Just realised today is the twelfth anniversary of the day I abandoned my city life. A lot has changed since then. Good and bad. On my last day in the city everything went wrong. The removal men were late, the central heating broke down so I had to shower in cold water, there was a biblical style rainstorm that went on all day and my phone was struck by lightening! I hoped these were not sinister omens for my new life. My flat looked bleak and cold stripped of all my possessions. I did not get away until 8pm. It was already getting dark and I was exhausted after a sleepless night and the stress of packing up fifteen years worth of life. I’d given truck loads of stuff to charity shops and friends. I’d had two car boot sales. I’d filled two skips with crap. The rest was going into storage until I established my new home. So I set off north with just essential clothes and books piled in the back of my old blue Toyota Corolla. I can still see my friend Anne receding in my rear view mirror. She’s standing in the twilight rain, waving and looking sad as I drive away. I’m feeling excited and terrified about my nine hour journey and what is to come…
The term ‘loner’ is rarely meant as a compliment. It carries negative connotations. Its what neighbours always say on the TV news about murderers….”he kept himself to himself, he was a loner’. It’s assumed there must be something wrong with a person who chooses not to run with the pack. Someone who prefers solitude must be a psychopath, a potential serial killer, sex pervert or antisocial. There is even more stigma attached to women who want to be alone. They are seen as a threat to the natural order of things, called derogatory names such as ‘spinster’, ‘hag’, ‘selfish’ or ‘whore’. Even in this supposed age of gender equality the perceived role of women is domestic, safely contained within a family group where their own needs are secondary to those of children, partners, and parents. Women are seen as too weak and powerless to survive apart from the familiar, to stray into the unknown. Anyone who does so is labelled as ‘selfish’ or ‘crazy’. Single women are still presumed to be unattractive rejects, sterile and sexless. Not that long ago women who lived apart from the mainstream were burned alive or drowned as witches. Today they are denigrated in more subtle but equally damaging ways.
I’ll never forget the negative reactions I had from all my family and friends when I announced my intention to break from city life, to move to a remote area in the Far North and build my own home. Not one person said, “wow, that’s so exciting and brave. Go for it while you can and good luck”. The messages I received from others were that I must be having a nervous breakdown, I didn’t know what I was doing, I was irresponsible and selfish for abandoning my elderly parents (parents who had, in reality, rejected and abused me my entire life). They all thought me delusional. I must be “running away from something”. When I replied that I was running towards a more meaningful, peaceful life, to be closer to the landscape and nature where I would be free to pursue my creativity, everyone scoffed. My house build project was bound to be a disaster. What did I know about house building, they said, after all I was just a foolish disabled woman. Even when my lovely little home by the sea was complete and I sent photographs to my former critics not one of them said “congratulations” or “your house is fab”. There was just an uncomfortable silence.
Unfortunately there was also a negative reaction to my single status in the small rural community I moved into. This was something I had never anticipated. I had hoped to be welcomed with open arms and home baking not viewed with suspicion and animosity. I had wanted, in my own way, to contribute to the community. I have many useful skills in art and education. The hostility I received was and still is, sadly, the worst from other women who continue to see me as a threat, competition for their husbands and jobs, an alien with her fancy clothes and strange ways. Even after ten years I don’t feel welcomed by the locals. During the first few years I experienced sexual harrassment from men who assumed I was easy meat and sexually available to all and sundry. Now, they know better, they keep away. I have few visitors. I ignore the whispers in the Post Office and stay focussed on what is important to me. After all, I moved here to be alone, to be the real me.