Unlock personal peace


Daniel Katz, Staff Columnist

My house is a nonstop stream of noise: my little sister doing bizarre dances to Spanish music; my parents loudly dissecting Russian Facebook memes; and a basement that is effectively a WeWork. And getting to many commitments in Boston and Cambridge from my house on the North Shore creates chaos and takes away sleep.

So this summer, when my much-older brother wasn’t using his apartment in Boston, I jumped at the chance to “borrow” his keys and begin crashing at his place. This cut the commute to my summer internship in Boston by more than half and, I thought, gave me some much-needed time alone with my own thoughts.

I headed there after work on one of the first days of July. I put my bag down, stretched out, showered efficiently, ate the leftovers of my Subway lunch, watched some “South Park,” and somehow went down an internet rabbit hole about Isabela Fernandez’s childhood. Suddenly, it was 1 a.m. That’s okay, I told myself—this was just the liminal phase. I dozed off and woke up with my phone at 2%, realized I was already late for work, scurried to work, and shuffled back to the apartment. The same cycle more or less repeated itself until the last week of August.

The shortened commute was wonderful: my overall productivity improved; I saw more of my friends; and I took blissful late-night walks during which the sounds of city life always gave me the perfect backdrop to just think. At the same time, there was something spooky about being in the apartment by myself. I actually missed the things about home that usually infuriated me, like my mom waking me up.

There were also the less glamorous aspects of living alone, like late- night toilet paper runs. I now understand why adults derive great pleasure from a fully stocked fridge.

But my biggest takeaway was that so much alone time wasn’t all I made it out to be. Most of the time I gained from a shorter commute somehow got sucked up by “adult responsibilities,” and isolation actually stifled inspiration in many cases. For all the times I’d yearned for three or four quiet hours at my house to churn out brilliance, double those hours alone seemed to produce ideas worse than those I came up with on the run. (My internet deep dives tell me this might be called “Parkinson’s Law.”)

I went way too far in a solitary direction this summer, and I had a hard time returning to balance. Time alone with my thoughts is still a valuable currency, and no amount of community will cancel out my need for inner purpose. Or sleep. But sometimes, bizarre dances, Russian Facebook memes, and a makeshift WeWork are exactly what I need.

As we navigate the tight rope of this modern interim, I think it’s important to know yourself. We’re all different; some of us may need a day alone to produce our best work, and some of us can’t stand to drive to school for an hour alone (yours truly—I wonder now why I thought I would love living alone so much). Wherever you are on that spectrum, take the time to get to know yourself and see what balance of solitary work, group work, structured alone time, and days without plans gets you closest to your personal version of peace.

Once you elucidate your definition of balance, start taking steps (as you’re able) to make sure those ratios don’t fall out of whack. I think this is a constant and never-ending optimization, but it’s one we can’t afford to put on autopilot.

Kramer: Having the keys to Jerry’s apartment —that kept me in a fantasy world… That became my reality. I ignored the squalor in my own life because I’m looking at life, you see, through Jerry’s eyes. I was living in the twilight, living in the shadows, living in the darkness… like you.

George: Me?!

Kramer: Oh, I can barely see you, George.

George: Stop it, Kramer. You’re freakin’ me out.

—Seinfeld, S3E23: “The Keys”