Today, I woke up pretty sad.
I miss my family so much and the monotony of the real world is beginning to feel suffocating.
Especially the absurdity of the system we’ve created and how we make people spend their time and energy when there is a limited amount of both.
But I’m not sure that this sadness is contingent on that:
Last night, I was doing a live on TikTok. I do them when I get excited about something, but more often when I’m feeling a little lonely. It was about 4 a.m. Someone I’d dated for a little called me, wanting to take a car over to have a drink. I said yes, and then I promptly said no, because I wanted to sit alone.
There’s this Flaubert quote, I think, that says something like “I want to be alone to think about love.”
Well I wanted to sit alone and think about loneliness. I was in denial about it, but I think that’s what I wanted to do.
And so, someone on the live mentioned the Gulenki cognitive styles, which I know very little about, but am intrigued. And I think I skew toward “Mentor-Visualizer.” Especially because of this section:
“He spends a lot of time alone, reading books from rare authors or listening to music. At such moments he conjures visions, pictures of unusual events or archetypal characters. He often suffers from recurring depression or panic attacks. Something attracts him to the dark side of life.”
I spent a lot of time alone as a kid. I don’t really know why. Even when I was with others, I wasn’t. I did ballet for fifteen years. For most of them, I would sit in my own little corner of the dressing room while everyone else chatted and got ready. When I did join in, I’d feel proud of myself in my head. It wasn’t natural for me. I would bring a book sometimes, until I figured out that my mind would wander during class and I couldn’t really achieve any sort of flow state if I had read.
And I miss ballet so much. Ballet is this sort of all-consuming flow state — mind, and body, and heart. You don’t really think about anything else. And now I’m left with writing. Which is just mind, and mind, and mind. I don’t know if I like writing sometimes. I don’t know if I want to be a writer sometimes. It’s so lonely and isolating. Especially the type of writing I do. My friends can go to a coffee shop and write together and talk about their work, smiling. I feel so insecure when I write next to someone that I know. I’m growing more and more accustomed to writing in complete solitude. I even get nervous looking out of the window by my desk, wondering if the building across criticizes the way that I’m hunched over a legal pad (fiction), or my keyboard (substack).
And no one wants to be written about. I was asking someone if they didn’t mind being written about for the dating column (It is what it Is), and they wanted to make sure that it would be “nice,” first. I said “I would be fair.” I think the best art is humiliatingly honest. I think honesty is fair. I think people are anxious about being written about as well, because it’s completely up to one person’s perception. You can only come up with the words in your own head, and when someone reads it, they can only hear it in theirs.
Sometimes I feel like writing is insanity. I worry that I feel the worst when I write my best. What if I wasn’t a writer. I’m jealous of photographers.
When I woke up today, feeling awful and missing my family, I went to the Whitney. I thought if I was going to be with myself to think about loneliness, I might as well do it at an art museum. And I went alone and went up to the third floor and the first painting that I saw was by Robert Henri. And that felt like a sign, because I’m reading his book, The Art Spirit right now and he says the following about art and loneliness:
“You have to make up your mind to be alone in many ways. We like sympathy and we like to be in company. It is easier than going it alone. But alone one gets acquainted with himself, grows up and on, not stopping with the crowd. It costs to do this. If you succeed somewhat you may have to pay for it as well as enjoy it all your life.”(17)
So I wonder if my sort of loneliness is innate. If it’s just something I was born with, like the color of my eyes or the way I laugh ( I don’t know if we’re born with laughs but let’s go with it). And I looked at the Robert Henri painting and took it as a sign that even though a lot of things hurt right now, this is where I am supposed to be. I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.
And as I looked at the different exhibits, I thought about photographers. I’ve met a lot of photographers here, especially ones that work parties. And, at the Whitney, I was thinking about how nice it must be to be a photographer. To capture the external world. People want to be around you, people want to see themselves in a photo. In a photo, you have a better sense — even before its creation — of how you will be portrayed. I wonder if photographers get lonely. Or if their loneliness is easier to bear.
As I walked by Is it Real? Yes it is! by Juanita McNeely, a man was taking a photo. I did an awkward little duck-by and apologized. He laughed. I laughed. I stood at the corner of the room to look at the painting. He came up to me. Started explaining himself, how he had taken a picture of me, a picture before the one I’d tried to duck by. He was an older man with some European accent. It was sweet. He showed me a photograph of myself in front of Willem de Koonings Door to the River.
“You’re framed so well,” he said, “It’s like you’re a part of the exhibit.”
It felt special to be photographed.
It is terrifying to be written about.
I took a break from writing recently. Just a little one, like a week or so. And I wrote a little song, a little procrastination song. And I’m honestly insecure about it. I think because I feel like I don’t have the authority in music that I do in writing. I grew up playing piano and the drums and taking voice lessons, but I think I just had too much rejection and not enough persistence too young. I auditioned for my middle school’s rock band in seventh grade. My voice was “too soft.” I auditioned for Annie in eighth (?) grade. I forgot all of the lyrics and cried in the bathroom stall. They still gave me Tessie, the whiny orphan. Because my voice was soft.
So I was never proud of anything within music, really. But I love music, I always have. I always write to music. I’ve been writing to Car Seat Headrest for months. It’s funny because I was introduced to them a while ago through a think piece that Will Toledo wrote on The Life of Pablo and The Brothers Karamazov. My ex showed it to me. I didn’t read it when he showed it to me, I read it right before or soon after we broke up (I can’t remember). We both had a lot of pride about some artistic stuff. Could never admit that the other’s interest in something was earnest. And it’s funny because Car Seat Headrest is not my ex’s type of music at all. But when you listen to the lyrics, they’re very Dostoevskian in the sense that they wrestle with the human condition. They get at this inescapable guilt. You can tell that Will Toledo is the type of person who’s felt lonely since he was a kid. Like me. I became properly a fan when I stumbled across his 13-minute song “Beach Life-in-Death,” a few months ago when I woke feeling particularly awful and alone one morning.
But his loneliness gave way to five albums created by him and him alone in the privacy of cars and bedrooms. And it’s beautiful.
So that makes me feel a little better about taking a stab at music again. It’s a different type of loneliness. And I’m hoping it will be lighter than writing.
And I’m still going to write, to write lots, but I need breaks, I need other outlets. Because when I get too in my head (and often when I’m writing my best), I feel like I’m going insane. And the stuff that I’m reading — Hofstadter, Zamyatin, Henri — has me asking these big questions all the time. Questions like — is anyone else even real. Am I real? And the other day, I was crossing the sidewalk and this woman in front of me stopped and did a twirl like it was choreographed, and I thought — oh great, it is all really fake, isn’t it. And I was waiting for the set to fall away. And when I get really in my head like that, I feel like I’m going to come home one day and find all these screens — like those multi-media exhibits — hung around my apartment playing every second of my life back to me. Like I’m going to get director’s notes.
Or they’re going to kick me off the project and bring someone else in. A real star. Someone who never forgets their lines.
And that is why I went to the Whitney. And on the way home, I saw so many sunflowers. I’ve clung to them as a symbol of home, because you find full fields of them in Kansas. I listened to Car Seat Headrest. I saw sunflowers on the Highline. On the tote bag of a woman in front of me. In the window exhibit of a shop. And I took this as a sign that I’m doing okay. That the audience doesn’t hate me, that maybe I can read the reviews without withering away. And I thought about the sunflower I couldn’t keep alive that was on my windowsill.
So much of writing is observing. And observing is dissociative. It takes you out of something. You have to do so much living in your own head. But maybe I can try to live a little closer to the real world. My airpods are broken, so I got wired headphones again. And I like being able to hear the context of the world. The laughs that go with the smiles. It adds to the music.
So, I am still writing.
I am still going to write, but I need breaks and I need to be patient.
So, when I don’t want to write, I think I’m going to keep dabbling in music. In the privacy of my bedroom. Softly, late at night.
Tomorrow, I will stick to the script. But when I get home, I am going to hunker down and make art, even if it requires being alone. I can come up for air.
And now, I am going to call my father. And in a few hours or so, I will go to sleep.
I feel much better than this morning. That’s one thing I love about writing, I always feel better after.
When I wake up tomorrow, even if the monotony kicks in, I always have my own mind. I always have my own mind. And the loneliness can be poignant. And even just in the privacy of my own mind, I am still living a life.
And I want to make it beautiful, even if I have to do it alone.