“Don’t show me frogs and snakes, And listen for my screams. If I am afraid at all, It’s only in my dreams. I have got a magic charm, that I keep up my sleeve. I can walk the ocean floor, And never have to breathe. Life doesn’t frighten me at all. Not at all. Not at all. Life doesn’t frighten me at all.” –Maya Angelou from the children’s book Life Doesn’t Frighten Me
Today I felt scared. I came across the lines of Maya Angelou’s children’s book in the body of an e-mail, prompting me to return here. It has been well over awhile now. I re-read my post from last year’s Thanksgiving and it took me back to my life in South Florida. I wondered how I did it. Living alone in a place I knew nothing about with no real source of friendship or family ties. I was braver back then, I thought. Braver than I am now.
About a month ago I was at home alone and sought the comfort of an old familiar friend: the face-to-camera interview. I’ve turned to it at times when I needed a pick-me-up, a figurative shoulder to lean on. Something about watching an interviewee make direct eye contact with you releases me from the tight grip of loneliness. “The loneliness is palpable.” I think of this line often because I’ve come to understand it on a core level. Most city-dwelling pre-millennials will know that line hails from SATC’s episode, “Plus One Is the Loneliness Number.” I always remembered that line and come back to it when solitude takes over, sitting heavy on my chest like a small child.
My googling that evening took me to Oprah’s MasterClass, where I revisited the episode with Maya Angelou. As I warmed up my dinner and set the table, I listened to her sage life advice. One of my favorite things to do is watch interviews of people I admire or people I’m curious about. Interviews aren’t real but they are meant to be. The whole setup is so artificial (cameras, lighting, scripts, strangers staring at you on the other side) all so that a person sits in front of a camera to be their true, real, authentic selves. I watched Maya narrate about her early days, dancing (not singing. She said she would never sacrifice for singing), writing and communing with cultural/political/literary icons. I watched certain portions several times over. At this point, I’ve committed to memory her recitations and poignant phrases. Her answers were poetry to me. I savored her lines like an evening desert leaving me satiated for the night. I took notice of the date. It was November 2nd, 2016. I knew the last I had visited Maya’s MasterClass was when I first came across it, about a year ago. Her words struck me so deeply that I blogged them out. Stretch Yourself, she said. The date of that blog post is November 4th 2015. I smiled at my odd timing. How had I come across the same video by chance almost exactly one year to date? Are my emotions so predictable around this time of year?
Although I found it strange that my fingers led me to type out MasterClass or Maya Angelou or whatever it was I searched to land on that video, I loved that I came full circle with it. I can’t say I’m in the same place I was one year (literally I’m not, I moved to Mumbai), but one thing remains is loneliness. Perhaps it’s the reason I sought her out again, the same comforting words she shared with me last November. Am I scared to live alone? No. Never. In fact, I despise people who can’t be alone with themselves or live alone for periods of time. Case in point: my maid(s). I currently don’t have a live-in but when I did, she is always, without fail, scared to be alone in my apartment. Does being alone make me sad? Maybe. I adore my time in Mumbai. I’ve learned more than I ever imagined I would by being here, especially navigating most of it solo.
One day I know I’ll treasure my loneliness, the time I had to myself to explore entirely on my own accord.
The city is crawling with people and cars, it’s relentless noise (I remember 4 years ago I tried to hide in the bathroom to escape it but the noise found me there too) and buzzing metropolitan vibe. It’s also been extremely challenging: mentally, physically and emotionally. In spite of being surrounded by stuff and people and activity on a daily basis, one can still feel hollow. The ups and downs of a curious illness can do that to a person. Meaningless work and relationships can do that too. But instead of succumbing to the fear loneliness brings along with it, I’m choosing to fight back. Life Doesn’t Frighten Me At All.
The dedication in her book reads: for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit they are frightened out of their wits. I’m adding 30 year-old girl-woman to that.