Thursday, January 25, 2007


This may sound at first like a contradiction, but the greatest thing thus far about my urban life is the solitude it offers. I should explain, since "solitary" is not, by default, a good thing to most people. A solitary life, in my estimation, is most possible only when one is amongst other people. One can live in solitude next to a loving partner in a happy relationship, as well as when surrounded by neighbors in a community you are happy to call your own -- even when neither the relationship or community are necessarily perfect. For indeed solitude is, at root, a celebration of this fragility, an attunement and attention not to what is lacking in these relationships and communities, to their existence in some perfect state, but to one's place in the midst of their reality, in all its fragility. In fact, it might be that much more difficult, impossible even, to achieve solitude in a horrible relationship and community, for in these one's attention tends to be drawn effortlessly to its deficiencies, and thus to what might fix it. It is this culture of remedy, of self-help and cures, of redemption from weakness rather than redemption of weakness, that is really the culture of isolation -- isolation from the reality that people are, well, people.

Solitude is a form of self-consciousness borne of self-reflection. Too commonly, self-reflection is thought to mean isolation. This is a lie. When one looks in a mirror, one sees something. But this something that we call a "a reflection of me," is only understood as such if we are a part of something far greater than ourselves: a community of others, of other "me's," through whom I can identify myself as "me" and them as "not-me". And people are, if anything, weak-kneed versions of themselves -- even when playing the hero -- of all that they aspire to be, of their confessions and ideals . We, in short, tell the truth when we lie, for in falsehoold are we finally being ourselves; and we lie most tellingly, betraying ourselves most fully without even the benefit of thirty pieces of gold, when we unsuccessfully try to tell the truth about ourselves. It's not that we don't know this truth -- oh, we're well beyond self-discovery and finding ourselves, but two of the self-perpetuated frauds that expose much more truth about ourselves than we'd like to admit.

Solitude draws one's attention to this because it is an intentional living, and thus a life truly lived; one lived aware of oneself as being amongst others who are different creatures, with their different stories, joys and heartbreaks, but all bearing the same weight of his or her creaturely life. It is an attunement to a harmonious dischord. Listen to life in the city, open all your senses to its voice -- for it is a voice that can be seen, touched, and smelled -- and you cannot miss this atonal horror that we can't do without. Such is the beauty, or is it the sublime, we can't stand most of the time, that often repulses and angers us, but that is the torturously cruel heart of life's mad melancholy -- which is to say, this life's capacity to create itself anew.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that urban living has exclusive rights to solitude and creativity. Madness. Rural life may be immediately pastoral, with its dumb simplicity and splendor, sunrises and sunsets, but I am certain that the one with the ear to hear knows better. To see beyond the apparent, we need only watch movies like Fargo, read novels like In Cold Blood or anything by Cormac McCarthy or Flannery O'Connor, or talk to my friend Brad P. about the social injustices & reality of rural poverty. No, solitude, the pulse of imagination and anything resembling hope, is beyond the simple divisions of urban & rural, a fact exposed (ironically) by the the masquerade of solitude in that mediated space between rural & urban, the neither/nor, the medicated isolation of our communities of the car and suburban kingdoms.

More on this false solitude, a solitude that is a betrayal of itself, this "geography of nowhere" (as described by James Kunstler), later.