I have been thinking a lot lately about Uemura Naomi.
Uemura is considered the first person to reach the North Pole by himself, to raft down the Amazon by himself, and to climb Denali by himself.
He was part of a community of adventurers, of climbers, but he did many of his excursions alone. He wrote, in what’s become his most famous quote: “In all the splendor of solitude… it is a test of myself, and one thing I loathe is to have to test myself in front of other people.”
Uemura disappeared in 1984 while climbing Denali in the winter. We know he reached the summit, but his radio signal was lost on the descent. Normally a search party would have been sent sooner, but the community of climbers who knew him felt it would be disrespectful to do so. His body has never been found.
 I am both anti-social and introverted.
What I am not is shy, and I think this makes for an odd combination that other people find hard to understand. Sometimes I think I’m probably a high-functioning sociopath. I have very little brain-to-mouth filter in social situations, and although I can be charming when I have to be, I’m usually the first one to make a lewd joke or to say something completely off-the-wall.
It’s not disingenuous. I’m not faking a persona. I take very few things seriously, and irreverence makes life interesting sometimes. It’s just that if you want superficial, I’ll give you superficial.
One of the reasons why I have a hard time with social interaction is because I very rarely experience it as genuine. People are rarely interested in who you are.
You see people, you size them up, you judge them, you categorize them, you determine what you want from them and whether or not you think you can get it.
That’s just how people are. It’s what we do. It’s what I do. Most of the time we use people as means, and that’s okay. I’ve grown accustomed to my students staring blankly at me waiting for me to convey information. To cashiers trying to hurry me along and looking right through me. To being seen as nothing but a gender. To being leered at and objectified.
All of these interactions are the same.
It’s all a performance.
It’s all surface.
I have to say a word about solitude
For the soul it sometimes they say can be good
And I’m partial to it myself, well I must confess
Nobody knows the meaning of loneliness
~Van Morrison in “Meaning of Loneliness”
“It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
“Only in solitude do we find ourselves; and in finding ourselves we find in ourselves all our brothers in solitude.”
~Miguel de Unamuno
“Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
“A truly happy being is a solitary being.”
~Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Emile
“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)