Lonely Lament

The loneliest number?

Sometimes being single gets old. The tragedy for some lonely is they told the world, “I want to be alone! Go away!” And the world shrugged, listened and did. But the lonely often hope someone sees them enough, and loves them enough, to cross the barrier. (Regrettably, sometimes those who do are drawn for the wrong reasons or are predatory — the lonely can be easy prey.)

This post is a buffer flush of things I’ve written over many years in those moments when the silence and emptiness marked itself. They go back, in some cases, decades. More recently, though, I’ve found the secret to my own happiness and don’t suffer from these feels much anymore!

And I’ve realized (and embraced) that I was always a hermit at heart.

A lot of it is due to retiring and getting out of the rat race. That improved my mood considerably and gave me time to ruminate on my life. At long last, I internalized and came to be peaceful, even happy, with being alone. Beyond that organic need for companions was a realm where one can do what one wants when one wants. No one nags and everything is all yours. It has its advantages, is what I’m saying.

There’s a (rather large) difference between being alone and being lonely. I’ve been alone most of my life — the island supposedly no one is — but I can’t honestly say I’ve been lonely, at least not most of the time. (And it was realizing this that was one key.)

But over the years, before I fully internalized this, there were times of longing, doubt, regret, and angst. Sometimes I vented on paper and later found the words expressed something I didn’t want to just toss. [Sometimes I got a good blog post out of it.]

Which brings me back to those damned piles of notes that infest my life. At some point I realized, oof, I could use a blog for those notes! For a long time, that just added a new pile, my WordPress Drafts folder. The Friday Notes posts are my most recent attempt to reduce these piles (and one that’s finally had a bit of success after first Sidebands and then Brain Bubbles only added to the piles). I’ve also gotten better at kicking posts out of their warm Drafts bed and into the cold world to fend for themselves.

This being one of them. It’s been sitting in my Drafts folder for nearly the entire lifespan of this blog. And since it’s been a while since I had anything to add to it (due to the aforementioned internalization), it’s time to either delete the draft or kick it out the door.

Deleting one’s own words can be one of the hardest tasks for a writer, especially if those words have some significance or sentimentality. So, out the door it is. Here’s a collection of (mostly ancient) bits and pieces from my darker side…

Life, a marry go round, circular, cyclical.
Reaching for the ring, each time I pass.
The ring, named love, snagged many times.

(And no crude metaphor here is meant.
No little ‘o’, nor big ‘O’, oh.
I mean the heart, the mind, above all that.)

But I lose the prize; it slips my grasp.
And ’round again go I.

Single rider and his painted steed,
Paint faded, chipped and aged.

Single rider, I.

Being actually physically alone is one level of loneliness.
Being with people and still feeling alone is a whole new level.
Being with family and still feeling alone is the worst level.

I belong nowhere but to me. No happy endings. No parties. That’s the deal.

Of course, when it comes to love and heartbreak, Jim Steinman (the man behind both Bat Out of Hell albums) often has a tune that zings as good as any Cupid’s anti-arrow:

“Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I’m only falling apart
There’s nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart

“Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there’s only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart”

~~Total Eclipse of the Heart, Jim Steinman, 1983
~~recorded by Bonnie Tyler

The Consequences of an Engineering Mind

The alienating effect of a precise and logical (and educated) mind. The dissonance of judging those we care about, cherish, and love. (Early in high school I learned never to mention, let alone correct, the spelling or grammar of a girlfriend’s love letter.)

That episode of House, M.D. where a disease removes a guy’s social filters has long stayed with me. It raises (not begs — please stop saying begs when you mean raises) the question: Do we all have those thoughts or do some truly not? If not, is it a matter of ignoring them or truly not having them? I can’t fathom the latter at all.

But that’s the point. People like me cannot understand not having those critical feels and assume people who seem not to are suppressing rather than lacking.

Intelligent people analyze. People with social training judge social skills. People with organizational skills judge organization. Etc.

The thing about an engineering mind is that underlying the criticism is a genuine desire to fix or improve things, to make things better (so, why wouldn’t you want your grammar or spelling improved).

So, irony: I tried to get along in so many ways, but always ended up in the wrong. (So, at long last, just stop trying? Is that old age wisdom? Just relax??)

But this inability to grasp the degree to which people don’t appreciate valid criticism (because I do like it when people help me improve even when it stings a bit). It’s given me a vague sense I might be in the foothills of the spectrum. I’m not blind to people’s moods and feelings. It’s more that I think some of them are stupid and wrong. Which, yeah, is a lack on my part, but a gap I’ve never managed to bridge.

Why do trolls and those with Dunning-Kruger Syndrome make me so irritated? Why is it so easy for some people to get under my skin?

Sometimes it involves a sense that I’m not being heard by someone. (Women can probably relate to that.) If one’s ideas and arguments aren’t even heard, there’s no way for them to gain any traction, let alone be persuasive.

That Re-evaluation Counseling, for all its other flaws, did understand the importance people attach to being heard.

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free (2009), by Charlie Pierce. The book and its author aren’t highly regarded (especially in some circles), but I thought his book spoke to an important point: We used to be smarter about crackpots. We listened, because anyone can have a good idea (even Charlie Pierce). After all, who is more likely to have a new idea — conventional thinkers or “unique” thinkers?

In fact, almost every good idea, and ever good bit of art, comes from those who are able to escape the bounds of conventional and traditional thinking.

Instead, the mediocre defend their forts. We do need a healthy conservative viewpoint in society to make sure progressives don’t leap off cliffs (because they’re prone to it), but it’s the progressives and freethinkers who advance society.

Matters of Fact versus Matters of Opinion (MoF v. MoO)

We’ve somehow come to equate opinion with truth. They are not the same. An opinion may be a personal truth, but unless it’s well grounded in physical fact, it’s just an opinion. And considering the general abysmal education level in America, probably a wrong one (factually speaking).

And it sickens and disgusts me that people resort to “Well, it’s just my opinion!” when confronted with contrary facts rather than adjusting that opinion to match reality.

[End of old notes.]

The last two or three, which are more recent than the ones above them, represent something of a shift in viewpoint. My thoughts evolved out of the loneliness I sometimes wrestled with, which is good, but also focused more on the foibles (and let me be blunt: general stupidity) of others. Mainly I’ve come to realize that much of my desire to be alone — my raging misanthropy — traces to my issues with stupidity.

While sometimes attributed to Einstein (who never said anything like it), it was the great theoretical musician Frank Zappa who said:

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.

He more succinctly doubled down on the idea by saying:

There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.

As I’ve said before (more than once), we all take a stupid pill once in a while. The trick is avoid making a steady diet of them. And it’s not a new problem, not at all. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German Lutheran pastor, wrote a piece that for many hits the nail squarely on the head. He wrote, in part:

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

[Emphasis mine.] I can attest to the futility of trying to break through someone’s stupidity. My stupidity is in ever trying.

At this point, I’ve wandered far from the original theme of loneliness, but that’s the point. It isn’t something I struggle with anymore. I value the freedom of being alone. One may be the loneliest number, but it’s also true that “Two can be as bad as one; It’s the loneliest number since the number one.” Divorce and any number of earlier romantic relationships (in fact, all of them) taught me that.

Bottom line on that count is that my own shit is hard enough to deal with. I’ve utterly lost my taste for dealing with anyone else’s. I got books to read, movies to watch, tunes to listen to, and friends to chat with. Romance is overrated.

The secret to happiness is yourself. No one or thing can make you happy. It only comes from within, and much of that comes from learning to take all the beauty and fascination of a journey through life as a conscious being. Part of the trick is learning and embracing who you really are. Even if you’re a little odd or at odds with convention.

Stay strange, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

20 responses to “Lonely Lament

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I’ve put off posting this for years because it’s a bit closer to the bone than most of what I post here. But there have been a few exceptions, and I’ve never had the heart to delete the draft.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    ATTENTION: The WordPress Reader strips the style information from posts, which can destroy certain important formatting elements. If you’re reading this in the Reader, I highly recommend (and urge) you to [A] stop using the Reader and [B] always read blog posts on their website.

    This post is: Lonely Lament

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I should read Idiot America again. I’m betting it seems even more relevant now. Bonhoeffer sure is!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Damn. Now that Three Dog Night tune is stuck in my head…

  • Mark Edward Jabbour

    Lots of meat here, amigo. Which makes it hard to comment – lest my comments take up more space than your post. Really five themes here: 1) loneliness; 2) solo living; 3) stupid people; 4) technology; 5) music.

    #3 There used to be a “stupid tax”, i.e. The Real World. If you were stupid you didn’t live long.
    #4 Technology pretty much took care of that.
    #2 “When winter comes, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”
    #1 Bulwark (motivation) against #2 & #3
    #5 Soothes the soul and brings people together. (Cheers.)

    I’ll sign off with my psych-girl’s fond adieu, “Take care of yourself.”

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It’s always so interesting to me what people take away from a blog post. Art is always a double proposition: what goes into a work and what others take from it. Often very different things! Certainly, the first three of your bullet points are thematic, but I have to ask: where do you see music and technology as themes?

      As far as wolves, there used to be a question that floated around: Do you see yourself as a wolf or a bear? And as much as males tend to want to all be wolves, I realized long ago that I’m more bear than wolf. Not a pack animal but adapted to weathering the winters. 🐻

  • Katherine Wikoff

    The “stupidity” section of this post reminded me of the stable boy in “Black Beauty” getting yelled at because he didn’t properly rub Beauty down or put on a blanket or whatever and thus almost causing serious health issues:

    “Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance? Don’t you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? — and which does the most mischief heaven only knows.”

    I thought that was really unjust, because Joe was a sympathetic character I identified with, but then again Beauty’s life was at stake and ignorance can kill. Although “just” a children’s book, that made a huge impression on me at a young age. The terrible fates of so many of the horses in this novel at the hands of careless, ignorant, and often downright cruel humans was a lesson never forgotten. But my liking for Joe was not in error, and when Beauty ended up under his care again in the end (a ridiculous coincidence of a sort I now recognize as a hallmark of Victorian literature), I felt very gratified, as probably only a child could be, like now everything was going to be okay for both of them.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’ve never read Black Beauty, but I just finished Moby Dick (for the first time), so you never know. I have heard that it’s a sad book, is that right? I’ve always found horses interesting but don’t know much about them.

      The novel certainly predates pastor Bonhoeffer, so it’s pretty interesting to me that again there is the notion of the social significance of ignorance.

      I think it’s good to distinguish between ignorance and stupidity. We all wallow in the former; far more we don’t know than do. And ignorance is generally easier to cure. If Joe’s crime was not knowing any better, then it’s much easier to forgive and find sympathy. So, yeah, certainly no error there. (That said, ignorance often is the root of well-intentioned mistakes.)

      Willful ignorance, on the other hand, that’s what I consider stupid!

  • Katherine Wikoff

    I’ve never read Moby Dick. I have a PhD in English. My friends and I used to play a game in grad school, mainly to pass the time if we were waiting around for something to start, that kind of thing. The game was, basically: What haven’t you read? That enormous whale of a novel (pun intended, ouch) was on just about everyone’s list!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Ha, yeah! I was surprised how long that novel is (1359 pages on my phone). Wiki refers to it as “epic” and “encyclopedic” and indeed it is. Quite a challenge to read, too. So many different writing styles in one book. I kept wondering if it would be published today. (Although publishers do like long novels.)

      I can relate to your grad school game in terms of that sense of there being novels a literate person is “supposed” to have read but which few ever actually do. I tried several times to read it on Gutenberg but each time I put it down after a few chapters and never picked it up again.

      I saw that Apple Books had it for free so grabbed it… and there it sat for a couple years. I’ve had some books I’m waiting on from the library, and thought, gee, maybe I should finally read that Moby Dick. Took some dedication to get through, but it was interesting. Some of it is even riveting.

      Now I’m going to try reading another free Apple Book, Heart of Darkness, which fortunately is much shorter!

  • Mark Edward Jabbour

    Maybe I misused language? Themes could have been Tags or Treads? Loneliness and Poetry turned into some thing about animals and people and books. But of course this is all facilitated by technology. In addition, all stories have themes (music, visuals, words, etc. and so on) to augment their impact.

    So your random notes turned into discourse on wolves, bears, whales, and horses. All of which is metaphor for human behavior regarding what matters. Which is?

    Moby Dick? I tried, when living on the Oregon Coast … so fucking tedious I quit. It’s on my bookshelf of “really bad books”.


    • Wyrd Smythe

      “Theme” is fine. They’re generally a prominent part of the text rather than something like an aside (such as the mention of books, movies, or music at the end of the post) or a postscript (such as the comments I sometimes add to a post — they aren’t really part of the post). Even less related is any back-and-forth in the comments (such as the horses and whales — no real connection to the post there).

      The theme of the post (at least in terms of what I intentionally put into it) is about loneliness (or lack of it) versus being alone (and being fine with that). It segues into a big part of why I prefer being alone (stupid people). Technology isn’t really any part of that in my mind; it’s just the general background of life today. And it operates on both sides of the line: it can be isolating and alienating but can also offer global communities and friendships. It’s how we choose to use and respond to it.

      But all art is an inkblot from which people derive what they bring to it. What the creator puts into it may not be what others take from it.

      FWIW, I think there’s a big difference between a book I didn’t like versus a book that actually is bad. Moby Dick isn’t an easy read, but for all its challenge to the reader, it’s a pretty damn good book (widely considered one of the Great American Novels). Of course, one’s taste in art is entirely personal. Mine evolves constantly!

  • lucynlopez

    About 10 years ago I looked up the top 100 books of all time, there were a lot of them that I had read, but the number one book on several list was Ulysses by James Joyce. It is hands down the most boring book of all times (my opinion). Then I see that there is a movie made of the book, could only take half an hour of it. Still boring. All the rest of the other 99 were pretty good read including Moby Dick.

    As for being lonely only when I think of my mother, sister’s and borther’s that have died, then I get sad and lonely.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Ha, yeah, I’ve never had the desire to even try Ulysses. Nothing I’ve heard about it made it sound like anything other than a challenge, and I’ve never been a huge fan of stream-of-consciousness writing. It seems to be among those books of great interest to writers and literary analysts, but which don’t have much appeal outside those circles. Moby Dick at least was a great adventure and takes the reader inside what whaling was like back then. (That said, pretty horrific and made me even more opposed to whaling.)

      I can relate to that sense of feeling lonely. Both my parents are gone, which leaves a hole. Hell, even remembering my dog, Sam(antha), can make me feel one of those moments. She was the only living creature (outside my immediate family) that shared my life for any length of time (eleven years).

  • Mark Edward Jabbour

    Hey, just wanted to clarify about bad books. I looked at my Goodreads bookshelves and there is almost no overlap with “really bad books” and “did not finish”. Moby Dick is on the later. Most of the former I finish.

    Few of either do I own.

  • diotimasladder

    I think we all judge each other and criticize each other in secret. For me the hard part isn’t keeping my criticisms to myself—I’m rather good at that with most people, though my husband might not agree :)—but tactfully communicating them. I tend to keep things to myself until I just can’t anymore, then it comes out in the worst way possible.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      See, I think the same thing, but I’ve known people who, as far as I could tell, seemed to lack any critical bones — they always seemed to see the good in someone or something. And, as with people who claim to have no inner voice, I can’t help but think they’re deluded or suppressed or just not in touch with themselves. But, but, but! Is that just because of how my mind works, and I can’t conceive of anyone else’s mind working that differently? A question I’ve struggled with for decades.

      Totally with you on the difficulty of tactfully expressing criticism. One of my many failings as a person, and I don’t have your facility with keeping my mouth shut. It took a long time to finally learn that, no, everyone does not benefit from my opinion. I’ve had to stop following blogs because of the juxtaposition between my critical facilities (which apparently are considerable) and not being able to keep my online mouth shut. (And the painful awareness my opinion wasn’t valued.)

      • diotimasladder

        I know the kind of person you’re talking about. I don’t know what to think about them, but I imagine they’re just trying really really hard not to be critical. That said, it does seem to come naturally for them. Maybe they suppress critical thoughts from themselves? Quash ’em as they come? Like whack a mole? I dunno. It’s a baffling thing to wrap my judge-y mind around!

        My father was a massive, massive loudmouth, whereas my mother was more private (but still Asian, meaning she’d have no problem saying, for instance, “You’re fat, you need to exercise,” but only if she considers you a good friend). Growing up with these two, I got to witness the consequences of each tactic first hand. There are definitely benefits to voicing your opinion…in moderation.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, it’s a puzzler. Nice to think there are people “without a bad thought in their head,” but hard to believe. Those who seem to accomplish it almost make me envious sometimes. I’m utterly unable to shut off the “yeah, but” part of my mind or that need to correct what seem like errors to me. Great way to be when writing code (or any type of engineering), but not so great when it comes to making others comfortable around you.

        I know what you mean. Seems like every human mode of being has pros and cons. My folks were both very gentle people, so I never learned to be comfortable expressing criticisms with intimates. That’s one place where, as you mentioned, I suppress myself, pressure builds, and then something triggers an inappropriate outburst. Not helped by too many fragile relationships where I didn’t trust the outcome of expressing issues. One of the upsides of deciding to forego all that relationship stuff: none of those difficulties and life is much calmer.

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