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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Flying solo lets women glimpse future ripe with potential

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By Keiko Ohnuma
Advertiser Staff Writer

A woman alone is a strange sight, even more so when she is far from home. Strolling through foreign cities or taking down my tent, I have spied the kids staring at me, the anxious darting glances from their moms.

In novels, the woman alone who is not pining after company tends inevitably

toward witch or spy. There is something about a woman alone that implies danger: Something terrible could happen to her. Or if she is not afraid, she may be out to do something terrible herself.

It is considered a curse to be alone in our society, especially if you are female. Men may not like it either, but they are supposed to rise to the occasion. In books and movies, the man alone is on a quest. He is about to be handed an assignment.

A woman alone is lost.

I know a woman, a runner who also favors the 10-mile circuit of Tantalus, who would sooner forgo the trip than make it alone — even on the mountain, where solitude is sweetest. I know women who will not eat in a restaurant or go to the movies alone, much less camp alone on a beach.

Women, it seems, are identified so much by their relationship to others that many of us no longer know how to fly solo.

Yet there is no more privileged vantage point on the world, I've found, than to wander through it alone.

People see you as basically harmless. Company is easy to find when needed, and otherwise easy to keep away. Children ask you funny questions. Men compose stories about your origin. Families try to disguise their discomfort, which allows you to sit with an enigmatic smile and observe them.

No one knows quite what to expect from you — including yourself.

With no one to tell me otherwise, I can be awaiting a great destiny. Anything a woman undertakes is bound to set a precedent in somebody's mind. So I am channeling Amelia Earhart, Jane Goodall, Isabelle Eberhardt — who traveled the Arab world dressed as a man.

What was that girl thinking?

It's sweetest of all to be alone in nature, far from the greatest danger to women: other people. You can forget about your identity crises and just feel what it is to be a creature who intends no harm to any other.

The animals and insects, trees and sky do not see you as a woman or ask where is your husband. You are simply human — as ripe with potential as, say, a man.

The feeling stays with me as I stare out the window of a café, or wait for a bus in a foreign city where everyone tries to peg you. If you are not wife, mother, sister or daughter, then who are you?

The crazy lady with 20 cats. The foreign femme smoking alone at the hotel bar. Neither of these identities really chafes me, because what they are is still mysterious.

Beneath, I am an unknown — woman elemental, before man. Eve eyeing the apple. Mona Lisa enjoying her own private joke.

Why is that woman smiling?

Take a page from her book, forget what you are, and find out for yourself.

Reach Keiko Ohnuma at kohnuma@honoluluadvertiser.com.