Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On Reverie

I had gone to see a late movie, and I was wandering around, bored, alone, anxious. I wound up at a chain Japanese restaurant, even though I wasn't that hungry. To sit down in a well-lit place with vinyl booths and the air conditioning turned on too high, to stare at the reflection of hanging lights against dark glass, I knew, would somehow make me less miserable. It wasn't until I finally sat down that I realized I was trying to place myself in an Edward Hopper painting, one I used to stare at as a child in the art museum in Des Moines.

And yet I feel infinitely more alone when I'm communicating through a computer. Seeing the social world as a shimmering holograph beyond the room in which I'm sitting, it becomes so easy to deceive myself into thinking that the rest of the world lives a happier, more normal life. Either that, or my thoughts devolve into schadenfreude, and I turn the people just beyond my reach into the dumbest, most grotesque, most pathetic people I've ever encountered. Or both. I look at the happy couple and think how hideous their children must be.

A true solitude, one that doesn't keep other people at arm's length, seems at times to be increasingly rare. It is the solitude of reading a physical book, of writing in a notepad, of a long hike in the mountains.

Many things have been said by intellectuals and writers in support of this kind of solitude-- that it improves cognitive capabilities, that it allows for greater empathy by providing a yardstick for one's social world, that it heightens human perception.

What seems unsaid is that it provides a sort of freedom to wander around inside one's own mind without having to vocalize it, without having to attempt to communicate or try to impress someone. An error in grammar, a flawed perception, a socially unacceptable attitude, a flight into self-indulgence, vanity, lust, animal instinct, awkward comment, difficult to articulate subtleties, questionable abstractions, excessive bitterness, or sheer rapture. When one is alone, there is no contradiction between emotion and outward demeanor, between express communication and inward thought. Instead, the solitary reader or writer or walker is free to explore the relationships between all of these things, between one's own thoughts and what one perceives of as a "personality."

The impulse of reverie is akin to that of play. Yet as an adult, to simply "play," as it were, seems odd and regressive and antisocial, and it's hard to delink the word from any kind of sexual connotation. Ditto the word "fantasy." Outside of certain channels (explicit sexual desire, work-oriented goals, the less nerdish hobbies), to occupy the dreamy recesses of the mind, even for a short period, seems narcissistic, escapist, infantile, or some combination thereof.

Which in turn leads me to a terrible guilt, that I'm refusing to live my own life, or-- what is worse-- that I'm trapped in a narcissist's mirror maze, and the entire world reflects back onto myself, imitating love and solidarity, but never actually realizing either.

But I can't deny that to enter into reverie, and what's more, to keep it in a state of solitude, to refuse anyone else into it, remains therapeutic.

I take out my pen and write down a page no one will ever see, one I will never see again.

And I fold up the paper, drop it in the trash can, start walking home through long arcades, lights swarming with moths, and suddenly I find I'm smiling again.