Solitude in the Pandemic

At this time, as in any time, if you know how to be alone, you are that much stronger. The right amount of time alone will depend on the person or circumstances, but if you can make something of it, so much the better.

The understanding of solitude is different here in Hungary from in the U.S. The approximate translation of “solitary,” “magányos,” generally has a sorrowful connotation; yet “magány” and “magányosság,” the corresponding nouns, have ambivalent and negative connotations, respectively. People often frown upon those who live alone and do things alone. Or, if they don’t frown on them, they have a hard time understanding how such people could be happy.

On the other hand, many Hungarians have a kind of inherent solitude, an ability to focus and think. The people I know are not the whole country, but they tend to think before speaking, to spend time puzzling through things, and to take on challenges that require various levels and forms of solitude. There’s a basic thoughtfulness that inheres in aspects of the culture. (On the other hand, what people think or mutter to themselves may be filled with sarcastic quips, swear words, etc. Solitude isn’t necessarily peaceful.)

In the U.S., there’s much more emphasis on quick reactions, speaking your mind right away, and being part of a team; in that sense, as I discuss in Republic of Noise, solitude is pushed aside. On the other hand, it’s considered normal to live alone, go places alone, etc., at least among the people I know.

So, solitude is both accepted and not accepted in both countries. This makes sense; by its nature, solitude cannot be fully understood by others. It will inevitably be rejected or misconstrued in some way. At the same time, every life contains some element of it. Solitude is difficult to pinpoint; there’s more to it than spending time alone, living alone, or being otherwise visibly alone.

Back to the pandemic: when you have to stay at home, or when events that bring people together are prohibited, this can turn into an opening for writing stories, working on art, tinkering with computer programs, doing home repair, reading, or introspection. Zoom events–while interesting in good measure–do not have to fill up the time. Nor does everyone have an abundance of time to be filled. Online teaching, I find, takes more time than teaching in person, so the little time I have outside of that gets taken quickly. I enjoy having some time to myself, and it does not feel like too much. The one thing I miss is the range of choices, the option of being among others, going to concerts and plays, traveling abroad. But I believe that these will come back before too long.

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  1. James OKeeffe

     /  November 12, 2020

    Heartening words. I’ve always enjoyed your writing and your insights on education. Glad to see you’re weathering the pandemic well!

  2. Joyce Mandell

     /  November 12, 2020

    Diana: I love how you find time in your alone time. I love how you are not afraid of alone and actually relish the time. I love how you really are your own best friend. Great role modeling, my friend


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