I have clearly lost my alone-fu.
I was alone–really alone, not
living-by-myself-but-have-friends-and-family-across-town alone, for
almost two years in Japan. And there is a zen to that, there really is.
Everyone thinks they want to make like Garbo and be alone, but very few
realize what that entails, how isolation can creep up on you until you
don’t even notice that you’ve been talking to the wall for two days.
Extended hermitism–even my limited sort, which comes with a computer
and a dog–is a tough gig.
I got really good at it. So good that when I first came back I was incredibly uncomfortable having people
around all the time, and had this weird temporary faux-Asperger’s thing
going where I was just a little off in all my dealings, because I
couldn’t remember how social dealings were supposed to go. I felt
frenetic, and crowded, and pressured, all the time. I got over that,
bit by bit, almost solely thanks to
Being alone a skill–an art like everything else, as Missus P would
say–it has to be developed like a muscle, and lately I’ve been so
surrounded by love and friends and company that I’ve apparently let
myself go soft.
Because last night was a duty day–one day out of the week, every week,
Navy folk have to be on site for 24 hours. On top of that, they’ve
taken a little cruise up the coast, and so are gone all weekend, too.
And so I was by myself last night, and it was cold and windy and dark
and really, really quiet–at least in Japan the train would barrel by
every 15 minutes and the trucks would play their ridiculous music at
all hours. And I was shakey and depressed and really freaking out,
borderline panic attack freaking out, like I haven’t done since my
first few weeks in Japan, when I really might have lost it if not for a
certain yellow puppy.
And unlike in Japan, when you’re up at 3 am feeling unsettled and
alone, there is no one online to talk to, because it’s 3 am for them,
too, and not 4 pm.
I had to resort to meditation exercises even to calm down enough to go to sleep. At 9 am.
I used to be so good at this, and now all my muscles are gone. How am I going to get through next year?
I wrote Yume no Hon
because of this, you know. At some level that book is all about
learning how to be alone, how to have nothing but your own fractured
psyche, and about how that can be enough, if your psyche is fractured
just so. And I read this bit of it at World Fantasy, and as I
read it in a room full of people it seemed very strange to me, to share
something that had been cut out of that time alone with all these other
breathing souls, when I wasn’t alone anymore, and would never feel like
Silly me. Alone never goes away, it just takes vacations.
(To be alone is to work at
solitude. It is very difficult, a lifetime’s work, like the building of a
temple. The first years are the carving of steps from camphor wood and the
bodies of infant cicadas. Desire is still present like a moth–he flits onto
your hair, your thigh, your smallest toe. He sits so quietly, small and brown,
intricate as leaves. And you are not truly alone, because he is there, slightly
furry against your skin, breathing.
The next years are the erection of a great Gate, red as
poppy-wine, with guardian statues of jasper and knuckled silver. Now you are
learning, you have begun to fashion your solitude with skilled hands, to chisel away at all that is not loneliness,
to dwell in seclusion as you would in moon-white larval flesh. Desire has gone,
but Need remains, and you look down the path for the shape of any human at all.
Soon you begin to dream that they come. Your joints have begun to fuse, to make
an utterly separate beauty.
The interior hall comes next, in shadow and rough-cut
incense. You had thought yourself a Master already, but in these years like flapping
crows you begin to scream, and your screams become the temple bells of perfect
bronze, and you clutch their silken ropes, caught in the great work. These are the maddened years, when you have
only the strangling Self. You are a pre-suicidal mass. There is no release from
it now, and you begin to sow seeds in a little garden, understanding for the
first time that there are no endings for you.
After a bushel of winters tied with chewed leather, the
roof is laid out, an you are calm. The corner-tiles are dipped in boiling gold,
arcing up towards the sky, which has begun to speak to you. You have polished
and cut and painted with hawk’s blood the edifice of your solitude, and it
shines so under the dead moon.
And you are the icon, the holy relic to be housed. Your
bones have calcified into sanctity. You are the created thing, unfathomably
apart, clothed in antlers and rain-spouts. There is nothing now but you and
Alone, not even a body, which long ago hushed itself into the snow-storms. It
is completed, your magnum opus. A fontanel has re-appeared at the crown
of your head, pulsing gold and silver–you are an infant again in the arms of
the empty air.)
I have been alone for a long time.
Who thought putting Humpty back together again would ensure against all
further falling? The poor egg just sits on the wall, longing for the
King’s men in their fine brass buttons.
And that’s quite dramatic enough for one post. Exeunt.