I get a kick out of reading advice columns. I basically never relate to the questions, but I take pleasure in the no-nonsense (and sometimes smartass) responses from advice columnists (see, e.g., Carolyn Hax or Dear Prudence).
One of the problems that comes up a lot seems to be women with the “I love my boyfriend, but he won’t marry me” problem. And I find this alarming for a number of reasons: a) that people think they have to get married on a certain timeline or at all, and that they are missing something that will somehow complete them as a person, b) that women feel disenfranchised about getting into an institution that historically disenfranchises them, and c) that marriage isn’t a decision that people come to together as partners, instead allowing the focus to revolve around the spectacle and (often one-sided) event of a proposal and a wedding.
See? Bukowski gets it.
Sometimes I wonder what these women would think about me, because I’m at the age where people start to question why I’m not married or dating or desperate to find a spouse. The thing is, I’m very happy being alone, and the conversation should really just stop there. Nevertheless, sometimes people push, and I feel compelled to explain that finding someone compatible in the typical ways you think about compatibility—attraction, shared values and interests, similar sense of humor—is unlikely.
Even if I could find someone to whom I felt comfortable opening myself to emotionally (I am a rock. I am an island.), I’m too comfortable in my ways, stubborn, and I know myself too well, such that I have a list of deal-breakers that no one will ever stand up against:
I don’t want to write a tribute to J.D. Salinger. I don’t care about his literary merits or his reclusive lifestyle. I’m not good at literary analysis anyway. I just know that I’m a lot like Holden Caulfield.
Even though I’ve grown out of teenage angst, in adulthood I still feel isolated, alienated and like I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do. I see a lot of the social world around me as totally pointless and unmoving, and a good deal of human behavior confuses and bothers me. Being a catcher in the rye sounds just as good to me as anything else.
When it comes down to it, reading The Catcher in the Rye just makes me feel less alone. That, I think, is precisely the point of writing, of music, and of art. Because, really, we’re all alone. Even being able to temporarily connect with someone (or their thoughts) on a non-superficial level is rare. We have to take what we can get.
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” -Holden Caulfield
via J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 22
“When it is darkest, men see the stars.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
– Oscar Wilde
I don’t think it’s coincidental that some of my favorite writers and thinkers have such poignant things to say about the stars. The thing I dislike most about living in the city is not being able to see the stars at night. They’re only a drive away, but it’s not the same as being able to turn off your porch light, step out your front door, and just fall under their spell.
Feeling insignificant is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Feeling your ego dissipate under the expanse of the universe is an irreplaceable experience. There have been times in my life where sitting under the stars was the only thing I could do to feel connected to this world at all. As unintuitive as that may seem.
It seems to me that to feel connected to others, you need to feel alone. It occurs to me sometimes that other people may find this thought to be highly pessimistic, but I don’t think the feeling of being alone is a negative or depressing at all.
In fact, I like the feeling.
It makes me appreciate the connections I am able to have with other people and their creative work.
As always, I find my sentiments have been already properly expressed by others. Another fact that makes me feel a beautiful wash of insignificance and much, much less alone.
“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.”
– Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes)