Aloneness affords us a chance to do things with our brains that we are far too busy to do otherwise; it examines and pokes and prods and essentially does a lot of inner housekeeping. It is necessary, but it’s not often wanted. We like to keep our brains dirty to cover up whatever might be hiding on the inside.
And so, most people don’t really like to be alone very much. The trick is you gotta let it happen on your own terms.
My favorite brand of aloneness (and I have a range of preferred kinds) is to be alone in a public place. It can’t be too crowded – I need the illusion of space – but it needs to be a place where other people’s voices act as background noise. I was at one of my favorite bars on Saturday night when some plans went mildly awry and my friends had to leave me to my own devices. I had a burger and I had a beer and I had a book I was dying to finish, and for a little while it turned out to be exactly what I needed.
There is magic in losing yourself in the white noise of strangers: in listening to girls nitpick each other’s faults and know they’re not your problem, in listening to dudes discuss tour routings endlessly and aimlessly, in eating french fries alone and licking your fingers while believing no one is watching. The funny thing about being alone is that you are alone until you’re not, and I took it as my cue to leave when the tour routing conversation got loud enough for me to understand it was the passive-agressive band dude signal for hitting on me.
Today, alone, on a train home from the beach, something clicked in my brain and I understood a couple of things that have been lying, overwhelming and underserved, in the recesses of my mind for weeks. I’d been actively trying to dislodge them, to be honest; I knew something wasn’t quite right, but I also felt reliant on others to help me sort them out. We drank beers in the park, we brainstormed on the beach, and we sent text message missives into the ether trying to get to the bottom of something I essentially invented all on my own.
All on my own, I got there. It felt good. I went for a run, which felt better, and I thought about the last time I’d gotten myself unstuck, which means I thought again (always) about William James.
Wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to him who lives it, there the life becomes genuinely significant. Sometimes the eagerness is more knit up with the motor activities, sometimes with the perceptions, sometimes with the imagination, sometimes with reflective thought. But, wherever it is found, there is the zest, the tingle, the excitement of reality; and there is “importance” in the only real and positive sense importance ever anywhere can be.
Sometimes the eagerness is a thing you forgot about and found on a train from Long Beach on a Sunday afternoon after a couple of margaritas.