We’re away until January 2, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2018. Enjoy your holiday!
“I vant to be alone,” my mother used to say distractedly, channeling Greta Garbo, when my brother and I were wrecking havoc at home. In fact, though Garbo’s character said the line in the 1932 film Grand Hotel, Garbo herself never said it. What she said, when faced with a scrum of journalists at a press conference a few years later, was “I want to be let alone.”
But in our culture, the distinction between the two statements has been conflated. For us, “I vant to be alone” means I want to be off the grid, no iPhone, no email, the 24-7 connectivity of our lot. I want to be let alone to be alone. No wonder that, to a writer—to readers, to all overwhelmed people now—solitude suggests not loneliness but serenity, that kissing cousin of sanity. We speak of being alone to recharge our batteries—even in our reach for solitude, we seem unable to unplug from the metaphor of our connectivity.