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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Poignant loneliness

Today, on the bus, I experienced profound sadness. Well, actually, it was as I exited the bus that it hit me.

I was on my way home from working in a cafe...I had to leave early because like an idiot, I left my ac adapter at home...when it happened. I was minding my own business, reading  a C# programming book when a a 20-something Asian guy got on. He spotted my book and immediately launched into conversation. He told me that he was a CSS/HTML developer (Web Developer for the un-geeked) and he told me that he was a Junior, then a Sophomore, than a Freshman...when I laughed about his indecision, he explained that he had 2-3 years under his belt, but only 10 units.

"You're a freshman," I told him.

He asked what I did. I told him. He kinda understood. I think. And before I knew it, we were at my stop. I pulled the stop cord, got up, told him "Good luck", and exited the bus. As I stepped down onto the sidewalk, he was there at the doorway, and he said, loudly, so all could hear:

"How do I get in touch with you?"

I turned, my mouth probably stupidly open, not really knowing what to say or do. Just before the door closed I said,

"My Web site: cliffbrooks.com"

"What?" he said.

"C-L-I-FF-B-R-O-O-K-S dot com"

And the door closed and the bus was off.

Now most people probably wouldn't have answered, or shrugged, or acted like they didn't hear and just kept walking. The normal thing to do in such a situation, I guess.

I couldn't. The desperation and the oddness of it got to me. I don't for a minute think I'll hear from him again as I don't believe he will remember the address, or whether or not he even got the spelling, but that's not the point. He needed a human connection. I'm a human. I have a duty.

And maybe it's also because I know loneliness. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel it all that often, but I do feel it. But if I'm honest with you, and I see no reason not to be, mine is a self-imposed loneliness, and I probably don't feel it that much more than the next guy.

You see, I'm a loner. Through and through. Living alone is not only a choice, it's pretty much a necessity. It's how I thrive. Okay, that said, many of you probably find this at odds with my gregarious nature. That, my friends, is an uncomfortable facade. It's me being the person I think I'm expected to be. The person, at times in my life, I wanted to be. That's not to say that there's not a lot of me there, because if you maintain the facade long enough and fiercely enough, it becomes a part of you. And that's not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. I find that I talk way too much about nothing, because, you see, if I let the conversation lapse, the real me might come out. And I'll just shut up. And listen.

Sigh. So in a nutshell, as strange as the encounter was, right or wrong, I couldn't let my silence or the way things are get in the way. Whoever this guy is, I hope he finds someone out there to listen to him, to understand, and to fill some of that empty space he feels. Or just someone to talk to on the bus every now and again.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm a loner myself, but the primary times I've felt "alone" is when I'm with others. by myself, I never feel lonely because I have so much that I want to do and read and write and think. I am glad that I have Lana, though. I'm sure I'd experience genuine loneliness if I didn't.

Clifford said...


Thanks for sharing that. There's a lot of us out there...and a lot of us happen to be creative folks. There's an AMAZING book: Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto, that deals with people who find solace in their own company. It was a revelation to me, and made the niggling doubts vanish. I think, after discovering that book, for the first time in my life I not only turly accepted that part of my personality, but embraced it.

Clifford said...


I just needed to make a comment about how astute your observation was about feeling alone when you're with other people. I so can relate...in fact, the lonliest place in the world, for me, is a party.

calendula-witch said...

I love to be alone, because that's when I feel truly me. As you know, I'm totally gregarious and surround myself with people--and a wonderful spouse--lots of friends, groups, etc...but I feel, as you do, that all that aggregation of people is just a cover, is what we're supposed to do. I mean, I enjoy social activity a whole lot, but it also sort of winds me up, makes me into someone I'm not, really. When I'm alone...writing, reading, listening to music, just being alone in the house...that's the best.

I don't get nearly enough of that.

Clifford said...


I think you and Charles are perfect examples of of one of the misunderstandings loners have to deal with: being a loner does not mean you're aloof or a misanthrope. I too love the groups and the people in my life. But to be any good, to be able to be there for those people, I need space for myself. It's like being on a plane, where the steward/ess explains how if traveling with g child or someone who needs help, you must put your oxygen mask on first. My alone time is my oxygen mask.

Clifford said...
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Clifford said...
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Carlos Ferrao said...

You must draw a line between loneliness and being alone. The vast majority of people like being alone ever so often, if for nothing else, to be able to rest; to shut external communication so the internal kind can occur.

Loneliness however, and its sadness, is one of the biggest problems of our society. It seems the more people we have to communicate (greater population density) and the more ways we have to communicate (technology) all conspire to separate people. Maybe it's because we're always so busy to pay attention to other people. Instead we just catalogue them according them to categories (age, race, sex, job and a quality like geek, loner, slutty, soccer mom, whatever) because we don't have the time nor the altruism to do anything else.
People are endlessly interesting, but they take time to get to know. We hardly want to know ourselves...

Clifford said...


I'm still on the fence about technologies place in all this. It's funny, I live near a university, so the expereince may be skewed, but I've been on the bus where it seems like 75 percent of the people are wearing iPODS, effectively blocking out the rest of the riders. On the other hand, like this instance, I've been pulled into conversation with strangers on the bus, but that's definitely the exception rather than the rule. Yes, we throw people into categories as a way of dealing, and it's a shame, but I don't know the solution. Hmm...this is leading me to another post...

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.