On the Surrealism of Solitude

Hello? Is anyone out there?

These are the questions that have been percolating in my head over the last few weeks. Ever since I started to buckle down to the task of establishing a home-based career (or sets of careers, to be honest), I’ve felt as if the world has dwindled down from six billion people to just six.

That this fact has been nagging me takes me by surprise. I’ve always thought of myself as a born introvert (the extroversion was a belatedly learned behavior) and I usually find socializing in larger-than-intimate groups exhausting. I’m helpless when it comes to small talk, resent taxi drivers who won’t permit me to daydream, and enjoy the intimacies of correspondence precisely because it allows for lulls.

But perhaps even introverts, in this all-too-crowded age with its all-too-crowded cities, have become accustomed to the constant background radiation emitted by millions of fellow souls. As much as I enjoyed my past solitudes, I realize now upon looking back that it was a never an authentic loneliness. There was always a crowd around me, a constant stream of friends, relatives, acquaintances, peers, colleagues, mentors, bosses, subordinates, clients and students. I always needed an occasional retreat from the onslaught—a moment to inhale a suffocated breath—but the point is that there was something to retreat from.

Which is no longer the case now. After years of a synthetic solitude, I finally have the silence and stability I craved for so long.

Yet while it’s been welcome, it’s also been deeply unsettling. I feel as if I’ve dropped away from the world—that I’ve become faceless and voiceless and insubstantial even to myself (an indicator of how much of my “self” was molded by other people’s impressions—impressions they relayed back to me constantly through a million subtle signs and gestures). There are nights when I feel that my days are unreal, my reality unmoored by its lack of reference to a network of many others. Not surprisingly my recent dreams have been uncharacteristically vivid; the barriers between my waking and dreaming worlds have become increasingly permeable.

It’s likely of course that this is a temporary state of affairs—temporary not in the sense that my circumstances will change but in the sense that I’ll simply adapt. I’ve been through too many of these changes not to recognize the discomfort and the disorientation. The symptoms will persist, but not for much longer.


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