A Treatise on Solitude


“No man is an island.” ~ Some nitwit.

In just a little over a month, I will once again pack up and move to another city.  I will do this alone.

I’m not here to retread old news.  Instead, I want to weigh in on that oh so sacred of notions, The Solitary Life.

There is a lot to be said for solitude.  I’m not sure anything worth a damn was ever created by anyone who couldn’t stomach the absence of other people.  We need to be alone.  Solitude is the birthplace of art.  Creation by committee is, at its very core, antithetical to unique, creative work.  While certain types of art are most commonly collaborative (e.g., movies, albums), the original spark of expression is almost always the product of one person.

That alone makes a strong case for shutting out the world, even if only sporadically.  But when I say a solitary life, I don’t just mean having a few hours to yourself, or even being an introvert.  I mean a life alone.

“People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” ~ Barbra Streisand

I’m not buying it, Babs.

I’ve learned one life lesson over and over again (frequently, at the most inconvenient times):  When you put yourself in the position of needing someone else, of relying on the assistance of your fellow human being, you are bound to get let down.  While this could mean, “Johnny broke my heart” or “Papa didn’t hug me enough,” I actually think its the banal examples of disappointment that tend to be the most detrimental.  Heartbreak and bad childhoods lead to hit songs and a career directing critically-acclaimed indie movies.  Having your roommate forget to pay the rent will screw your credit and they don’t write songs about 550 credit scores (well, they do, but they’re unbearable).

Needing a ride to the airport.  Having a partner in a school project.  Expecting someone else to bring the alcohol to the party.

These are the types of situations I dread.  If I’m not in control, I hate it.  The moment is out of my control, the possibility for failure rests in the hands of unpredictable people. It stresses me out (and life experiences have proven to me that the stress is justified).

I know that’s one of the character flaws that they like you to talk about in job interviews.  “What’s your greatest weakness?”  “Well, I have trouble delegating sometimes.  I can be a bit of a control freak.”  After all, being a team player is a good thing.  And besides, the reality of life is, inevitably, you will be put into a position where you have to rely on somebody for something at sometime.  If you’re drowning, having too much pride to grab the life preserver is just dumb.

I’ve been in that situation.  My pride has almost let me sink on a few occasions.

That famous quote, I begrudgingly admit, is right:  No man can be an island entirely of itself.  But how about a member of an archipelago?

What I’m saying is that, yes, from time to time, situations will be thrust upon you in which you have no choice but to collaborate, to join in, to play nice with others.  But there ain’t nothing sexier than self-sufficiency.  It’s one thing to be forced into collaboration, altogether another to do so of your own volition.

The lessened burden that comes from another person’s help is, in my mind, no comparison to the peace of mind that comes from knowing you and only you are responsible for your own success and failure.  Having no one else to steal the credit is merely the flip-side of having no one else to blame, but the real glory of the solitary life is that you have less uncertain factors to deal with.  Life is random.  Nature is aimless (other than in its mindless pursuit of life).  Chaos is the order of the universe.  Our existences are at the whim of chance, but at least in that way, all humans are equal.  It’s only the influence of other actors that can tip things in or out of your favor.

And optimists be damned, usually it’s not in your favor.

Which brings me to my life on the road, 10 Cities in 10 Years.

Hundreds of factors have threatened (and continue to) the success of this project.  The economic collapse.  Repeated cases of strep throat.  A broken laptop computer.  Even Hurricane Katrina, the BP Gulf Oil spill and the flooding in Nashville this Spring have all been detrimental to my plans, in that their ripple effects have been felt nationally.  But all of those were factors outside of my control which merely added to the challenge of my life.  After all, if 10 Cities was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

It’s the effect of people that bothers me.  Stupidity.  Selfishness.  Greed.  These sorts of human traits are the factors I aim to expunge from my life by keeping people out of it.  My own stupidity could set me stumbling, and I will berate myself endlessly for it when it happens, but at least it’s my own mistake.  When someone else’s idiocy threatens to derail my ambitions, that’s when I start reaching for sharp objects.

“If I’m going to fall on my face, I want it to be because of my own choices.” ~ Me. (I’m paraphrasing)

For the past two years, I was in a relationship with someone who joined me for two of my cities.  This was a mistake.  Not just because it involved bringing someone else into the swirling maelstrom of my life, but because it put me in the position of needing someone.  You can’t live with someone and go through hardships like we faced and not become reliant on them in some manner.  At times, it was financial needs (I was broke at one point, later she was broke).  But more frequently, it was the mental and emotional reliance that proved to be the greatest toll.  And as it turned out, she was not someone to rely on.

The less said about this relationship the better.  It seemed a very romantic notion, once, having a companion to share my life.  It was an error in judgment thinking we would be the right fit, but in all fairness, I doubt the woman (or man) exists who could adequately be my co-pilot (nope, not even Jesus).

I have chosen a life of solitude, and I mean that philosophically and literally.  Not only have I adopted an outlook of social independence, I have set my mind on a life goal that is probably as solitary as one can get while still being surrounded by people.

Am I alone?  I guess that depends on how you define the word.
Lonely?  No.
On my own?  Certainly.
Secluded?  Not at all.

If anything, this 10 Cities project has made me less of an introvert, not more.  By nature, I’m a painfully shy person, but in the past 5 years I’ve kissed and danced with strangers in clubs, asked out girls I barely knew, traveled across the country to meet fellow writers (the worst types of people), and had fairly meaningful friendships with dozens (if not hundreds) of people across this country.  I may not be an extrovert, but the kid who used to sit in the corner of my church’s sanctuary has come a long way.

I will continue to grow and I will meet new people in 5 more cities.  I will do it alone.  Maybe there’s a woman out there for me (maybe I’ve already met her), but I don’t think marriage is for me and I’m quite confident this hypothetical woman doesn’t belong on the road with me.  This is my life, my solitude, and letting another person have a position of influence in it will only undermine my determination. This is for me to do, an island in a vast ocean of islands.

“Mmm, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.” ~ God

The naysayers will say that a life of solitude is lonely, that it’s a sad existence, cut off from real fellowship with people.  Trusting a person, they will say, is how we truly connect with them.  But I’m not espousing the life of a recluse.  Quite the contrary, my life is all about being out in the world, meeting new people, learning about their lives, their dreams, their fears.  But my life is my own, and I will achieve my dreams and overcome my fears on my own.  If I succeed it will be my success.  If I fail, my failure.

If I’m ever drowning and there is someone’s hand outstretched, I’ll grasp it.  But if I can still swim, I’d rather float in the water than coast over it.

“I traveled each and every highway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way” ~ The Chairman

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