Showing posts tagged loneliness
Dorothy Day (1897–1980)
“I can write only of myself, what I know of myself, and I pray with St. Augustine, ‘Lord, that I may know myself, in order to know Thee.’ [ … ] I do feel … that I have a right to give an account of myself, a reason for the faith that is in me. But I have not that right to discuss others. Just the same, if I have slighted anyone, if I have failed to give credit where credit is due, if I have neglected some aspects of the work in stressing others, I beg pardon of my readers. I am a journalist, not a biographer, not a book writer. The sustained effort of writing, of putting pen to paper so many hours a day when there are human beings around who need me, when there is sickness, and hunger, and sorrow, is a harrowingly painful job. I feel that I have done nothing well. But I have done what I could.”
— from “Confession,” the first chapter of The Long Loneliness
(Photograph by John Orris [1921–2002].  Thank you, Laura Wood and The New York Times.)

Dorothy Day (1897–1980)

“I can write only of myself, what I know of myself, and I pray with St. Augustine, ‘Lord, that I may know myself, in order to know Thee.’ [ … ] I do feel … that I have a right to give an account of myself, a reason for the faith that is in me. But I have not that right to discuss others. Just the same, if I have slighted anyone, if I have failed to give credit where credit is due, if I have neglected some aspects of the work in stressing others, I beg pardon of my readers. I am a journalist, not a biographer, not a book writer. The sustained effort of writing, of putting pen to paper so many hours a day when there are human beings around who need me, when there is sickness, and hunger, and sorrow, is a harrowingly painful job. I feel that I have done nothing well. But I have done what I could.”

— from “Confession,” the first chapter of The Long Loneliness

(Photograph by John Orris [1921–2002]. Thank you, Laura Wood and The New York Times.)

“When one writes the story of his life and the work he has been engaged in, it is a confession too, in a way. [ … ] Going to confession is hard. Writing a book is hard, because you are ‘giving yourself away.’ But if you love, you want to give yourself. You write as you are impelled to write, about man and his problems, his relation to God and his fellows. You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his human needs of sustenance and love.”

Dorothy Day, from “Confession,” the first chapter of The Long Loneliness

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: An Autobiography (Harper & Row, 1952)  

(Image by dabacahin. Cover photograph by Bob Fitch.)

I always did love you more than you loved me

Friday [March? 1928]

Dear Forster,—

I have been trying all week to write this letter and it is almost impossible for me to write it now. You make it much harder when you are kind to me. But we can’t go on in any but a friendly relation and I suppose you will say we can’t even have that… It is terribly hard to even mention my religious feelings to you because I am sure you do not think I am sincere. But it is not a sudden thing, but a thing which has been growing in me for years. I had impulses toward religion again and again and now when I try to order my life according to it in order to attain some sort of peace and happiness it is very hard but I must do it. Because even though it is hard, it gives me far more happiness to do it, even though it means my combating my physical feelings toward you. The strength of our physical attachment never led you to make any sacrifices or capitulations of your principles. You were always very hard about maintaining your independence and freedom. You would never marry even when I begged you to some years ago. And you always held yourself somewhat aloof from me. It is only now when I wish to give you up that you hold on to me…

I do not see why we can’t be friends, but if you insist on not being friends with me, I’ll just have to put up with it, no matter how unhappy it makes me. After all, the present unhappiness is not unbearable because I at least have the peace of knowing that I am doing what I think is best. And it’s a bearable unhappiness because it has in it none of those horrible resentments I had toward you last year so often.

Please do not be angry at me. You know I love you and as a matter of fact always did love you more than you loved me.


Culver City, Calif.
Tuesday night [10 September 1929]

Dearest Forster,

…I just got Tamar to bed. She has the most angelic disposition. With all the dragging around she remains cheerful, and only shows her fatigue by becoming obstreperously lively. As for me, I’m as blue as indigo. I told you it was much harder for those who went away than for those who stayed. I have felt nothing but a blank loneliness since I left you. Life is indeed a most miserable affair. Why don’t you become reasonable or indulgent or whatever you want to call it and tell me to come back and marry you? We could be so happy together. And even if we fought it would be better than this blank dead feeling. You know I love you and it isn’t just loneliness which makes me long for you so….

All my love,


— from “Dearest Forster: The Love Letters of Dorothy Day” by Robert Ellsberg (America), excerpts from All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day

(Photograph of Dorothy and Forster: Thank you, America and Marquette University Archives.)

“Joy and sorrow, life and death, always so closely together!”

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

The spaces of this life

“Steve [Hergenhan] died suddenly one morning, and there was no one with him. We found in his papers afterward notations which indicated his bitterness at not being more used, as a writer, speaker, teacher. That has been the lament of so many who have died with us. Just as they are beginning to open their eyes to the glory and the potentialities of life their life is cut short as a weaver’s thread. They were like the grass of the field. ‘The spaces of this life, set over against eternity, are most brief and poor,’ one of the desert fathers said. It is part of the long loneliness.”

— from “Paper, People and Work,” in The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

(Photograph by Ramona Katcheika Paloschi. Thank you, Ms. Paloschi and Behance.)

The stories he couldn’t tell

“How do you put this man out of his misery?” That was a line that had been floating in my head for weeks. I had been thinking of Bernardo Soares, the introspective bookkeeper in 1930s Lisbon whom Fernando Pessoa created as his alter ego in The Book of Disquiet. Soares spends most of his time walking the streets, sitting at cafés, ruminating over his headaches, insomnia, tedium, his “worthless self,” and “the vast indifference of the stars.” The book is strangely compelling; all that brooding can be addictive. Yet sometimes even I (and you know me, it ain’t easy being me)—yes, even I was getting impatient with that whiny, repetitive voice.  

I wanted Soares/Pessoa to lighten up, get some sun, get laid, get on Tumblr, shut up, or seek professional help already. But he won’t. He doesn’t believe suicide is the answer. Neither is human connection nor divine intervention. Neither atheism nor Christianity, not even the “resignation” of the Buddha. Nothing works for him. Art is mere pretense, like the masked ball that is life. He’s forever moaning: “I’m tired. I had a long day full of idiotic work….” And groaning: “I have no social or political sentiments.” “The idea of travelling nauseates me.” “I hate to read.” “I’m dazed by the sarcastic terror of life….” Worse, “our pain has no value beyond its being a pain we feel.” And: “No one understands anyone else.” This was all too much even for mopey me.

Perhaps it all reminded me of my own “issues.” I was getting antsy, snarky, and miserable because I couldn’t finish writing what I had started about Pessoa. I guess the Disquiet excerpts I had posted would be enough to speak for him. For both of us. I’m the one who should shut up. So I gave up trying to make sense of another man’s pain and loneliness. If I couldn’t tell my story about him, perhaps this is not the time or the way to do it. Again, I just need to let go. Quit worrying. “Be indifferent,” as Pessoa himself would advise. Then, Tuesday morning, I was stunned by the first thing I read on the Internet: “Robin Williams dead at 63 in suspected suicide.”

Part of me is getting sick of the eulogies. That he was a kind and gentle man, sweet and generous and compassionate. Part of me couldn’t get enough of it. We shouldn’t get enough of it. Yes, keep the tributes pouring. Let’s keep thinking of him, thanking him for making us laugh and cry, appreciating the goodness of his life, the greatness of his soul. Let’s keep mourning him. Perhaps that’s one way we could keep reminding ourselves that we’re all vulnerable. Depression, addiction, and suicide are real, ugly, and lethal. These are types or outcomes of mental illness we should not romanticize or be complacent about. This is not the time to be indifferent.

Like many others, I was a kid when I got introduced to Williams in the late 1970s via Mork and Mindy. He was Mork, TV’s funny alien and friend to Pam Dawber, the sweetest girl on the planet. It wasn’t my favorite show, and Mork wasn’t my favorite character. I was more into Charlie’s Angels, Little House on the Prairie, The Love Boat, James at 15 (and at 16), Family, Three’s Company, and The Muppet Show. But like those other characters, Mork made me feel that my fish-out-of-water self could find ways to swim, crawl, or stumble on wherever life put me.

Mork showed me that everyone was weird and sad in some ways. He reminded me that with a little luck and love, we could all laugh, endure, and find human connection no matter how alien or alone we felt. It’s the sort of cheesy nostalgia that makes me think of how simple life used to be. How reassuring it was to watch TV and movies, read books, and enjoy the company of people you could only meet on the screen or on the page. That was how life was supposed to be: there were problems, but people learned to deal with them.

Mork wasn’t supposed to give up trying to understand these unpredictable earthlings. He wouldn’t self-destruct, even as he struggled with his doubts and failures. In nostalgia and denial, I still insist that Williams wasn’t supposed to die this way. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ned Vizzini, David Foster Wallace, Kurt Cobain, Anderson Cooper’s brother, my friend’s cousin—no, they weren’t supposed to go this way. They were going to stick around for as long as they could. Perhaps that’s exactly what they did.

And I do not mean that as glib resignation. I do not mean to glamorize suicide, addiction, or depression with that list of famous names. I’m not saying it’s OK to harm yourself and give up on life. And I am not in favor of explicit or sensationalized reporting about suicide. I know that even a personal blog like this has a responsibility to those who might be affected by such public issues as mental health. But my response to the things I read and watch can’t be anything but personal. In which case I am bound to write a lot of self-serving, potentially offensive, and ultimately pointless statements.

Still, I wonder if Rebecca Solnit’s story about the resilient Turtle Man would have made any difference to any of these men. Would they have been consoled by her beautiful passage about a “generous world” in which we allow ourselves to cry out for help and to offer help? I wonder if the example of Pessoa, who wrote some of the most depressing pages in literature, would have meant anything to them. After all, here’s a real person who endured what he called “the tragic futility of life” till an illness (cirrhosis of the liver) finally put him out of his misery. I can only hope that the eulogies for Williams, along with the “think pieces” about his depression and addiction, help us find more ways or better reasons to stick around.

The night before I found out about the actor’s death, I began reading Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves. In the first chapter, the author-psychoanalyst writes about a patient named Peter who fakes his suicide because he has other (true) stories that were too difficult or painful to tell. Grosz says: “I believe all of us try to make sense of our lives by telling our stories, but Peter was possessed by a story that he couldn’t tell. Not having the words, he expressed himself by other means.”

We will never know the stories that Robin Williams couldn’t tell his family and friends, his fans, or those who could have given him the help he needed. But we can always find comfort in the characters he gave us. The empathetic alien in Mork and Mindy, the generous genie in Aladdin, the father/nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire, the mad homeless widower in The Fisher King, the doctor in Awakenings, the therapist in Good Will Hunting, the loner in One-Hour Photo, the teacher in Dead Poets Society. Thank you, Mr. Williams, for all the stories you told us to keep us far and safe from our misery.

Brutal and wondrous

Junot Díaz is one sly dude. He makes you laugh so hard you don’t notice how serious he is. Motherfucking serious. “Over-the-top Jesucristo” serious. He wants to tell you about the history of the Dominican Republic. About being a poor immigrant of color in New Jersey. About the “super-duper clusterfuck” bred by racism and sexism. About men who cheat on, beat, and rape women (Dios mío). About boys abandoned by their fathers, families devastated by cancer, lovers wrecked by infidelity and insecurity. About surviving depression (how to “exorcise the shit”). About geeking out on Star Wars, Marvel Comics, LOTR, and The Matrix. About giving in to your “inextinguishable longing for elsewheres.” And about those moments of painful silence and lonely tenderness in the life of every sucio, puta, or pendejo.

Who knew Elizabeth Gilbert would be the perfect complement to Señor Díaz? After all, wasn’t it the same inextinguishable longing that drove Liz elsewhere—to Italy, India, and Indonesia—in Eat, Pray, Love? She’s all earnest and New Agey in EPL and so Oprah-meets-Darwin in The Signature of All Things, you might forget how funny and tough-minded she is. With authority and humility, she writes about science, religion, marriage, masturbation (oh yeah, sistah, see Signature), lobster fishing, and The Last American Man. Before EPL, she was a journalist writing often about men and for men. So don’t be so snarky around her. She can whack you with empirical evidence from nineteenth-century botany (and prove that the “natural world was a place of punishing brutality”) before you can even say chick lit.

“What can you do? Life smacks everybody around,” says a character in the final story in Díaz’s first book, Drown. In other words, or in Díaz’s world, we’re all pissed off and fucked up. Which is the same thing that Anne Tyler, a writer with a totally different style and sensibility, would say: “We’re all scarred.” And no one can blame you if none of that gives you comfort. But look closer and you’ll find more that Junot Díaz and Elizabeth Gilbert share. Both The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Signature of All Things center on protagonists who revel in their geekiness. Oscar de León is into sci-fi and comic-book “nerdery”; Alma Whittaker loves botany. Both are described as ugly: Oscar, fat and pimply; Alma, middle-aged and homely. Both learn that the search for love often requires the struggle for existence in a world that keeps crushing even their most stubborn hopes. As Gilbert says about lobster fishing, “it is a mean business.”

Two of the most moving short stories in Drown concern a boy named Ysrael who has to wear a mask because “when he was a baby a pig had eaten his face off.” He is No Face, the town’s masked monster. The other boys taunt and assault him, and the promise of surgery can’t stop his nightmares. Still, he’s not swallowed by self-pity or hate. He survives his days, learning English, doing pull-ups, reading comic books, and running fast, “never slipping or stumbling.” He’s like moss, that botanical anomaly that Alma studies. Moss is “not big or beautiful or showy.”

Mosses were typically defined by what they lacked, not by what they were, and, indeed, they lacked much. Mosses bore no fruit. Mosses had no roots. Mosses could grow no more than a few inches tall, for they contained no internal cellular skeleton with which to support themselves. [ … ] In every way mosses could seem plain, dull, modest, even primitive. The simplest weed sprouting from the humblest city sidewalk appeared infinitely more sophisticated by comparison. But here is what Alma came to learn: Moss is inconceivably strong.

Moss “grows where nothing else can grow.” Moss persists. Moss endures. And so can you. Because you have to. Gilbert is saying: Like it or not, life can be brutal and ugly. And Díaz won’t let you forget that. In Chapter 3 of his novel, for example, there’s that scene in the sugarcane fields where a woman is savaged under a “ferocious moonlight.” It’s the kind of horror that haunts you for years. But Díaz, like Gilbert, isn’t letting you go without any consolation. Read any of their books and you’ll find it. It’s there like moss thriving in the least expected places. And it’s there in the final line of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: “The beauty! The beauty!”

Major weeper

I hate the way I ended my post on Anne Tyler. Too contrived. The parallelism too obvious, too clever. Most of all—worst of all—too sentimental. I failed to avoid the same pitfalls. I had thought: this time I’m going to steer clear of my usual tricks. I’m not going to be sappy or try too hard to be witty or “meaningful.” I’m not going to write about how that Anne Tyler line—We’re all scarred—makes me want to cry each time I read it. I won’t say that that’s one of my favorite passages in all of literature. I won’t gush again the way I gushed over Colum McCann and Let the Great World Spin. I won’t beg for hugs. I won’t shed tears.

And really, I haven’t shed tears for a long time. I used to be such a crybaby. Before this extended dry season, I was like Jude Law in The Holiday confessing to Cameron Diaz on their first date: “I cry all the time. […] A good book, a great film, a birthday card—I weep. I’m a major weeper.” It sounds more like “I’m a major weepah” in Jude’s sexy British accent. Well, everything’s sexy about Jude in this movie, so before I start begging him for more than just a hug, let me get back to my point. Which is? That like everyone else who wants to be a good writer and a decent person, I try not to get too sappy. But most of the time I fail miserably. Sure, I haven’t been a weepah for a while (it must have been all of that distance I’ve been keeping and posting here and here and here), but that doesn’t mean I’ve resigned as Mayor of Sentimental City.

That doesn’t mean I won’t reopen the floodgates one day and drag every unsuspecting reader into the depths of my shameless mawkishness. That doesn’t mean I will forever be tough enough to resist the urge to write about the last time a book made me cry. It was 4:30 in the morning of October 11, 2008. I was reading the final pages of André Aciman’s novel, Call Me By Your Name. Elio, the narrator, has gotten older, wiser, sadder. He thinks of “the way nostalgia hurts long after we’ve stopped thinking of things we’ve lost and may never have cared for.” Many years after their first summer together in Italy, Elio meets Oliver again and realizes: “Time makes us sentimental. Perhaps, in the end, it is because of time that we suffer.”

This morning I drifted back into this sentimental mood as I was reading this excellent essay by Nick Ripatrazone: “Reach the Rafters: On Literary Sentiment.” He says:

There are times when it is athletic and beautiful and right to make marks on the page to show what language is capable of, to reveal the flexibility of thought. And there are other times when, our hearts “tight and hard and cold,” a poem, a line, a word can shatter us. Should shatter us.

Sometimes I don’t know exactly what should shatter me—or if anything could shatter me anymore. Perhaps I’ve read too many books, seen too many movies and photographs, posted too many quotes about loss and loneliness. Perhaps I should stop wanting to be an Anne Tyler character; I am one. I may even be a little bit of all of them. I am Macon Leary and Jeremy Pauling and Aaron Woolcott and all the rest, forever trying to break out of their shells, to walk away or to walk on farther than they have ever gone before, yet often too skeptical or scared or sad, wondering if they might end up too far from home. And where is that? In The Memory Chalet, the first book I ever wrote about on this blog, Tony Judt says “nostalgia makes a very satisfactory second home.” Is it reason to weep that I keep finding my way back there?

It was the distance
“He saw the city spread below like a glittering golden ocean, the streets tiny ribbons of light, the planet curving away at the edges, the sky a purple hollow extending to infinity. It wasn’t the height; it was the distance. It was his vast, lonely distance from everyone who mattered. […] He was too far gone to return. He would never, ever get back. He had somehow traveled to a point completely isolated from everyone else in the universe, and nothing was real but his own angular hand clenched around the sherry glass.”
— from The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
(Painting: Descending Flow, 2013, by Alexandra Pacula. Thank you, Ms. Pacula.)

It was the distance

“He saw the city spread below like a glittering golden ocean, the streets tiny ribbons of light, the planet curving away at the edges, the sky a purple hollow extending to infinity. It wasn’t the height; it was the distance. It was his vast, lonely distance from everyone who mattered. […] He was too far gone to return. He would never, ever get back. He had somehow traveled to a point completely isolated from everyone else in the universe, and nothing was real but his own angular hand clenched around the sherry glass.

— from The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

(Painting: Descending Flow, 2013, by Alexandra Pacula. Thank you, Ms. Pacula.)

“Our best and truest memories are invariably suffused with gratitude.”

Daniel Berrigan, S.J., from his introduction to The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

(Photograph by Bing Wright. Thank you, Mr. Wright and 1stdibs.)

Tom Junod on “the essence of Hoffman’s art”

[Philip Seymour Hoffman] often played creeps, but he rarely played them creepily. His metier was human loneliness — the terrible uncinematic kind that has very little to do with high-noon heroism and everything to do with everyday empathy — and the necessary curse of human self-knowledge. He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized. He played frauds who knew they were frauds, schemers who knew they were schemers, closeted men who could only groan with frustrated love, heavy breathers dignified by impeccable manners, and angels who could withstand the worst that life could hand out because they seemed to know the worst was just the beginning. And what united all his roles was the stoic calm he brought to them, the stately concentration that assured us that no matter whom Philip Seymour Hoffman played, Philip Seymour Hoffman himself was protected.

That’s what I thought, anyway — in reading the early reports of his death, I was surprised that he’d battled the demon of addiction, because I’d always confused Hoffman’s mastery with detachment, and assumed that he had lived by Flaubert’s charge to live an orderly life so that he could be violent and original in his work. But I shouldn’t have been surprised, and — here’s that contradictory and complementary response again — I wasn’t. I’d never met Philip Seymour Hoffman, never knew anyone who knew him, never even read a passably revealing magazine profile of him. All I really knew was that he was a character actor who came as close to being a movie star as character actors ever get, and that he played the lead in more Hollywood movies than any other portly, freckly, gingery man in human history. And that, in its way, is all I, or anyone else, needs to know.

— from “Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Final Secret” by Tom Junod (Esquire)


It’s him I want to write about. He who once walked with me across an empty soccer field on a Sunday morning. He who once offered to teach me how to swim. He whom I turned down because I was too shy, too skeptical, too proud. I could have walked with him across a few more spaces, a few more Sundays. But now my mind goes to Her, Spike Jonze’s love story between a man and his operating system. This man goes for long walks, too. With her, the artificially intelligent OS in his pocket-size computer, he is no longer alone.

I watched the movie with my sister—she who kept smirking at the goings-on between sad, mopey Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and efficient, empathetic Samantha (the OS voiced by the breathy and breathtaking Scarlett Johansson). Odd to speak of empathy coming from a non-human. But she tells him, “I have intuition. I mean, the DNA of who I am is based on the millions of personalities of all the programmers who wrote me. But what makes me me is my ability to grow through my experiences. So, basically, in every moment I’m evolving, just like you.”

It’s that trope in myth and literature. We create things in our image. Our creations grow to resemble—or reassemble—us. Genesis. Pygmalion. Frankenstein. In this movie, though, no one is a monster. Everyone is a flawed beauty, essentially incomplete, always evolving. At some points, even I was baffled by Her. What these lovers do for—or to—each other can get creepy or ridiculous. But who are we to judge? In the name of love, or in our ongoing affairs with our precious gadgets and favorite websites, we may have done crazier things than Jonze could have ever imagined.

And there are few things crazier than walking away from something good. So I go back to him. Some years ago, a man I was attracted to offered me swimming lessons. He and I were on our second semi-date. That morning, I took him on a walking tour of my alma mater. We talked and walked on tree-lined pavements, on footpaths scaling weed-ridden hills. We were crossing the soccer field when the conversation veered toward the fact that I had never learned to swim. He didn’t think it was such an embarrassing deficiency. He just said, “I can teach you how.”

He wasn’t a swimming instructor, but there was casual confidence, a no-big-deal sincerity in his voice. My aw-shucks way of thanking him and declining the offer meant only that I was uncomfortable with the physical intimacy such lessons would entail. Sure, two adult gay men in a pool, one teaching the other how to do backstrokes, wouldn’t be a Vatican-shaking scenario. Still, was I falling way too fast for this tall, lean, funny, articulate man? Or was I overanalyzing his motives? Was he just being polite? What lurked behind those cheerful eyes? What lay beneath the surface of those cool waters?

A few days ago, I thought about him again while I was posting these lines by Natalie Angier: “If you never learn to swim, you’ll surely regret it; and the sea is so big, it won’t let you forget it.” She was writing about science as a “great ocean of human experience.” I was thinking of swimming as the great fusion of science and art. The science of buoyancy and breathing. The art of letting go. I’m not exactly drowning in regrets, but once in a while my thoughts drift back to him, to all that great unknown—what bodies and minds can do.

In Her, there are some good jokes about the advantages of not having a body. My sister and I came up with more. Lucky Theo, he won’t have to worry about his partner’s health care or fashion emergencies. Isn’t that convenient? Dating your OS means less maintenance, lower costs. You can shut her down any time you want. The two of you can travel abroad and incur airfare and hotel expenses only for one. She won’t get fat, wrinkly, or sick. Love won’t have to be so messy or painful.

Her reminds me of Galatea 2.2, the geeky, melancholy novel by Richard Powers. In this version of man’s love affair with his machines (or with himself), the main character, also named Richard Powers, takes part in an experiment to teach a network of computer programs how to read and analyze the great works of literature. The net’s name is Helen. Richard talks to Helen, reads to her, feeds her Shakespeare, Joyce, Brontë, the Bible, and even his own life’s story. She learns to respond—with empathy and humor. In the end, he says, “She loved me, I guess.” But did he love her?

I realize that both Theodore and Richard are men who can’t seem to make their relationships last. Their relationships with women or with machines. These men’s tales embody that old yarn about everything, everyone, not sticking around long enough. After all, even the best operating systems need updating, or they become passé. Snowflakes fall in Her, every lovely speck unique and fragile. Theodore’s friend, Amy, tells him: “We’re only here briefly. And while I’m here, I want to allow myself joy.”

I had joy walking with someone some years ago. Sometimes I can even imagine joy as I swim in my dreams. On the next-to-last page of Galatea 2.2, a scientist says, “Why do we do anything? Because we’re lonely.” In the final moment of Her, all this loneliness flows into silence. On top of a building, Theodore sits beside his friend, a flesh-and-blood companion, as they gaze at the shimmering city and unfolding sky. Alone and not alone—that’s how I’ll always think of him.

Ain’t easy being me

Lines that crossed my mind while looking at Tumblr pics of Andrew McCarthy and thinking how it was to adore him in the 1980s and to identify with his Kevin Dolenz character in St. Elmo’s Fire:

I, too, was in love with a girl at the time. At least, I thought it was love. Two girls, really—or three, if you extend those messy glory days to the early 1990s. I couldn’t quite admit it to them or to myself. Yeah, I was a closet straight slut. Who knew? Now I’ve become this bona fide gay middle-aged single man still wondering whether, as Kevin quips, love is an illusion. Perhaps time is the illusion.

Yeah, it’s time: I should be preparing now for work. Didn’t get out of the house for a week: pesky flu, bad weather, crappy mood. Sky turning gray again. I’m still in no mood to go out, to get my butt off this chair. Ah, but enough. Got to get back to work. The other day, while flipping through An Open Book, the memoir of my favorite book critic Michael Dirda, I found this timely D. H. Lawrence quote: “Work is best, and a certain numbness, a merciful numbness.”

Got to gather my wits, my stuff—books, notebooks, folders, photocopies, detritus of the mind, remains of the day. Got to get dressed—for work, for the world, for that certain numbness. Got to get back into my George Mode, as in the opening passages of A Single Man. Got to get up, clean up, shave, check in the mirror. To borrow Isherwood’s words: “What [I see] there isn’t so much a face as the expression of a predicament.” And “yet there is no question of stopping. The creature we are watching will struggle on and on until it drops.”

And now I hear rain starting to fall again. Sure, bring it on. Just what I need. Make this day even grayer, more inconvenient. Get me stuck in the gloom. Plunge me back into inertia, nostalgia. Into whatever the hell the next days will be all about. Ah, but why think about the future? Stay calm. Just breathe. Live now. Tumblr. Whatever.

Yeah, Andrew McCarthy. I’ve been reading his book, The Longest Way Home. My swoony adoration is turning into sober admiration. Look at him now. Ageless heartthrob charms. Unquestionable writing gifts. I get his need to write more and travel far so he can seek solitude and find his way back to the solace of staying connected. I get why he doesn’t get himself sometimes. Or why he doubts what he gets: “Maybe the idea of who I was, who I wanted to be, simply didn’t match up with the person I had become. Was this just a midlife crisis, was I simply a walking cliché?”

Am I simply a tumblring fool? Does it even matter what I write here, how I choose to seek or spurn connection, why I bother with illusions? Does love or work or numbness have to be so hard? In my early twenties, Kevin Dolenz spoke for me. He spoke to a generation of young writer types suppressing their romantic idealism with glib, cynical self-absorption: “Me? Oh, you know, it ain’t easy being me.”

I’m happy for Andrew McCarthy. At 50 (51 next month), he’s got it made. Loving, lovely wife and kids. Stimulating careers as actor, director, and writer. Jobs that let him ask questions and explore places without sounding foolish or petty. A life that leaves him alone when he needs to have what Paul Theroux calls the “lucidity of loneliness.”

It’s just another one of those days—lines crossing my mind, the push and pull of stray quotes, of past and present selves, alter egos, alternate destinations. Does it even matter where I go from here or who I echo next? Mr. McCarthy is just three months older than I am. I’ll let him speak for me for now: “Just show up. Be the best version of myself every day for the rest of my life. That’s what I’m committing to. Easy.”

So why do you like traveling alone?

“I don’t know, I guess I’m just more of a loner than most people are. I’ve traveled with my kids and family, and it’s great, but at heart, traveling is just like a laboratory for me. You put yourself in a vulnerable state, I think it’s a really good thing. And you get very lonely when you travel alone, and I think that’s a good thing. People go to great lengths not to be lonely, and I think that’s silly. I find being lonely on the road to be much more tolerable and much more informative than being lonely at home. I don’t think there’s any reason to avoid being lonely.”

Andrew McCarthy (Details)