Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Politics of Loneliness

People tease me about my office, especially my desk. Both are an absolute mess. In fact, my desk has almost ceased to function as a desk; it has, instead, become simply a place where I stack my stuff. Then the stacks eventually fall over, and I just seek out a new surface on which to start a new stack.

But there is one corner of my office and my desk that is clean and absence of the ubiquitous clutter. That corner is reserved for my friend, my colleague, who has an office just next to mine. When I am here, she is usually here too there in her corner, reading, checking papers, on her laptop.

Sometimes we chat. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we discuss books we’ve read. Sometimes we get all deep in discussing the problems and questions that have vexed mankind since the beginning of time. But mostly we just sit, each oblivious to the presence of the other, as we work on our respective tasks.

She is sitting there now, composing some document on her laptop. She looks up. She sees me looking over the top of my glasses in her general direction. And she smiles. I smile back. And we go back to work. I try to decide rather or not to let her read this once I finish, or should I just let her wait until morning when she will surely read it on the blog. I decide on the former. Some people don’t like surprises.

But she is always here because she says she hates to be alone; she hates to be lonely. She says her office is so small that the walls sometimes seem to close in around her. However, my office is no bigger. And with the clutter, with the books and the papers stacked everywhere, it is even smaller.

Nevertheless, this is where she spends her day when she is not in class. Or across the hall in some else’s office. Or down the hall in yet another person’s office. But mostly in here because the others get annoyed by her constant presence. They whisper that she is clingy. They whisper that she is a bit kooky. But I don’t mind; I actually enjoy her company.

Usually we eat lunch together too, and most of the time she pays. I don’t have the disposal income a single person without kids does, so I can’t afford to eat out every day. However, she says she doesn’t mind paying because the one thing she hates most in the world is to eat alone. She calls it her lonely tax. Yet, I still feel just a tad bit guilty for allowing her to spend so much feeding me day in and day out. But she insists.

Also, since I have known her she has had a succession of live-in boyfriends and girlfriends. The relationships never seem to work out. But such hastily entered arrangements usually do, and I gently chide her, scold her, about this even though it probably isn’t my business, but I think someone should say something. She rebuts by saying that I don’t know what being alone feels like; I don’t know how it feels to be lonely.

But I remind her that I have not always been married, that I have not always had children. I attempt to sell her on the virtues of being all by oneself. I tell her about the pleasure I get from sitting in the dark, in the silence, communicating with my muse. I tell her about the time I spend with myself, those introspective moments when I attempt to know myself better. I tell her how empowering it feels to communicate completely and honestly with oneself.

I tell her about the day I sat alone in the dark, listening to the sound of the rain on the roof, and listening to my heartbeat, and listening to the sound of the rain on the roof, and listening to my heartbeat, and back to the rain on the roof, and back to my heartbeat, until at some point I thought the two—the steady staccato of the rain and the thump-thump, thump-thump of my heart—actually synched up, and I imagined myself to be one with the universe, and I spent the evening writing and writing and writing as fast as the words could come, as fast as the metaphors and similes and images could form.

She laughs out loud and says that for a black man I sometimes say some corny shit. There is a silence. I ask her if she loves herself. Of course, she says of course, but she hesitates just a bit too long, so I don’t believe her.

And then I get to the end of the post, and debate whether to show it to her now or wait until later. She has always enjoyed what I have written; she has always insisted that I am a gifted writer and just as she is afraid to be alone, I am afraid to be successful because if I was not, I would not spend so much time doing it only to hide it away.

But I have never written anything about her, so I don’t know how she will react. Not only that she may be mad, or she may be upset, or she may be hurt, and she might just get up and leave. And I glance around at the clutter and her in her spot, and realize that at this very moment, I really don’t want to be alone.


credo said...

I am wondering if there is an age difference between the two of you. I found that alot of folks do not like being alone..they see it as a sign of loneliness or others do not like them.

Are there issues of abandonment? Do women have to fill the void abandonment by always having someone around to prove that they are loveable?

ProfGeo said...

And here I thought it was going to be about loneliness due to your overcrowded desk. Stack away, Max! It's common enough. CEOs have people who take care of that for them, the rest of us don't.

Credo brings up a point about the difference between being alone (solitude) and loneliness. Some people are fine on their own, some seem to need the constant presence of others. I'm personally on a sine curve, good for a few days alone but then I need to socialize. We insist on categorizing people in any case-- at one end they're called hermits and at the other end they're called "clingy." Neither is 100% right.

Max, one suggestion for you: Reconsider the "lonely tax" lunch thing. Figure out how to make that more fair financially. It may mean bringing in food to share.

Redbonegirl97 said...

Wow, I would never get that feeling from you.


credo said...

I agree with your comments about being alone and seeking others after a few days. I too believe the lunch tax should be revisited. My suggestion, that the sista pack picnic lunches.

joe said...

Be careful, office friendships can easily turn into something more.. just sayin'..

Denisha said...

I love the part about listening to the rain and then your heartbeat (maybe I'm weird ) I love when things are silent and you have the luxury of listening to those small sounds we ignore.

I have always loved being alone but it intensified when I got married & had kids later on. Maybe she will miss it (or understand it) when she no longer has it (or must plan it)?

I was thinking the same thing abt office romances but I'm sure if it was anything more you would not have written about it.

udee said...

For some reason, this post resonates with me: lonely vs. being alone. And I don't think women alone have abandonment issues ... men simply express it differently, lest we gender-fy a common human situation

Anonymous said...

If you're desperate to around people, they will leave you alone.

msladydeborah said...

I am the only child of an only child-being alone is very comfortable to my sense of self. I have friends who cannot stand to be alone. They forge relationships with others even if it is less than adequate. Which I just do not have the heart to do.

There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. But I have found over the years that having someone or a crowd of people around does not necessarily negate the feeling of loneliness. Sometimes it just magnifies those feelings.

RainaHavock said...

though I like to be alone I can't stand eating out alone or going to certain places by myself because then I get so bored and a little frustrated.

Kandia said...

When I'm constantly in the presence of others I need time alone to recharge. I've been told to stop being so anti-social because I like to go off by myself on my's the one hour of the work day I can find a little quiet time.

Anna Renee said...


Max Reddick said...


I was trying to send you an email, but I could not find your contact information on your site.

rainwriter jones said...

And here I am blindly waving my cursor...trying to find the "comment" button.

Funny how some folks can be lonely in a room full of people? Lonliness, indeed, is a state of mind. I find myself alone...but never lonely.

joe said...

So Max, not to get off-topic, but your profile says you live in "Chocolate City". You live in Hershey Pennsylvania??

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