How to Be Alone: a poem with music and video

"How To Be Alone," a beautiful poem by Tanya Davis, turned into a video by Andrea Dorfman. I spend an awful lot of time alone -- alone at the office, writing; alone in a hotel, catching up on email on tour (greetings from beautiful Braunschweig!). I like being on my own mostly, though there are times in groups when there's that amazing wonderful nigh-telepathic connection to a big conversation when I am mildly poleaxed by the realization that there's something to this "other people" stuff.

When you are comfortable with eat lunch and run, take yourself out for dinner. A restaurant with linen and silverware. You're no less intriguing a person when you're eating solo dessert to cleaning the whipped cream from the dish with your finger. In fact some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.

Go to the movies. Where it is dark and soothing. Alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community.

And then, take yourself out dancing to a club where no one knows you. Stand on the outside of the floor till the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you. Dance like no one's watching...because, they're probably not. And, if they are, assume it is with best of human intentions. The way bodies move genuinely to beats is, after all, gorgeous and affecting. Dance until you're sweating, and beads of perspiration remind you of life's best things, down your back like a brook of blessings.

How To Be Alone (via Kottke)


  1. First off from the stand point of composition and so forth this very well done and the presentation is top notch. Kudos on that, seriously I have no purely objective complaints. So begins the rant.

    The content? Absolutely infuriating. The overly eager tweeness (and possibly my subtle dislike for Canadian accents, I know, what the hell is my problem they’re the nicest people on earth, eh?) of the whole affair caused a near instant aversion. I’m not certain how it would feel to be drowned in honey, but I do imagine this is the poetic equivalent.

    Especially lines such as the one about going to the woods alone, “the squirrels and trees will watch for you.” Life is not a Disney film! If you go walk around woods alone here there will be fucking MOOSE and motherfucking BEARS who will go, “Waddafuckya doin’ in my woods?” at which they will eat your liver — well not the moose — and the squirrels will be like, “What a dumb bastard,” and the trees will be like “…”.



    (I’ll go eat some pie now.)

    1. Not all poetry is meant to be taken literally.
      If you cannot abide the florid imagery
      perhaps you should just avoid the poetry
      but then you might be lacking spiritually.

    2. Sir I agree with you. Life is not a disney movie. But poetry is not so much literal that the content should always be taken literally. As a poet sometimes the words themselves carry a feeling and meaning not exactly in accordance with what they are typically defined as. It is creative license. It is the beauty of poetry and song. It doesn’t have to be completely real or true in a literal or factual sense. it is true in however the author or writer means it to be. It is art.

      But I will say that as a writer (note i am not the author of this poem) criticism is a good thing. Have a nice day.

    3. I just wanted you to know that I both really enjoyed the poem/video and REALLY ENJOYED your comment. I probably laughed for five minutes over the moose and bear bit.

      Thanks for the bit of humor. :)

  2. parts of it sound like “how to get yourself raped” (go to the woods, sit lonely on a bench, go to a club where no one knows you and dance like hell until you are really sweaty,….).

    but still, i like it.

  3. I thought this poem was brilliant. I felt like I wanted to take pride in my frequent time alone, as well as hug Ms. Davis for expressing herself so well.

    Was it me or did she up the cadence about 3/4ths of the way in? It didn’t feel like a tempo change for a climax of the poem, just a sudden insertion of a different style, just for the hell of it. Anyway, I loved it. Thanks for posting it Cory.

  4. Thank you, Tanya and Andrea. This is such a gorgeous piece of creation. The poem, the sound of voice, the music, the animation, the quiet awesome in the whole thing…

    Thank you. I was just stressing about a landlord who is being mean to my wife and I; this gentle art really helped my morning out.

    I wish I could be alone for the day… :)

  5. asshat commenter #1: gfy

    the video is happily floating along my friends list on fb like a small errant leaf in the wind..

  6. @KremlinLaptop: I think this explains why your poetic license was revoked.

    @Cory: I love the term “mildly poleaxed”! Being poleaxed always seemed more definite than that to me. I plan to use it for my next apology:

    “Sorry I’m late for work – I was mildly poleaxed on the bus.”
    “Sounds painful.”
    “Only slightly.”
    “It does explain why you’re walking oddly, though.”

  7. Personal attacks because I don’t like the content of the poem? I’m not even on of those insufferable people who barges about the comments going, “THIS IS NOT A WONDERFUL THING,” because I think this could very well be a wonderful thing to some people — just not me.

    So why did I watch it then, now again, and comment? Because I do like the general composition and flow of it; it is a good poem but on a personal level it gets to me like a cheese grater down a chalkboard. I’m not obligated to like everything I consume and I’m not barred from having a viewpoint on stuff I dislike.

    1. She also has a cameraperson. I just feel bad that she’s obviously felt persecuted in the past for being alone and had to go out and get a cat and a camerperson.

  8. Halifax, Nova Scotia represent! This is beautiful and makes me proud of my city for some reason (it’s somewhat indicitive of the tight arts and music community in our small city)

  9. Load of hipster BS.

    Try being alone and falling down the stairs, hurt, and unable to get help.
    Choking on something, if lucky you can do the solo thing to get it good.
    Pretty much anything happening where you need help, but have no one to help.

    This girl isn’t alone, she has friends who will help her make this annoying video, and is probably having tons of people coming up to talk to her. Single doesn’t equal alone. A middle aged (or even over 30) male alone comes off as being a “creep”.

    It’s not a bad thing to not “need” other people, but we are social creatures, it’s in our basic biology and psychology.

    1. We aren’t all ‘social creatures’. Some of us are introverts, and quite happy all on our own, thank you very much.

      Ugly Canuck #24: hear, hear!

    2. If someone wrote a poem about liking steak, would you rail that eating nothing but steak fo breakfast, lunch, and dinner is bad for you?

  10. can I have the narrator read the lyrics to “sleeper in metropolis” please. and anne clark read her poem as well?

    greetings to braunschweig.

    why was my “parts of it read like how-to-get-raped-in-5-easy-steps” not passed on? :(

  11. As a married man with kids, I can say that sometimes I miss being alone… but all the single friends I know don’t even try to pretend they like it anymore. Like homelessness, it’s all very poetic until you actually have to live it.

    (Some commenters here would probably feel more at ease in 4chan, which better caters to their tastes.)

    1. Everything has it’s pros and cons and ups and downs.

      Yes, being single at times sucks, but at other times it’s great. Much like being married is great and sucks at other times.

      Overall there isn’t just one thing that’s “right” or “wrong”, I think for most people there is a need for balance.

  12. Halifax, Nova Scotia is one of the best places in Canada. Hanging out at Gus’s Pub may be the only known cure for all you cynical internet critics.

    1. A song for Halifax!
      The East Coast rocks!
      I’ll be by soon enough….

      God damn them all!
      We’ll cruise the seas for American gold!

  13. Eh, I’ve been alone. My problem is more when there are other people around. Of course, that’s why I moved. Far, far away from other people.

  14. Hey! I live there! And I live alone with my cat!

    So I liked it.

    Although the coffee shops around here are so packed with “alone” and sometimes shoeless hipsters it can be really hard to be that contemplative.

  15. I just broke up with my fiancee of four years, was kicked out of the house, and moved back across the country, to the city I left once already this spring. I have no job, and lots of health problems, and am living out of a suitcase on a friend’s futon. I’m almost 30. I’ve been terrified of being alone. I’m still terrified of being alone. But I’m getting more writing done, and thinking done. And I think I will watch this video every day.

  16. got to agree with anon. like the video, like the first comment. being alone in the jack london outdoor sense is dangerous and is a big part of human evolution to becoming a social animal who is also able to survive in solitude…

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