Nobody has time to solve all the problems in the world; we’ve only got time to create them. No, that’s not strictly true: some of us do have time, but we waste it, if by we you mean I. It’s tricky striking a balance between solitude and society (as Emily Dickinson wrote, “The Soul Keeps Its Own Society,” although I’ve probably botched the title; I’ll have to fix it with some Botch Tape). Andy Warhol said that it takes energy to spend time with people. You need clean air to have energy. Some food would also be nice.
Now that I finally do have some time on my hands–not that I’m fit enough to do a handstand (whereas my college roommate claims he can still do handstand pushups; when I tried to do one, I nearly broke my neck)–it occurs to me that life in today’s world is lonelier than it has to be. Since I seem to be in a derivative mode, I might as well get another quote out of the way, even though Cristian Mihai already beat me to the punch with this one on his blog, but when I read it there it stood out for me, as I remembered when I read it many years ago while living in Japan. It’s spoken by the Chinese character in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. He says, “All great things are lonely.” So are some shitty things, by the way.
Sting claims that everyone he knows is lonely and God’s so far away. Carole King asks if anyone stays in one place anymore. The answer is probably no. I’d tell her myself but she appears to have moved. Didn’t even leave a goodbye note. Thanks a lot, Carole. I’m never going to listen to your music again.
Richard Yates wrote a collection of stories entitled Eleven Kinds of Loneliness. I’d venture that today there are more than that. This might sound masochistic, but sometimes I miss the deep, harrowing, visceral loneliness I sometimes felt living back in the US when I was in my thirties, usually during a time between girlfriends, those precious short-lived relationships that usually ended either badly or abruptly. The reason is that at least that way I knew I was alive.
These days I don’t feel lonely in the same way. Sexual frustration without the hope of release from a new relationship around the corner is a different kind of loneliness (hey, Richard! Collect the set!) from that which I knew before. There are other kinds of comforts provided by married life, at those blissful interludes when my wife and I aren’t shrieking at each other. Right now I feel more guilty than lonely for depriving her of her dream to have a child. She reminded me at breakfast the other day of the time long ago when she told me she wanted to have my baby, and I said I didn’t want one. That hurt. I hadn’t meant to hurt her, but I was afraid to take on the responsibility at the time (besides, we weren’t even married yet). Or maybe I was waiting for someone better to come along.
Better for me that is. I don’t mean to imply that my wife is not a good person, or without her charms. We’re just incompatible in certain ways. I suppose most married couples probably are.
When she said that, I apologized for having disappointed her and went over and gave her a hug.
Anyway, I made the mistake of listening to a few James Taylor songs a few days ago, including one in which he asks, “Where are you, someone?” (Nothing against Jim Taylor; it’s just that his music can be gratuitously depressing.)
Back to the Andy Warhol quote about requiring energy to be with other people (whom Jean-Paul Sartre accused of being hell): yesterday I was knackered at church and I left the service early so I could grab my grub at the cafeteria before the rest of the troops appeared. One of the advantages of not knowing Korean is that most members of the congregation who join you at your table don’t expect you to make conversation with them. Few Korean people like to chit-chat while they’re eating anyway, although I notice that the church crowd can be gabby.
I don’t dislike them, but I was too enervated for small talk and kept my eyes on my noodle and kimchi soup. I was suffering from a brief spell of anthropophobia. Luckily, they didn’t bother me, which is fortunate, as otherwise I would have had to slay them, another energy-demanding activity.
I worry about my wife’s loneliness. At least she has Jesus, along with God, his venerable, shaggy-jowled dad. As I don’t believe in any of that crap (no disrespect intended), I have to rely more on the voices of characters in books and songs, and the people I’ll never meet. I’m not immune to the disease of forming vicarious friendships with celebrities or the parts they play (not that I’m deranged enough to become a stalker). I watched an interview Philip Seymour Hoffman gave George Stromboupoulis (sp?) and thought, “What a great guy!” Actually, they both seemed like great guys. It’s funny how you can get that feeling about someone you’ve never even met and and never will. And people’s public personas can deviate from who they really are. Still, Hoffman came across as a mensch, a goofball with a heart of gold. (That reminds me: I’d like to read Neil Young’s autobiography one of these days too. Let me know if you recommend it.)
Obviously, the blogosphere is a virtual community of strangers, many of whom will never meet in the flesh. I’m grateful to those of you who’ve become loyal readers of this blog, and I appreciate the good work you do as well. I used to write without sharing my work with much of anyone, except for a few precious friends while I was drunk, reading to them out loud and boring the shit out of them (hey, what are friends for?). It’s an honor to be able to bore you in turn.
I’m also concerned that my folks might be lonely, even though they’re strong people. I love them and wish them well, but that’s not the same as being there. An old professor of mine once said, alluding to a character named Rhoda in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, “She realizes that all the love and friendship and relationships in the world are just so much tenuous little bullshit–at least in the eyes of a higher reality.” I used to think that was true, back when I was young and cocky and more inclined to take people for granted. I was also perhaps more defensive and less willing to open up about my weaknesses.
Now I think he’s wrong. But he said something else that was less cynical and nihlistic, a quote I can get behind: “We feel incomplete because our minds, our imaginations, are in excess of the circumstances of our lives.” That’s definitely true for everyone. It’s the root at the heart of desire. The only trouble is we appear to be going about completing ourselves in the wrong way. Filling our lives with stuff, driving everywhere, and generating mountains of discarded electronic gadgets and skeletons of televisions is not the best way to fulfill ourselves or to provide our lives with meaning or value. Neither is turning ourselves into robots, as I’m sure some people alive today will live long enough to learn.
I hope I’m not around by then. It’s nothing personal. I’d just rather be an animal than a machine. Animals are better at generating onomatopoeias. Hence, they get my vote.
As do you.
P. S. Nature’s where it’s at. As are the usual suspects–love, friends, family. But go all out–don’t just send each other text messages or pow-wow through Twitter and Facebook. Get together and have fun. Life is one long balancing act.