TORONTO, ONTARIO: A friend of mine visited this past weekend from out of town. He rode up on his motorcycle – a machine I am consistently impressed by. It’s a mechanical horse that needs to be tamed by the rider. We went out for a ride and every time I was on the back of this machine, I felt very cool. Motorcycles are loud and when you’re riding down the street, heads turn. My friend has told me that when he meets other motorcycle enthusiasts, they ask him where he goes to hang out with other riders. People are surprised when he has no hangouts and only rides by himself. I started thinking about the loneliness of the long distance motorcycle rider. The spaces between things where we seek out room to internally explore and determine our place in this world.
This can be a scary thing or even something that is consciously avoided. Being faced with oneself can be liberating, dangerous, insightful, lonely. We are all quite aware of the distractions in this modern age: Video games, television, the Internet, etc. There is also the old thought that a person can feel infinitely alone in a city surrounded by millions.
I ride my bike around the city, granted, it is not exactly a motorcycle – people don’t turn their heads when I speed by and it’s not nearly as cool – but it’s a vehicle that allows me to move from one place to another while being in my own space. I think this is important. My apartment is my sanctuary, a place I live and work. Very few people visit – I am in the West end and it’s deemed ‘too far out there’ – but when they do, I am very conscious of what it means to have someone else in this space. I choose carefully the individuals I allow in.
It seems to me that there are so few places left where we are not able to be alone. Call me paranoid but you are photographed everywhere – security cameras are ubiquitous. I wonder if somewhere deep down we understand and are very aware of this fact. Does this do anything to our sense of individual space? Do we lose something knowing that we are rarely, ever, truly alone?
In some ways, I feel that it’s frowned upon to be on your own. When I was younger, I had no problem sitting in a restaurant and having a meal by myself. I would read and eat. Now I walk down the street alone and sometimes wonder if people look at me with pity: There goes another lonely guy. Poor fella.
I can’t really speak for anyone else but I need those spaces where I can operate without talking to someone. Go about my business, contemplate my own decisions (decisions that only impact me) and experience things for me and no one else. Sure, there are times when I look around and want to believe an experience would be more enriching if it was shared with someone else. That is what deepens relationships – the sharing of experiences between people. But sometimes I need to share with myself.
I wonder about people with children. I guess I am just too selfish because I can’t seem to negotiate with myself the absolute sacrifice this entails. I know it is possible to find these spaces of individuality while raising children but I can’t see it now and it scares me. Perhaps I am becoming a crusty lonely man in my old age and maybe I would only understand when I take that plunge and go through what every parent goes through. Until then.
There are times when we want to be alone and times we want to be with people. From when I was very young, I appreciated this time on my own. Now that I am teaching little kids, I relate to the quiet ones in the corner by themselves. If you can get them to trust you, they are the most fascinating little people. I understand their need to be alone. They must know that it is not wrong.
I am not talking about becoming a hermit or removing myself from society. I just believe there is a balance, different spaces we can inhabit that allows us to form positive relationships and maintain a sense of ourselves when we are alone. It’s cool to be with others, to feel popular, have people to lean on, etc. But I like to also know that I can handle things on my own.
So, I’ll ride my bike, slip between buildings, live in the shadows of private spaces, avoid CCTV cameras, drink coffee with friends, read alone. Basically, try to negotiate a life where I get the best of both worlds. I think they can compliment each other quite nicely.