From Issue 61: Going It Alone by Natalie Dembinska
Recently, I decided to embrace my best life, stop putting things off and live my dream: I decided to finally become a recluse. Admittedly, there aren’t seven or so former husbands to support the dream, which also means that my Zsa Zsa Gabor necklace of past engagement rings will probably never materialise now, but I’m going for it.
I have not been the beneficiary of a lottery windfall either, or a surprise inheritance from some distant relative I never knew existed, so sipping martinis at breakfast while I wander round my garden dressed in a mumu, checking for diamonds in the dog shit (as I’m convinced one of the mongrels swallowed a ring the night before) is not yet a reality. But I feel that, to achieve what I call grand recluse status and be deemed truly worthy of the title, one must put in hours of training, much like the karate kid did in The Karate Kid. So I have started training now. I’d like to reach these wafty heights before the menopause hits. Which I fear could happen earlier than I think. I’ve never believed in good things coming to those who wait, so I’ve decided to grab life by the balls. Should you like to join me on this journey of self-discovery and shunning of humanity, here are my tips for living life as your best reclusive self.
Not just house. But town. One that’s smaller than the one you currently live in. A sort of reverse migration, if you will – a backwards Dick Whittington. You want to move to a place where the streets are not paved with gold but strewn with trash and maybe needles, somewhere where the population of vermin outnumbers humans. Obviously, this place will be described as “up and coming” and “hip” by the Sunday supplements and will be populated with people hell-bent on gentrification. This is ideal, as you now have a ready-made excuse for not leaving the house and socialising with anyone ever, allowing you to indulge in your favourite pastime of pouring scorn on strangers from the comfort of your sofa. Should you need to add fuel to the fire of your disdain, searching the hashtag of your new hometown on Instagram is an excellent source of inspiration. It allows you to indulge in all the glorious sights of your new location without setting foot outdoors. As Belinda Carlisle once sang, heaven is a place on earth.
Get off it. It’s boring. And let’s be honest, who cares? The woman in Starbucks spelled your name correctly on your tall decaf double-shot soy latte? Whoop, smiley face from me. She spelled it wrong? Boo, angry face. Whatever. But thank you for letting me know, number 217 of my close personal friends, who chooses to update me on the minutiae of your existence. I don’t need to know that you are safe when a terrorist decides to drive into a bus stop. If you weren’t and you mattered, eventually someone would call inviting me to attend your funeral, memorial service or whatever, which I wouldn’t, because I don’t leave the house. Instead, I’d burn some sage, or whatever just happened to have died on my balcony, and cleanse my home of your dead spirit while listening to Cher and weeping with wonder at the beauty of her voice and lyricism. She was right. Baby, save up all your tears. You might need them someday. When they start to fall, I won’t wipe them away. Though, in that equation, I probably should have been the first to go. But then, it’s not like I can wipe them away now, so it kind of makes sense.
Status update: I cleaned the grouting round my bathroom tiles with a toothbrush the other day, and built an Ikea shelving unit. Not that you’ll ever know about it. Thumbs up for me.
The worldwide web is your oyster. Ocado is key. For that matter, so is anything that can deliver food, water, loo roll, suppositories – don’t laugh, constipation is real, it could happen to you, too – to your home at an appointed hour. Maybe not one of the local takeouts serviced by Just Eat, though: deep-fried pigeon in two-month-old oil really isn’t a delicacy. Your dealer, only on special occasions, when you’re feeling brave, as they tend not to come inside to deliver. Plus, is taking a pill shaped like, say, Darth Vader or Trump really that good an idea when you’re home alone? Not that I would know, I’m not brave enough to text the guy and ask him to bring one over.
Anyway, Ocado, in this situation, is your friend – the only one you need to survive. Recently I’ve developed a fancy water habit: Badoit. Yes, I know it comes in a plastic bottle, and that I’ve probably killed a couple of dolphins, if not a whale, in my quest for refreshment, but the way I look at it, compared with you, my carbon footprint is pretty much zero, so that surely balances out the whole environment thing. If you order 30 bottles and limit your daily consumption, you can make your supply last for almost 15 days, ensuring minimal interaction with the outside world. I have to admit that, before I discovered this, I was making at least one trip a day to the local Morrisons (there is no other supermarket where I live) to purchase water, which not only led to being recognised by the lady who manages the self-service tills, but also to the repeated purchasing of pansies for my balcony because they are £1 a pot. Pansies that inevitably die. Think of my balcony as a pansy funeral home; everywhere you turn there’s death. Which is why I’ve now had to switch to a more robust plant – lavender. It’s a far more expensive purchase at £2.50 a pot, but it does have the unexpected bonus of making my flat smell like that of an older hermit lady’s home, minus the talc. It also lessens the need to leave the house, not for water, but for replacement flora.
I don’t know if I should really be revealing this one. I fear that if I do, it will soon be overrun with the kind of people who do yoga in Lululemon leggings and can do a lotus flower and then purchase lotus flowers on a Sunday from Columbia Road to communicate their ascent to the third plane of consciousness, or whatever they say in yoga speak. True, attending aqua aerobics does involve leaving the house, but occasionally, sacrifices need to be made, if only to help avoid sustaining an injury that would prevent me from being able to get up off the loo by myself and then require me to hire a live-in nurse to help with urination and ass-wiping.
So, aqua aerobics. Don’t laugh. It’s the only form of exercise that doesn’t involve sweating. The average age at my group is 70, and despite the abundance of Zimmer frames used to make the journey from the changing room to the pool, the participants are a rather sprightly bunch. They are also slightly wary of me, seeing as I’m about half their age – they look at me rather quizzically but don’t speak. It really is the dream. I only have one complaint: class booking. How is it possible that every time I get an email informing me of a free space in the next day’s lesson, that space is always taken when I click on the link one minute after receiving the email? It might take those grandmas a good 15 minutes to get from the changing room to the pool, but when it comes to being quick off the online mark, they could teach me a trick or two. Working out how to turn on my phone still takes me a good five minutes.
Obviously, once in a while, I still need to talk to people. There is only so much talking to the nine different personalities in my head I can do – after every third full moon or so, you need a real person to interact with. This can be done in two ways, the first being in person. But this involves leaving the house, passing people in the street, dealing with a receptionist and then being made to sit in that human pig pen known as the waiting room, in which you will inevitably spend more than the five minutes you have allowed for waiting for your appointment due to the fact that whoever is ahead of you suffers from acute diarrhoea of the mouth. Therapists are not there for you to talk to. They are there for you to be able to spend time with another human in awkward silence.
The other way is Skype, though admittedly, staring at each other in awkward silence via a computer screen doesn’t really work. Plus, it’s very obvious that you are not really there in mind, your mind having wandered into the dark realm of a BuzzFeed quiz. Isn’t it funny how pressing the need to find out your hidden talent based on the dessert pizza you create becomes when you’re confronted with something you really don’t want to do?
If none of the above appeals quite yet, I’ll leave you with one final thought: How to Cook for One While Drunk – the greatest cookbook that never was, born from the genius, drink-addled brain of one Jean Stafford, Pulitzer Prize winner and alcoholic. You’re a recluse now and time is no longer a luxury you can ill afford, you have a lot of it. So why not pick up the mantel and make Stafford’s dream real? After all, you’ll need to do something to pass the time.
Illustration by Stephen Doherty. Taken from Issue 61 of Ten Magazine. EXPRESS, CELEBRATE, IDENTITY is on newsstands now.