Revisiting loneliness and isolation

Tom revisits some of his thoughts on loneliness, overpowering subconscious thoughts and relationships


Ade suggested recently that I ‘revisit’ some of my writing on loneliness and isolation from back in 2015. Most of it was written at a time when the divorce process was just beginning, and I was left to react to a world and life situation that was incredibly different to what I had been used to for most of my adult life.

One change that I am aware of is my own enthusiasm for sharing my thoughts on these subjects online. I would like to think that it is because I have become so comfortable with such subjects that I no longer feel the urge to write about them, but the reality is probably more to with confidence. There is so much written on the internet, by so many people; what gives me the right to contribute and what would I be saying that adds value to this whirly web of thoughts and opinions? These thoughts might reflect a lack of confidence in my writing muscle, or maybe I have had many of these discussions in the offline world and don’t feel such a need to do it anymore? Even so, here I am, trying again.

Thoughts of loneliness and feelings of anxiety certainly crop up more than they used to, but my perception of their arrival is much stronger. In recent months I found it difficult to achieve a meditative state while so many things were going on in my personal and work lives and I am aware now, while returning to the meditative practice, how much of a toll that has taken on my mind.

I have spent some time dissecting the thoughts of loneliness. I have sat and looked at them. I visualise them to my left and the more rationale part of myself to the right (for some reason). They encapsulate a constant bickering of conflicting points of view and self-deprecation. As I have looked at these thoughts I see more clearly that they have very little to do with loneliness itself. They are a mix of other thoughts: the fear of letting go; longing for meaningful and reciprocal connections; doubting the people you trust; replaying events with different, fantasised motivations; fear of rejection. It interests me that none of these things are specifically or exclusively connected to being alone or to loneliness, but they do empower the negative feelings of isolation. If you spend too much time listening to such voices then you just become trapped within yourself.

Many people are quick to defer much of this negative thought stream to the hunt for a ‘significant other’ who, they fantasise will chase all these unwanted sensations away. This seems to be entirely unfair on the other person. We are talking about the acquisition of happiness, which is something that can’t realistically be attributed to a single person.

*In reference to what I mentioned earlier, that voice has just appeared; the voice that says ‘why are you writing this? Everyone knows all of this already. You don’t have the answers’. Thank you for the reminder, brain!

So where am I with loneliness right now? I am aware of it. I see it. I know that I am actually quite happy on my own and always have been; it is the battle against the stream of negative thoughts that is the main thing I struggle with. This negative stream of subconscious can be combatted or, at least, postponed by being sociable. I have been quite sociable in various forms in the past couple of years, but I am also aware of a need for my own space and time away to process things and empty my mind, so I am trying to find a middle ground with this.

I think relationships hold great value, but probably more for their ability to help two people cope with the ever-increasing demands of life, rather than a means for combatting loneliness. If both people (or more, if that is your bag) are invested in it then it can be a wonderful thing. It is great to have people you can turn to for support, but I am aware of the ever changing nature of things. The fight to keep things as they are is fruitless if life is inevitably about change. Change is not always something welcomed, but it pays to be prepared for it.

The world around us in 2017 is one of perpetual changes in political landscapes and crises which contribute to anxiety and division, but it is important to tune out from time to time to allow essential perspective to flourish. Knowing there is ground beneath your feet is an important realisation.

 

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How lonely is your solitude?

IMG_0026NSEPSCTom discusses his recent thoughts on what it is like to be alone


Let’s talk about loneliness and being alone. Seriously, let’s do it now, before anyone notices. Of course if you are actually alone then maybe no one will notice anyway. I’m alone. I’m alone right now. Well, not exactly: I’m on a train. I don’t know anyone on the train so I suppose that counts.

I’m starting to spend a lot of time on my own. It isn’t that bad really, but it does take some getting use to. When I was in a relationship I use to spend a lot of time on my own too. Usually when I was doing fieldwork. That was difficult to cope with at first. I was a very homely person. All the things I use to love doing were things that I could do at home (building things, making music etc.) but I had to adapt, so I did. I started writing again, building imaginary worlds while away from home helped me concentrate and stopped me missing home. I also managed to find a method of recording music while away (one of our B-Sides was recorded in a little house in North Norfolk). Before long I was starting to enjoy these experiences away from home. I enjoyed seeing new places, meeting people, learning new things and challenging myself to get out and about. This was always easy in the framework that, at some point soon, I would be home with my partner, comfortable in my known surroundings and with someone I trust. Things change.

What do you do when a relationship ends? How do you cope? I’m learning that right now.

There is a song on Daughter’s new album that describes the feelings of loneliness in a very visceral manner. I like this song, but it isn’t the way I feel about being alone. I am starting to feel quite comfortable about it.

 

It isn’t that different to how I deal with being away for my survey work. It involves all the same things. You have to learn to cope first. Becoming use to a new routine can be really difficult, your domestic duties double, minimum (unless you were the one doing all domestic duties anyway), your financial outgoing increase and beyond all that there is this absence, a pain, but what is this absence? If you look close enough what does it actually look like and what do you want to do with that absence? This has been something on my mind for a few months now.

What I am starting to see and learn is that people can be incredibly lonely and isolated within relationships. Some relationships can be overpowering and oppressive, but they can still be comfortable. I wonder how many relationships are clung onto due to a fear of change? I’m not sure those situations are built on respect or love, or if they were it might have dissipated with time. There are so many people that look lost or drained within their coupling. I’m not sure I want that in my life. Life is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? Maybe being alone isn’t that bad, after all.

So if I start to consider that loneliness is not systemic to an absence of a relationship, then maybe it is related to a lack of communication with other people in general? I talk to a few people, not loads, but those friends I have, I am close to. In fact, these days I’ll talk to pretty much anyone (to start with). It’s usually uncertainty or fear of new things that slows my progress, but it is easier just to throw caution to the wind and just get on with trying things out.

I’m actually starting to find a lot of comfort in solitude. I suppose that can be classed as ‘comfortable alone time’. I can define the parameters of my existence, I can go where I want to go, do things when I want to do them, and there is little need to compromise.

I have my weaker moments, but I try and deal with them as best I can, but they are rarely any different to anything I have felt before when in a relationship, so what is the problem with being alone? There is a social stigma to it, which is discussed in this interesting blog on Brain Pickings. I’ve experienced a few of the things mentioned in this blog before and just one such experience can be damaging to progress, but you just have to chalk it up to ‘experience’.

 

And home, what is home anyway? Is it where you feel safe? So many people cling to this idea. Four walls of safety. A lock on the door. I’m starting to consider home as a broader concept. It’s not just the place I live in Swindon, it’s starting to become many places. Home is anywhere I feel comfortable. The more places I visit and the more things I do, then the more comfortable I become.

I do hope I meet someone I’d like to spend time with again (maybe it will be soon or maybe it won’t), but until then I might as well work out who is under this Midlander’s skin and go places and meet people and do things. Why the hell not? A friend told me recently that we are always alone and yet we are always not alone. I suppose I need to learn to find peace within both scenarios.

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Recording and exhausting – Remembering the development of ‘In Your Brain Right Now’

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Tom recalls the development of No Side Effect’s new song ‘In Your Brain Right Now’


It is Spring 2014. I have just moved house from Newbury to Swindon. I feel a haze of tiredness most days because of a very intense conservation project I am working on and trying to unpack into our new home. It’s the weekend. I’ve just returned from leading a wildlife walk and I am exhausted, but the sun is shining and everything feels tranquil.

Adrian is standing on the drive as I arrive home in the car. He has a purposefulness in his eyes that I haven’t seen before. He’s arrived at my house so we can work on a new song.

He sent me a demo of this new song the week before. The demo was titled ‘A New Conversation’ and it was based around a sample of a Sam Harris lecture titled ‘Death and the Present Moment’. I’d never heard of the guy. When I first played the demo I wasn’t sure whether I was comfortable with it. I was worried we would end up sounding too much like Public Service Broadcasting.

Adrian and I go up to my little recording studio and I play through some of the guitar riffs I have been messing around with and Ade is pretty firm on which ones he likes. This song means a lot to him, I can tell. He sets himself up at the recording desk and tells me to start playing the guitar.

I play the guitar with complete freedom. Ade has control over the recording process so I don’t need to worry about doing it myself for the first time in years. I just dive into the repeating drum beats beneath Sam’s voice. I play for about two hours. Sweat is pouring off me and I feel a new type of exhaustion. Ade gives me a thumb’s up to tell me he is satisfied with my guitaring. I let out a sigh of relief and drop my bulky electric guitar to the floor.

In Your Brain Right Now CD Cover V02

‘Do you want to do some drums now?’ Ade asks.

I look at the drum kit in the corner, wondering where I can find the energy.

‘Give me second’ I say and I go downstairs to get a drink and wipe away some of the sweat.

‘How are you getting on?’ asks Ruth.

‘I think he’s trying to kill me.’ I say.

‘You could always have a break’ she says.

I consider it for a moment, maybe just stopping for the day, I have done quite a lot of stuff for one day. The wildlife walk seems like a distant memory.

‘No, I’m good, I’m good.’

I go back upstairs and leap onto the drums. Ade is still at the computer. There is a serenity about him, but an excitement beneath it all. You can almost see this song being created through his neural pathways.

‘Shall we do some more?’ he asks.

I re-adjust my posture and give him a nod. As the song starts I manage to find a beat that doesn’t really feel like it should make any sense, but I stick with it and I become lost in the drum kit. I don’t really have arms anymore, I just have drum sticks. I look to one side and Adrian has a camera. He’s leaning towards the drum kit taking pictures. It distracts me for a second, but I keep on the beat. I can feel the walls of the world opening up and I am not too sure what is happening. I have become Adrian’s instrument. He is somehow playing me.

I have played the drums for about an hour when Adrian gives me the thumbs up with a big smile. It’s done, it’s over. I feel my back crack as I get up from the drum stool. The room is warm and thick with sweat. I open the windows and doors and I stand for a while, panting, taking off my shirt and towelling myself down.

Adrian listens back to a few sections and he looks incredibly satisfied. He has a quick coffee and packs up his stuff and leaves the house. I stand at the doorway trying to understand what just happened. I think someone just dragged some music out of my chest.

The next time I hear the song it is nearly in its final form and we have renamed it ‘In Your Brain Right Now’ and I can’t remember playing a lot of the things I play. I hear elements of jazz in the song, which originally sounded more like a slow burning Underworld track and I don’t understand where these influences have come from. How the hell have we started playing jazz? I discuss this later with Ade and I discover that his Nan use to play jazz records to him when he was a kid.

Adrian also doesn’t fully understand where some of the influences came from, which leads me to conclude that this is the most No Side Effects song that we have recorded. It seems to transcend the two people that made it.



 

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Second Single: ‘In Your Brain Right Now’

In response to the underwhelming demand for our debut single we’ve decided to clog up the ever expanding and overloaded internet with another mediocre piece of musicianship*. It seems we can’t give this music away, but we try. You can download it for FREE from the ‘Music Shop‘ or have a listen:

 

This time though, on a more serious note, we are very grateful for the kind permission from Sam Harris for the use of some audio from a lecture he gave for the Atheist Foundation of Australia in 2012 called ‘Death and the Present Moment’. The track uses samples from a sequence where Sam talks through how to attain an ‘in the moment’ mental state using mindfulness meditation. It is a fascinating introduction to meditation and really resonated with us. If you would like to listen to the full lecture then we include the YouTube video:

 

This single includes the main track itself called ‘In Your Brain Right Now’ along with a B-side called ‘In Your Brain Right Now (Naked Mix). This B-side is an early draft of the track that includes the whole mediation sequence from Sam Harris with a simple repetitive and hypnotic beat.

We hope to share and explore some of the themes that underpin this track in some writing and another podcast shortly. These incredibly interesting themes include meditation, the urgency and value of life and the ability to enjoy each moment and the influence of religion and how it has played a part in our lives. We’re also pretty sure we’ll again make little sense and get carried away with delusions of grandeur.

*Tom is apparently offended by the comment about mediocre musicianship. No Side Effects are not able to reconcile this issue, because Tom is part of the band.