The Fortress of Involuntary Solitude

Superman had it all: More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Faster that a speeding bullet. He could even locate phone booths, not to mention change into his super costume in them. Yes, he had it all; but apparently he lacked one thing: Solitude. So, he had to go and build himself a fortress just so he could have some. He called it the Fortress of Solitude. What would he do in his Fortress of Solitude? It seems he spent a lot of time reminiscing about the Good Old Days. He had a miniature replica of his home back on Krypton enclosed in glass. He would stare at it for hours. It was kind of like that episode of the Twilight Zone where a young Robert Duval plays a guy who is obsessed with a doll house in a museum, until one day he disappears. No one can find him. Then we learn that he is now somehow tiny and is living in the doll house. Anyway, Superman feels the need to go into his Fortress of Solitude from time to time, to reflect, to ponder, perchance to dream. I feel no such need. I have all the solitude you could ask for, whether I wanted it in the first place or not. I call my fortress the Fortress of Involuntary Solitude. That has a real nice ring to it. It almost sounds like Involuntary Servitude–which is a bad thing, but changing that one syllable makes all the difference. It sounds like a good thing, what with the assonance and internal rhyme–and it is. It’s a good thing, as Martha would say. I think that one thing that differentiates Solitude from Loneliness is that even if you didn’t ask for it in the first place, even if it is involuntary–not of your own volition–even  if it is in a lot of respects almost identical with loneliness, in solitude you are focused on the freedom to think your own thoughts undisturbed. You aren’t focused on your lack of companionship. Or if you are, you don’t perceive it as a lack. Your glass is neither half empty nor half full; your glass is completely and utterly full: of Solitude.

Once you reach Hank Williams levels of loneliness, Eleanor Rigby levels, it becomes very difficult to forge any friendships. You drive people away. But, since I’ve decided to embrace Solitude, even if involuntarily, I have found it so much easier to make friends. To talk to people. I listen to what they say instead of oversharing. I let them get a word in edgewise. I am aloof, which draws people in. Ever notice how cats run away if you chase them, but if you ignore them hard enough, they rub against your ankle and indicate their desire for you to pet them? Forget pheromones. Eau D’Indifference is the most irresistible scent known to man, woman, or cat.

I am reading a book called The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma. The main character is an orphan from China adopted by a Chinese-American woman. Ari, the adoptee, runs off to Alaska and gets drunk just before Christmas. She leaves the bar and walks out into the snow, into the night. She sees the Northern Lights for the first time. The Aurora Borealis is pulsating, shimmering. Perhaps it is just the booze, but regardless . . . she has an epiphany and for the first time really feels Solitude. Profound Solitude. It is different from loneliness that she knows only too well.

Another book I remember is Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. The protagonist is a scholar of the ballet, though he has never actually seen one. All he knows of the ballet is what he has read in books–perhaps a photo or two, and his own imagination. Looking up at the stars in the far North of Japan–the Snow Country–he can really see the Milky Way. The Japanese call the Milky Way “Heaven’s River. This causes him to think of the famous poem by Basho:

ara umi ya
sado ni yokotau
ama no gawa

Stormy sea–
Stretching over Sado,
Heaven’s River

He also has a profound epiphany, and truly knows Solitude, just as Basho did in 1694 when he wrote the poem and inscribed it in his travel journal: Oku no Hosomichi, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

I recently heard there was going to be a meteor shower and that night I went on a walk, looking for the best location to scan the skies. I saw five falling stars, and whether I made five wishes, or wished for one thing five times, I’d rather not say.

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