No, it’s not me! Don’t be so dramatic.

Who is the loneliest person? I can identify two answers to this question. It’s been asked in songs and poems, and there is a lovely, whimsical kind of children’s book quality to the earnest hyperbole of the statement. Kids are never hungry, they’re starving. Their room at night isn’t just scary, it’s the scariest place in the world. A child’s universe is such a small place, but it extends out into their imaginations. As we get older, we tear down those imaginary places and replace them with their real world versions. We lose the whimsy we had. I think that’s why escapism is popular, and often derided, but I think we miss the simplicity of a smaller orbit, where things make sense, and evil stepmothers get what’s coming to them, and the bad guy loses.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” — Neil Gaiman, paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton

Lest we get lost in a diversion, let’s go back to the thesis: who is the loneliest man in the world? Well, there’s a good candidate, but there’s nothing whimsical about his existence. He’s also called the Man of the Hole, named such for the dwellings he finds or creates for himself in the Brazilian rainforest. He was discovered in 1996, but also perhaps created then, as a member of one of Brazil’s dwindling indigenous tribes with no outside contact. He is the last remaining member of an extinct tribe, and leads a solitary existence in a 42 square mile section of protected land. The leading theory goes that the rest of his tribe was murdered by gunmen around the time of his discovery. He is not a whimsical last survivor, he is a victim of genocide, an echo of a people who were trampled by brutes. We don’t know what language he speaks, or what his name is. He shows no desire to end his solitude. Indeed, can he even conceive of ending it? I don’t think I could.

We have an answer to the question of who is the loneliest human in history, and it’s much more fun to think about, because he wasn’t alone for very long and he got to go to space. Michael Collins was the man in the capsule orbiting the moon while Buzz and Neil tromped around the dusty surface. Not only did he spend all that time by himself, but for 45 minutes each orbit, he was out of communication with earth. Nobody has ever been more distant from contact with other humans than Michael Collins was in 1969.

Well, not the way he tells it. With the plucky grit we associate with astronauts, he talks about feeling relief in not having mission control “yakking” at him for a while. Maybe it was the relative certainty that his isolation was temporary, and historic, and extremely prepared-for, but it didn’t have the same thundering tragedy that my whimsical imagination can create, and the image of a solitary man in a thin-walled metal box, gently tracing a slow curve around a distant moon.

It’s a very of-the-moment feeling to be lonely in our isolation, so much so that I’m reluctant to write about it. I am lonely, and alone, despite the companionship of an affectionate cat and family and friends who are ever willing to entertain my texted non sequiturs and despairing moments. There’s a sense of camaraderie in this spate of loneliness, a universality. We’re all feeling alone. We’re all lonely. We’re all isolated. We’re doing that by choice, but also out of necessity. We’re not the Man of the Hole, moving from one 6 foot deep hole to the next, surviving and subsisting. Our families weren’t torn away from us for long. They’ll still be there when the orbit swings us back into our old lives, even if we’re wearing masks and staying six feet away. Unless they are among the 100,000, that is, a crushing number, a terrible burden, a tragedy we all saw coming and braced ourselves for. We knew we would lose people, but every loss still stings.

Though it may be selfish, I will confess to feeling lonesome. I like that word the most to describe the feeling I feel, because it has a cowboy-on-the-range whimsy to it, a man on a slow horse, idly strumming a guitar, singing sad songs into empty canyons. In the past when I’ve felt this way, I can cure it rather easily, by going to a place crowded with people, and set up a little basecamp with my computer and a cup of coffee and write something like this. But those places are all closed.

This is exacerbated by the normal, natural loneliness I feel after the end of a relationship. There was a person I saw every day who occupied a lot of my thoughts and feelings and suddenly they’re not there anymore. It’s not as cruel as death, but it has a similar shape. The feeling you get after the end of a relationship is mourning. Even the most toxic relationships offer a kind of reliability that, when it’s gone, makes us acutely aware of its absence. The space that a romantic partner leaves in your life is a massive cavern, and you miss the warmth of their presence. My relationship was far from toxic, and our separation was amicable, and I learned so much about myself and being a better communicator. I treasure the memories. But that’s what they are. They’re over. I’m just myself again.

I know that my last relationship will not be my last relationship, despite the lies my insecurities like to tell me. These are difficult times to feel lonesome, and it doesn’t feel very whimsical at all.

One way I like to deal with it is to really bury myself in the bad feelings for a while, just a little while, like taking a cold shower on purpose, or making a mistake you know will have repercussions but is too exciting to ignore. You have two choices when you feel lonely: make yourself feel better or just live in your loneliness for a while. I’m going to dwell here in my hole for a while longer, but I’ll be okay. Don’t worry. It’s part of my process.

Here are my favorite songs to listen to while I’m lonely:

The Raincoat Song by the Decemberists. I hate that I love this song, which is classic Decemberists, a guided missile directed straight at my whimsy. It’s a small song about how maybe wearing a raincoat makes it rain a little harder.

In Ear Park by Department of Eagles. This song hits me right in the heart. It’s about mourning and loss and trying to move on when you’re surrounded by the absence of another. I’m also linking to this live version, because it’s great.

Needing/Getting by Ok Go. This song is about somebody waiting for someone to come around but admitting the futility of it. The line “There ain’t much that’s dumber than pinning your hopes on a change in another” resonates so much with me that it hits like a hammer. It describes so much of my adolescent emotional landscape that the best rock and roll does. The video I linked to, above, is classic Ok Go, a stunt video that pleases the eye and the ear, but perhaps is a bit distracting from the message that it’s meant to invoke.

Capsized by Andrew Bird. One of the great pleasures of following a musician like Bird is that he evolves his songs in stages. This song began as one of my favorite instrumentals, called You Woke Me Up, and was gradually hammered and shaped into a story about suddenly being alone. The image “spoon dirty laundry” is a powerful one, and delightfully specific.

No Lie by Middle Class Fashion. It’s a song about breaking up, but also it’s about being alright, and that’s okay.

I leave you now, a bit more lonesome than I was last week, a lonely cowboy on a slow horse, singing his sad songs into the canyons. It’s funny, to me, that my entreaties to you, my readers, to spread the good word of my good words were met with thundering silence. I gained zero new readers. This clearly does not make me any less likely to write these newsletters, or to write shorter ones, or to give up on this. In fact, it makes my little audience even more precious than it ever was. After all, nobody unsubscribed, either.

Reach out, friends, I love hearing from each of you.

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