writing bits and pieces can help me find a way to write about my sister, my past, my angers and pleasures, etc. I’m not sure how “Notes” works either.

        Loneliness is huge. So many people have died, and will continue to, and then I’ll do it too. Ye gods, life is hard sometimes.

        A very dear friend died three years ago. She said what kept her going was: meditation, medication, and music. I am trying to stick with a meditation practice (I’m a really good backslider). I’m bi-polar and am very compliant with my meds (my friend included marijuana along with her anti-depressant). As for music, I seem to forget to play the CDs I love. Why is that? I know those songs help, but I rarely listen (well, I’ve got some hearing loss too, damn it).

        Staying relatively happy is definitely more work these days, but what’s the option?

        And then there is the state of the word and the soul-sickness we’re all struggling with.

        All my best to you.


        • Nancy, definitely an un-met friend, yes! You write that you have “dogs, cats, and horses”–I have 2 dogs and 2 cats, and grew up on a Morgan horse farm. My sister had an equine therapy center for nearly 10 years before she died. Animals are the best of this world.

          I’m so sorry for the loss of your sister. My sister was older than me. I don’t think there’s enough writing out there about the loss of a sibling when you’re both adults. And I’m sorry for your and your husband’s issues with weight; I’ve been learning over the past several years just how impossible it can be to lose weight and keep it off. I am hopeful hat Ozempic will help me with it, and potentially a whole lot of other people.

          I do meditate, though not enough! I need to get back into a practice. The hardest thing to do sometimes is nothing. I love gardening, but my body doesn’t always let me do that work–and when I can’t garden, I feel the obligation to write. And I can’t listen to music while writing, unlike so many writers I know; I just hear the music of the words so loudly that other music is too much of a distraction.

          And the state of the world does, indeed, make happiness difficult. I watched a fascinating video interview series (well, I’ve watched a couple) called Collapse Club where they talk about ways to feel authentically alive and joyful despite the realistic fear of environmental collapse. Oh, looks like they have a Substack too! https://collapseclub.substack.com/?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=reader2&utm_source=%2Fsearch%2Fcollapse%2520club&utm_medium=reader2.

          See you around on Substack!



  2. If I get to feeling lonely, I

    – walk around the yard with my camera. We have almost an acre with half of it wooded. I’m always finding something new. Plus my yard is sloped so much that I get a quick workout and I always seem to feel better when I come back in.

    – put co-writing on the calendar. Weekdays @ 12:30 EST (see @GuerillaMemoir link tree).

    – dig into genealogy research (mine or a project I volunteered for). Ancestry is always adding new records. Plus, when my entire mother’s side of the family was kept secret, there is always someone to look into or some rabbit hole to jump into. These jumps give me blog material too.

    – walk around downtown and have coffee outside. Nod to someone I don’t know. Wearing a Florida team shirt often starts a conversation since many visitors here are from FL, especially when the TB Lightning are in the playoffs or the Rays go 12 games undefeated.

    Sometimes homesickness can feel like loneli ess. How do we separate? Do we bother?

    I hope that helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m definitely all about going outside! Though when it gets hot, I can’t take more than a few short minutes. And I’m so deeply neither a city nor a Southern person that I do miss smaller towns and the conversations that can be had there. So fun that you have the genealogy research to come back to. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

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