The Overlook Hotel. Iconic setting of insanity-inducing isolation.
Since I lived on my own, I have found myself not altogether able to cope with solitude. It’s been nine months of cabin fever. Writers are supposed to crave solitude–yearn for hours on end with no other obligation than to simply read a book or write in their pajamas. At least, this is the vision I have fashioned for myself. Either this is a stereotype, or this indicates that I should strongly reassess my identity.
Strange to me, that my weekends should potentially subsist of waking up, showering, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, and then sitting a chair either absorbing information or spewing information as the world turns, the sun sets outside my window, the moon rises, and I go to sleep not having taken more than twelve footsteps or burned a handful of calories. Many crave this lifestyle. Many live this way. They must be mind-bogglingly lazy.
I actually hate it, even the very thought of it. It would make me feel like a gigantic parasitic snail, leeching from the world from within my dark, dank lair. A nuclear warhead could wipe out San Fransisco and I would never know it. That’s why I usually set off to the library, or a coffee shop, or under a tree, just to give myself the illusion I’m “going somewhere” today.
But I manage to fail most often. I’ve explored a litany of dating sites. I’ve watched five seasons of Lost. I play Indie horror games. I play with my kitten. Oh, and I blog.
Every weekend (for me, Sunday and Monday), I pack my clothes, my blankets, and my toiletries, and I drive 45 minutes back to my parents house. Once there, I catch up with my parents and spend time with a friend, who is still an undergrad. We play video games, watch Netflix, drive to the lake–things every carefree college student indulges in on summer vacation. Somehow, Monday night arrives, and I do not read or write as much as I ever wish or planned. I am homesick. I have a stupid, futile urge to attain a semblance of my youth. An idealized childhood that did not exist.
Monday evening, on my drive back, I am haunted by guilt. Sometimes it is faint, sometimes it is overwhelming. The argument with my self usually sounds something like this:
“Damn you, a whole weekend, wasted! Again!”
“No, it was not wasted. I have a family, a friend, a job. I lived, as any human being lives. I do not hunger, or thirst, or want for shelter. Is that not enough for any man?”
“Oh, stop it. You’re not just “any human being.” You want more than the status quo. You can’t associate so closely with them. You’re losing focus. You’re miserable.”
“Seriously? I’m over the ‘gunna-be-a-best-selling-author’ phase.”
“Don’t lie. You either need to be around people who shoot astronomically above the status quo–scholars, writers, teachers–or you need to reach into yourself for that energy. Why spend your time with mediocre people?”
“You are a pretentious asshole.”
“You are a coward.”
“I don’t want that pressure anymore. I could die tomorrow, and what will I have done? Typed a dozen books nobody will ever read. And what if, through that whole weekend, I had no ideas? I just sat, stared at a blank screen, or read a book that I turned out to hate? Or wandered the streets? Or died? A week could go by before anybody knew I was dead and pried me out of that apartment in a body bag. People need people. I did the right thing.”
“Are you crying?”
“My contacts are just–“
“You’re pathetic. A person doesn’t “fail” in a single instant; it’s an agglutination of a million little choices. One weekend spending procrastinating turns into a month, a year, a decade. You’re going nowhere because you run away into people, you run away into the past. Keep giving yourself fluffly excuses to do absolutely nothing. We’ll see where you turn up in five years.”
“There’s a rainbow! Life is going to be OK!”
“IT ISN’T OK! AREN’T YOU LISTENING?! Ah, what’s the use?”
As I near that city, that argument pitches, and I’m left to reality; the isolation, the burden of pure self. Is this natural? What would change were I to have a roommate, or a wife? Someone else to distract me into comfort? Is that why people always start families?
For months, I have considered staying home, but every week I put off that decision. I convince myself that values such as family and friendship are natural, good, and keep me from driving myself into fruitless isolation. When I consider a weekend spent locked in my apartment, I pale and flee. Perhaps because they do matter more than my “success,” and my intuition knows it. Or perhaps I use people to hide, instead of facing my fear.
There is only so much that other people may provide for me, and I must stop seeking the final fulfillment from any source outside my self. So sayeth Gautama Buddha: “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
There are billions of humans, and yet all of us dwell in our own silly little universes of perception. What we call our experience of empathy is a laughable counterfeit. So many of us, yet each one of us is alone. I wonder if this is why there are so many broken dreams. Every day, we choose to watch an episode on TV, instead of read a book. We choose to drink at a bar with other people, instead of practice our instrument. We choose to get married, instead of finish our education. We choose to teach people about books, instead of writing them ourselves. We start having children, instead of living the lives our parents sacrificed their own lives to give us. When does it stop? When does it end?
Yet could my ambition undo me? A seed which is fed on loneliness, and grows no stem or blossom, just an ugly, bitter, unseen root burrowing down into the core of the heart. Perhaps the layman is the happy man. “Whom the gods notice they destroy. Be small … and you will escape the jealousy of the great.” Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle.
Every American citizen would die from cabin fever, did they not indulge in the virtual world of screens. We invest so much into movies, shows, video games, books, that we forget what we really look like–drooling faces highlighted by shifting light from the screen. We work jobs, feed ourselves, merely to sustain worlds of fantasy and idealism.
I could admit myself permission to the same evil.
If it is mere loneliness that is my malaise, I can remember that a phenomenon occurs when one is focused on his task, all by himself–the physical world vanishes. I stop gazing at myself as an onlooker, which I have none except God, aware I appear as silent and inert as a vegetable. In my brain, there is the firework show of synapses. When I am alone, the tiers of reality shift places. Assurance that the mental world, the land of dreams, usurps the physical dimension, and becomes the new reality. Time itself has no place. Only then will I wake up from a book or story, and be amazed that twelve hours have passed. Only then will I no longer shun solitude, but crave it.
“A purely mental life may be destructive if it leads us to substitute thought for life and ideas for actions. The activity proper to man is purely mental because man is not just a disembodied mind. Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. It is only by making our knowledge part of ourselves, through action, that we enter into the reality that is signified by our concepts.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
How far should I reach into the physical? How far should I reach into the mental? After all, when I soon die, that is all there is left. I will travel forever through the world of dreams.
To be the genius in the high tower, or to be the family man. To be or not to be. That’s the question, all right.