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Lovin’ la vida solo

If your view of being single has been shaped by Bridget Jones, the 30-something who is desperate to get a man, you might need a reality check. Bridget touched a nerve with women as the hilarious protagonist of two Helen Fielding novels, blundering around in her pursuit of Mr. Right.

Fielding took her cue from Jane Austen’s husband-hunting heroines when she created Bridget, the singleton who is pitied by her married friends and subjected to meddling by well-meaning relatives. The message is the same as it was in Austen’s day: Life doesn’t start until you’re in a relationship.

“There’s a collective myth that something is missing unless you have a mate,” says Judith Castle, a retired CeGEP teacher. “People buy into that myth and feel of lesser value if they’re not married.”

Castle will challenge that myth in a four-week course she is teaching in Concordia University’s continuing education department, titled Living Alone by Choice or by Chance.

“We’ve been taught that being married is the real way to live,” says Castle.”Religions have always encouraged marriage as a basis for the family, while aloneness has been viewed as selfish.”

The formerly married Castle lives alone by choice and, as she adds, passion. And she acknowledges that living alone can be as challenging as being married.

But Castle’s course is not simply a “how not to be lonely” guide. For sure, it will include strategies on how to create an engaging single life.

But Castle is an erudite teacher who will draw on the writings of such people as Barbara Feldon, Living Alone and Loving It, and Rollo May, The Courage to Create. “My purpose is to help people who are living alone look at their lives and celebrate them,” she said.

Whatever pain singles suffer over their marital status,” she says, “comes from the attitudes they’ve forged. The ache is in the belief that you live alone until the right person comes along or that you’re not good at relationships.”

One reason she’s offering the course, she adds, is to learn as much as she teaches. “I want to hear the stories of people who live alone in a culture that, despite the divorce rate, still believes that two are better than one.”

She divides the single world into people who find themselves single through widowhood or divorce and those alone by design. “There are those who live alone because they have a passion for it, as I have,” Castle said. “You sometimes see this among artistic and creative people who stay alone to focus on their art.”

Statistics Canada’s 2001 census counted 2,976,875 one-person households in Canada. In the over-65 age group, 39 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men live alone.

If there is a place to start the discussion of the single lifestyle, says Castle, it is here: “When you live alone, you don’t live alone. You live with yourself. Living with ourselves means living with energies.”

Those energies, or archetypes, are present to varying degrees in all human beings, she said, and are identified by Jungian writer Carol Pearson in The Hero Within as: innocents, orphans, wanderers, warriors, martyrs and magicians. The key to understanding ourselves, she says, is to be aware of which energies are present in our lives.

It’s also essential for singles to create communities, Castle said. “We tend to be particularly conscious of our single lives at Christmas and festival times. A couple I know, who live in New York City, were dismayed one year that they couldn’t be with their children for Thanksgiving. A single woman in their apartment building put up a sign in the lobby, inviting other tenants to a Thanksgiving community potluck at her place. She attracted seven other people. Clearly, she’s someone who did not fall into her orphan energy. She called in her warrior.

“Living singly means that you need to open yourself to the connections all around you.”

Castle says that the single people who live in her Montreal apartment building look out for each other. “We have a system that if someone hasn’t picked up his or her newspaper by a certain time, we check in to see if that person is OK,” she said.

Singles also need to create nurturing home environments. “It’s a good thing to surround yourself with love,” she said. “You can include objects and colours you love and family photographs. You create your style. If you don’t like the plates you’re eating from, give them away and get ones you love.”

Students in Castle’s course will have homework: they’ll have to interview other single people and write an essay about them. “It will help them to step back and examine their own lives,” she said.

Castle says it’s time to create a broader definition of romance that embraces platonic love as well as love for humanity.

“It takes courage to create your life,” she said. “But we are born to create.”

Bridget Jones and her literary forebears could tell you that.

– Stephanie Whittaker THE MONTREAL GAZETTE FEBRUARY 6, 2006

When Judith Castle retired from teaching, she knew she’d have to transplant her passion and gusto. Then her son gave her a camera, and she began to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary

Art photographer views her retirement as a renaissance


Two years ago, Judith Castle found herself on a three month sick leave from work that forced her to re-evaluate the adrenaline-soaked life she had created for herself.

“I had to pay attention to my body,” she said.

“I also had time to think about paying attention to the other areas of my life I had neglected. I realized there were things I wanted to do, other venues I wanted to open and other lives I wanted to live.”

Castle decided that the time was ripe for retirement.

So this summer, at age 65, she retired from her career as a humanities teacher at LaSalle College, a job she had loved since she started it in 1976.

But far from disappearing into the black hole of boredom that many retirees experience, she views her new status as a renaissance.

“The task of retirement is not to stop the creativity of your work, but to divert your energy into other forms of creativity and other coin munities,” she said,

“My illness provided me with the opening to do this.”

During Castle’s illness, her son, Simon, a professional photographer who lives in Calgary visited her.

“He brought me a camera – an ordinary 35-mm Nikon – and he showed me how to take pictures. When he returned to Calgary, he made me promise that the camera would not be hung on a hook somewhere. So I began to go out and photograph ordinary things.”

That’s ordinary, as in snow melting on asphalt, cracks in sidewalks and stumps of rotting trees.

The results, however, are extraordinary.

Castle’s photographs are art, the kind that many photographers labour for years to produce but that clearly come naturally to her.

"I photograph ordinary things that we walk by every day," Judith Castle says. She has sold her art in galleries as well as through private sales. JOHN KENNEY THE GAZETTE

“I photograph ordinary things that we walk by every day,” Judith Castle says. She has sold her art in galleries as well as through private sales. JOHN KENNEY THE GAZETTE


A photograph of snow melting on a driveway, for instance, looks at first glance like a sweep of Canadian tundra in the spring.

A rotting tree trunk filled with snow seems radiant and is aptly titled The Chalice.

Vines on a wall form an eerie web.

“I photograph ordinary things that we walk by every day,” she said.

“I see things in a new way now. I see so much beauty that I used to walk by when I didn’t have time to observe things.”

Castle’s friends were so impressed with her work, they encouraged her to rent space in an art gallery.

“We went to the Luz Gallery and asked about renting space, and they said they don’t rent space but asked to see my work,” she said.

“The owner loved it and the photographs were put into an exhibition.” She sold two.

“Then, a friend of mine who was scheduled to exhibit her work at Es-pace X was unable to exhibit and I took her place. I sold another one of my photos.”

In addition, Cattle has made a few private sales. She has also produced greeting cards of her photos and is selling them in various stores.

“I feel as If my creativity has suddenly come to life,” she said.

But listen to her talk about her career path and it’s evident that Castle invests creativity and passion in everything she does.

After earning a teaching diploma in 1960, she studied literature at Sir George Williams University and got a job teaching high school.

She married and opted out of the workforce for a decade to raise her two sons, born in 1968 and 1973.

Then she began teaching at LaSaile College and got a master’s degree.

“I devoted myself to my work and loved every single minute of it. I never once had to push myself to do it,” she said.

But her work became even more precious to her in 1993, three years after her son Nathan was killed at the age of 17 when he was hit by a train.

“I was teaching 17-year-olds,” Castle recalled.

“One night, I dreamed I went into my class at LaSalleand every 17-year-old in that classroom was Nathan. I understood then that it’s hard to teach anyone you don’t love. You have to care about what happens in your students’ lives. I think some transformations come through tragedy. I knew I had to do my best by them and I learned from my students. They were my inspiration.”

Castle, who is divorced, also understood that moving into retirement would mean transplanting the gusto and passion she had for her work into different pursuits.

She would have to replace the collegiality of her workplace with new communities.

She knew that planning for retirement should transcend mere financial preparation.

“A lot of people don’t know who they are outside of their jobs,” she said.

“I know so many people who’ve retired with enough financial planning but who haven’t done any emotional or psychological planning. They get ill or they drift and at our age, if you drift, you drift in just one direction. The worst of it is the gifts they have are not being given out.”

Castle spent a year preparing herself for retirement.

She began taking courses in esoteric subjects – dream analysis and spiritual psychotherapy – at the Natural Health Consultants Institute.

She attends the creative social centre at a local synagogue, where she takes sculpting lessons, working with sandstone, soapstone and alabaster.

She writes poetry and has sold several works to literary journals. She takes pilates exercise classes.

And she continues to teach an evening course in social psychology in Concordia University’s continuing education department.

At 65, Castle is not a member of the baby boom cohort – born between 1946 and 1964 – but her retirement is probably the kind that will be pursued by legions of boomers when they arrive at the end of their careers.

As the first wave of that cohort inches toward retirement age, it’s likely that many of its members will view that time of their life as the beginning of a new odyssey.

“I’ve come late to all these pursuits, but I think you either evolve or you die,” Castle said.

“Retirement is a time to be reborn. I refuse to choose it as an end.”

 – Stephanie Whittaker THE MONTREAL GAZETTE AUGUST 16, 2004