I’m myself because I don’t have a choice. I’m not imaginative enough to devise a different person that I might be, and if I ever try, it quickly becomes too painful to continue.
As much as I can be, I’m also myself through my creative ventures—the fiction, podcast and blog—which are very much extensions of who I am. For me to be me and for my work to be mine, it has to seem organic and straightforward to me. It doesn’t often seem to be to other people, but I’m not in control of that, so it’s not my concern.
In general, people enjoy the familiar, the categorizable. They would batter out of you those parts that fit the mould the least. Those parts impede the goals, comfort and apparent joy of others. But do you exist to keep the peace, to make other people happy at the expense of yourself? The point of you isn’t to facilitate, butt out, offer fake smiles, laugh at unfunny jokes—no matter the deleterious effect on “the peace” or the GDP per capita. You don’t exist to make others comfortable—especially if you’re an artist of some kind.
I know why we maintain comfort. We think we’ll feel lonelier if we don’t. I ask us both: Did it work?
Humans are scared of loneliness and discomfort, and for good reason, but we must accept them to some degree. Having held onto friendships for many years, and having been married for a good while now, I can safely conclude that no two people will ever harmonise continuously. They may for a brief time, but the feeling will fade and must be sought again. If two people can’t maintain harmony, a group certainly can’t. We cannot create a perfect system that socializes us 24/7. That means life, to some extent, is lonely for everyone. At least sometimes.
Life is lonely for everyone. It’s lonelier for interesting people, because there are very few of those, so they have less people to whom they can relate, and their local environments feel much more foreign.
I was in London two weekends ago. Sometimes I think that Oslo, where I live now, is inopportune for fiction writing, because I overhear so little, and I feel a little disconnected from the city around me. However, a weekend in London reminded me that the background radiation of stupidity of a sufficiently big population is just as, if not more, killer to creativity and general mind tranquility.
Here’s a genuine, GENUINE conversation I overheard on the train:
Woman 1: Did you see the new John Lewis advert?
First of all, what would you say to that if someone asked you that? Honestly? Have you ever heard such a bizarre conversation starter ever?
They were just getting started.
Woman 2: I did, but I prefer the Marks & Spencer advert.
Jesus Christ! Did you see that coming?
Woman 2 (contd): In fact, I tweeted the new Marks & Spencer advert at John Lewis and I wrote, “Hey John Lewis, Marks & Spencer have their Christmas advert out—where’s yours?”
I mean, what the actual fuck.
Maybe you think it’s mean of me to tear apart the conversation of complete strangers. Hey: Londoners are perfectly capable of talking at a non-intrusive volume if they wish (are they though?)
It is often the case that conversations like this that I’ve overheard (well, not exactly like this—this was one of a kind) have been the loudest. This is likely a Dunning-Kruger effect phenomenon.
I bet you have a few examples of this yourself. And if you were this type of person, can you imagine how many friends you’d have? So many! Is that a trade-off you’d willingly accept? To be less lonely but sound like that?
Life is lonely for everyone. Life is lonelier for intelligent and/or interesting people. Not only can they relate to few people, but when they meet people who get them, there’s a real bittersweetness to it: they remember how numb they’ve become to life around them when it becomes interesting again for this brief moment; they beat themselves up for not actively seeking more interesting people more often; they resent the amount of time wasted trying to cultivate friendships with people that weren’t worth it or trying to change themselves to be what others wanted of them; finally, typically independent-ideative, they lament how much they are going to have to rely on this new interesting person now that they have found them.
However: life is loneliest for intelligent and/or interesting people who try to be anything else. If they convince anyone with their conforming act, they are selling a person to other people who isn’t them. This also makes them further from who they are, which is another type of loneliness.
I wish you weren’t lonely at all. I do what’s within my power to mitigate it by writing uncomfortable things to comfort the disturbed (this post probably counts) and by providing original conversations on my podcast for people, like me, who have trouble finding enough interesting people in their vicinity. Unfortunately, some loneliness is an innate function of the universe in which we live. Your loneliness cannot be expunged. It can be minimized, yes—not by conforming, but by being yourself. This means that you’ll be lonelier than idiots, but idiocy too is an innate function of the universe. No perfect, interesting civilization exists—so you can drop that fantasy. I promise you that it’s very unlikely that everyone is enjoying themselves at some more interesting, more intelligent party without you (but if you get the invite or find out where it is, please tell me.)
You can find harmony in the sweet spot of acceptability between loneliness and authenticity. You can, through some effort, create your own global community of interesting people.
I’m pretty sure I wrote something about this before, but still: here are a few indicators of your success at being authentic:
- Being told by someone, accusatorily, that they don’t know anyone like you. (I’d tell you to be wary of this person, but you’d probably picked up on that already. I imagine this happening to you when you’ve been so bored by pretending not to be bored that you thought, “Fuck it: I’ll just say what I’m actually thinking for once.” These are the wonderful days when you emerge from a beige chrysalis into a new you!)
- Being persistently questioned and belittled for months about something you’ve done to improve yourself—quitting drinking, learning a new language, reading more—until the belittler proudly reports to you that they too have taken up whatever activity it is. (Greaaat…. #DontCare)
- The sound of nervous laughter. It’s now one of my favourite sounds. It’s Hare Krishna himself using the mouths of his creation to let me know that I’m doing what I was meant to do: keep everything in flux.
I heard an expression I liked recently: when you heal, the sick get angry. Blandness, superficiality and idiocy are pandemics.
I hope you feel a bit more empowered by this post, but I know you have the power within you to be yourself. If you’re anything like me, anyone else isn’t a choice, and I wouldn’t have it any other way for either of us 🙂