Sunday, February 20, 2011

Separate Togetherness Takes Much Conditioning

"Why do you have to go?"
"Because I'd like to be alone for a bit."
"Why? What will you do?"
"I'm just going to the beach. I'll sit on a bench. I'll look at the ocean for a while. I'll first grab some Starbucks on the way there. I'll drink it there. Then I'll be back."
"Why can't I come and be alone with you?"
"You want to, uhm, be alone with me as I sit on the bench, say nothing, with the sole intention to look at the ocean as I ascertain the milk temperature in my Macchiato?"
"I won't say anything. You won't even know I'm there."
"Uhm. I mean. Ok."

I tend to fail to understand why one is constantly offered sociality when one specifically wants its other sibling: solitude. "Well, why can't I come along and have solitude with you?" Because solitude comes from 'solo', i.e., alone, hence.... I've struggled with this. I struggle with this. Thing is, I can enjoy solitude with a few others, too. The number is quite emaciated, however. My best friend and I can read together and not talk for hours at a time. We have this 'separate togetherness' thing down to a science. Other friends of ours crack jokes regarding our use of public space. We could be at Starbucks reading a few chapters of a book or writing a half chapter of one, share a table, order the exact same drink, and not talk during the entire time as if we are perfect strangers. But then when the laptop is put away, it's like the rest of the world does not exist and it's socialization on steroids.

You can only have "separate togetherness" with the truly strong at heart and secure, however. It takes ontological security to feel safe in silence. Chatter can be comforting to many. Silence, on the other hand, takes guts. Another thing that silence needs to have in order to be is true intimacy. Actual intimacy, be it familial, social, romantic, et al., is an active ingredient of good silence.

Whenever I want to work something out in my mind, I'm, for some reason, transported back to a childhood memory involving a Mediterranean beach. I suppose that time and place is where the core of my personality took roots. Or something. I'd never really gotten why my mind always takes me to a beach from my past when I'm having my daily breaks of 'quiet reflection.' Till now, I mean.

Thing is, I've been on other beaches since. In different continents. With many different people. Some more appealing than others. Some more intelligent than others. What sets this particular beach apart, however, is the fact that my memory involves nobody else but me.
And I'm a social-ista.
People are always around me. I'm rarely solo unless I make a concentrated effort to be. I'm simply stating something here. Being solo is something I greatly love. And crave. Deeply. Always have. And yet, being solo has always been a state of being that's under constant threat of colonization. The funny thing is that I've never had a compulsion to colonize anyone. Ever. I've simply never had the need. I guess, as in much else, we are conditioned to privilege certain positions over others.

Now, the memory looks like this:
I'm wearing a white shirt and my favorite summer shorts. My mother dressed me well. Always. (And I always managed to put holes in my clothes in a matter of days by playing rough on the playground but this is somehow removed from how I remember this particular childhood snippet.)

My outfit looks pristine even though I'm getting on the rocks of this particular Mediterranean beach inspecting anything from odd-looking shells to random sticks.
The sun is scorching hot. It's around 3PM. Everyone is having their afternoon nap. Everyone but me as, of course, insomniacs are not just miraculously made in adulthood. It takes practice to be a true insomniac and if you want to debate me on this don't even freaking try. You'll lose. Trust.

Back to the memory.

I'm on a hot, summer beach. I am missing nobody and nothing. I think about the last chess game I had with my Dad and how he check-mated me just as I was thinking of moving my rook so that I could check mate him (odd, the particular details the mind can recall!) and I feel my smirk showing up on my face. I say something akin to 'crap!' I squint as I have no shades on, examine the shape of a funny-looking shell, and continue thinking about everything and nothing, feeling absolutely fine with my existence.

I'm relating to the rocks, the loud clashing of the big ocean waves, and the piercing cricket sounds. I'm not interested in playing with my new beach friends nor do I seek them out. Come to think of it, I never sought them out. They just happened. Sort of the way they just happen now when I'm minding my own business, thinking about the next chapter of the new book, rocking to some new indie band, wondering what the next chapter of existence will bring with it and how much or little it will resemble my immediate past and current life.

Then I start walking on the edges of the rocky beach thinking of how great it feels to be surrounded by the elements and how annoyed I'd be if my new beach friend, Landi, whom I liked ok, decided to show up all of a sudden and invite me to play soccer with him. 'That'd suck.' I think. But I'll still go and play because I know I can always re-visit the feeling of blissful solitude later. I play along as playing along always happens to me. I'm there. And it occurs. And when I'm in it, I want to win it.

Ha. It's no different from adulthood, I think this morning at 4:30AM when I wake up. The only thing I hear is a very slight non-vexing snore but it doesn't bother me. It sort of resembles a Kings of Leon song. It's still quiet, though. Silencio.

I decide to get to a solitary place so that my typing won't wake up the sleeping. My mind takes me to the rocky beach on the Mediterranean where I swam so hard that my parents would be on the verge of a nervous breakdown as I'd refuse to come out of the water for hours and hours at a time till my bottom lip would virtually go black. The beach where I met the cool new friends who were decent at dodge ball and to whom I promised I'd keep in touch but, of course, once back in the city, never did. The beach where I'd listen to Hit Parade tracks and feel so good about my "coolness factor," how in-the-know I was about so much, and how flipping much it rocked that my brother dug my music sense. The beach where so much looked so good and was so aesthetically pleasing and I took some pride in the fact that I could be there.

The beach where being alone made sense the most. Life felt not only doable but good. I meshed with the elements, the rocks on the beach, the funny-looking shells, the random sticks, the piercing crickets and all. The beach, where being in the company of my self offered some kind of relief that I seemed to show I had when on the playground generally winning at dodge ball, hugging my friends, and laughing it up with my kind.

So, the realization that came to me this morning at 4:30AM is rather clear to me now. I am still and unequivocally the same creature I was on that hot, dry Mediterranean beach. People. Life. Love. Interestingness. Challenges. Chess losses. Sociality. All of these things happen almost exactly the same way they happened when I was a child with a keen penchant for music who loved exploring things solo when everyone else was indulging in a little afternoon nap.

Sociality is doable, even enjoyable, only when I give in to my natural urge to explore things on my own and my own terms, uninfluenced by dodge ball rules, ice cream cone distractions, rooks and knights, and Landi, the boy on the beach with the new, shiny soccer ball who's always keen on grabbing me from the rock so that I can play soccer with him instead.
What a veritable Virgil!


Sra said...

Lot of good quotable nuggets in this. Like.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with Sra. There's some good quotable nuggets in this!
"You can only have "separate togetherness" with the truly strong at heart and secure, however. It takes ontological security to feel safe in silence."

Agreed! 'nuff said!! :)

Liam said...

"...being solo has always been a state of being that's under constant threat of colonization."
Love it.

Il Principe said...