So am I the only who one who listens to music from the 40’s, 50’s and even 60’s and feels like I’m in some sort of dark thriller where the director intends the tune in question, no matter how cheerful, to convey an ironic sense of dread? That’s how I felt when I queued up this Frank Sinatra ditty that also serves as the title of this late night post. Like an assassin was on his way up to my apartment. Or nuclear missiles were streaking through the night sky towards Los Angeles as I tapped my foot in time to the beat. I went hunting for the song on You Tube because I thought I’d put together a few thoughts on solitude, the good kind and the bad kind, (I guess the bad kind is what we call loneliness…?) and lo and behold, I was reminded once again that my only frames of reference for just about anything are movies, T.V. shows and novels.
At any rate, I like being alone. I’m not talking about my relationship status. I’m talking about the act itself. The act of being by yourself. The act of communicating with your friends entirely through text messages you can chose to ignore for ten to fifteen minutes with excuses like, “Sorry. Was driving”, “Sorry. Was walking.”, “Sorry. Was jerking off,” when the truth is you were eating by yourself at California Pizza Kitchen and you got lost in a chapter of a romance novel written by this talented woman. Recently I took a business call while sitting alone at the bar in a crowded restaurant. When I told the person on the other end of the line that we were free to talk because I was eating by myself, she let out a small, plaintive cry, as if eating alone were a punishment on par with house arrest or having a breathalyzer installed in your car. I didn’t get it. We were both readers, so I explained that solitary dining was when I did some of my best reading. But that only made it sound worse. I mean the questions just hung there in the silence between us.
Questions like, why didn’t I read at home alone like normal people? Was my public reading merely a ruse meant to distract everyone in the restaurant from the fact that I’d be sentenced to dine alone? And if so, who had meted out this sentence exactly? Had I been abandoned at the threshold to the restaurant in question by an irate lover who just couldn’t listen to me agonize over whether or not to order the salmon or the steak one more bloody time? Had a friend just stormed out on me after a terrible fight over whether or not Bernie Sanders has a shot in hell at the presidency and had I swiftly responded by popping open my Kindle as if I’d been reading a gay cowboy romance all along?
The answer to all of these questions is no, but just the fact that they would be asked in the first place* is evidence of the extent to which our society pathologizes being alone. (I love that word, ‘pathologize’. I’m not actually sure it is a word, but the way I define it, it means to make give the illusory appearence of disorder and disease to an inherently harmless act. People do it all the time to stuff other people do that they don’t like. Stuff like having a strong opinion that differs from their own, or getting naked and sweaty with someone of the same gender. Or expressing public affection for Madonna’s last album. ) Maybe this tendency to exalt always going everywhere with a loud group of drunk people you sort of know baffles me because I’m an only child. An imaginative only child. A dangerous combination when it comes time to develop actual social skills. I have cravings for human contact, but only to the extent that it inspires me to imagine a better version of you.
If that sounds superior or cruel, rest assured, I’m constantly trying to imagine a better version of me too. And I do it while I’m – you guessed it! – alone.
Granted, this personality trait is not without its consequences. Intimate relationships can be hard. As Eric Shaw Quinn once said to me, “Christopher, you’re looking for a boyfriend who will turn into an end table right after you have sex so you can set your drink on him.” (We’re starting an all new season of our Internet radio show next Sunday, September 13th, by the way, during which I’m sure Eric will say similarly cutting things on a wide variety of topics.) While I’ve gotten better in this regard, I’ve also run out of patience with the idea that I should fill my time with meaningless social interactions with people I don’t know or like very well just because I’m afraid of what other people will think of me when they find out I spent Saturday night – gasp! – alone. And if this rambling post has a point this is it.
If you’re one of those people who considers themselves a bubbly extrovert, take a minute to ask yourself if you’re really just a disingenuous psychopath whose terrified of being alone with your own thoughts and desperate to trick society into believing you’re well adjusted.
OK. Maybe that’s too harsh. Let me work on the phrasing.
If you’re one of those people who must be around people all the time, ask yourself if you actually like any of those people, or if you just don’t like the *idea* of being alone. And by *idea* of being alone, I mean ask yourself if you’re afraid of what other people will think of you if you do what you really enjoy doing, which is sitting alone at the bar at California Pizza Kitchen reading a gay romance novel.
I’m trying to globalize this post here. I really am.
Here’s another try. I like being alone. If you don’t, ask yourself if you truly enjoy being always in the company of others, or if a certain, pervasive social stigma around solitude sends you running straight into the arms of people you don’t know well, about whom you don’t really care.
Whatever you do, do NOT ask yourself why I’m writing this just a day after posting that I was in the home stretch on my latest Dark Nights novella. I’m allowed to take breaks. And you get more writing done when you’re.………………….!
Also, HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS HAPPENED?
(*Granted, no one actually asked me any of these questions in the moment. But I’ve been asked versions of them before so I think it’s reasonably fair to insert them here even though I run the risk of making my concerned associate seem like a jerk when she wasn’t.)