The Artisanship of Being Alone

The other day I found myself walking along the Williamsburg edge, right where Brooklyn meets the East River and the East River meets Manhattan. I climbed over as many rocks as I could, getting as close as possible to the water without falling over.

I was the only one there alone.

View of Manhattan from East River State Park

Surrounded by dozens of other people, I stood to face the city, watching it stand still and do nothing but endorse its own vastness. I kept my headphones on the entire time. Everyone looked so cute, I thought to myself. They all took turns taking photos in front of the cityscape as if they needed proof.

All I heard was the music.

Suddenly I could not remember what it felt like to have a certainty in other people, what it felt like to find security in something close enough to touch. Everyone around me became static, and the only palpable things were the way the buildings made me feel small, and the way the ground felt beneath my sneakers.

I walked around with a book and my water bottle in a brown crossbody sack held together with cheap broken canvas and fake leather that I had to grip with my fingers while I walk so it doesn’t fall apart. I kept this in mind as I leaned over the railing of the boardwalk near the ferry, staring at my shattered reflection in the water, watching my shadow shift with the creases in the current. Children ran slowly around me, speaking to their parents in their high-registered innocence about nothing in particular.

It began to resonate with me that there was no rhyme or reason to the crowds, even in this Brooklyn neighborhood that merely kisses the hand of the chaos, letting it trickle in with more leisure and less formality. There was mindlessness to the rhythm, as if time might be slower here, or faster. Either way, no one paid much attention to it.

I did. At least, I believed this to be true.

Sitting in my windowless basement I call home these thoughts stayed with me. The smallness, the whispered false hope of excitement, the juicy contradiction of methodical entropy. There must be something that I am missing, to hold the belief that loneliness is an art form that the city does not recognize.

There is, I discovered, nothing unique about standing alone in silence, not here, not while I chose to focus on my internalized conflictions. I am not the first to wonder about the realities of hovering, looking for nothing, but craving everything. I am not the only one who feels like loneliness is incurable. I can’t be — but it seems like it, as I’ve walked along the river for long enough without company, though I can see in others that it exists. I wanted something to happen to me, but I wasn’t willing to do it myself.

I thought about this while I sat at the bar near my apartment, where people looked at me but didn’t engage, and the next morning at a table in the back of a coffee shop, where people looked at me but didn’t engage. I was pretending to be productive simply by holding a pen over a piece of paper, waving it around slightly. I wanted to look busy, like I didn’t hope someone would talk to me. I thought about this while lying in bed in the middle of the night, concerned about my insomnia but not concerned enough to make any simple lifestyle changes. I thought about this walking on the sidewalk with my phone in my hand, skipping through my playlist until I found the song I liked.

Attempting to be less punctilious and more open to the idea of remaining present and patient may prove to be a resolution to the problem I created for myself. I must have, at some point and by complete accident, become the cynosure of my own misery, assuming that the ache in my chest was brand new, that it was my heart telling my mind that I was in the wrong, that the people huddled together at the fringe of Williamsburg were aware of an elite secret I would never become privy to.

This, of course, was never the case. It’s something else entirely, though I still cannot place my finger on it.

Living in the busiest city in the world has a specific seclusion to it, an unavoidable question of humanity. It’s an unusual feeling, and I wonder if there’s really such thing as getting used to it. Potentially there is an answer hiding somewhere in the background, or maybe in the melody.