Accident

plastic-garbage-bag-on-a-wire-fence-paul-edmondson

A longing for affection spilled out of my loneliness.
It flew out and floated around, unbound,
plastic bag in the wind.
It went up up up, moved east and west, then down.
As you were walking through the parking lot, it was caught in your arms.

You looked at it puzzled,
not sure what to make of it,
then carefully removed it from your skin,
squeezed it into a small ball and threw it into the feeling recycle bin.
You’re proud to be a tidy men who cares about the environment.

Three days of rain

On Friday, coming back from watching the presidential debate at a friend’s house, I found myself walking alone on Bedford Avenue, in Williamsburg. It was about midnight.

It was raining slightly, but the streets were still crowded and lively. Young artsy people were filling the bars, smoking on the sidewalk, eating pizza on a step, chatting with each other about relationships, movies, and politics. Wiliamsburg felt cozy and familiar. And I felt utterly lonely and out of place.

Bedford Avenue. Foto by Luke Redmond found on Flickr

I’m at a very strange juncture in my life. I have everything and I have nothing, I’m at the peak and at the lowest point of my life. A jumble of feelings and thoughts about events I can’t make sense of are having a fist fight in my head. Above all, I feel lonely and isolated in this city of 8 million.

The feeling of exclusion from the shared enjoyment has been part of my experience for as long as I remember (I wonder what Freud would say about it ;-). I haven’t yet learned how to deal with it, which means that perhaps I will never do. And to tell you the truth, as much as I love this city, NYC or the US are not the easiest places to learn how to feel connected again:

A recent study by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona found that, on average, most adults only have two people they can talk to about the most important subjects in their lives — serious health problems, for example, or issues like who will care for their children should they die. And about one-quarter have no close confidants at all.

“The kinds of connections we studied are the kinds of people you call on for social support, for real concrete help when you need it,” said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociologist at Duke and an author of the study, which analyzed responses in interviews that mirrored a survey from 1985. “These are the tightest inner circle.”

Bedford Avenue Subway station. Foto by MinusBaby found on Flickr

There are so many things I need to share with my absent close confidants. I’m no longer what I used to be and I don’t know what I’ve become. My personal life is utterly confusing and disappointing. I spend too much at work because work is the only thing that makes sense. Aside from social and environmental justice, I don’t know what to desire or to dream of. The social narrative about myself that I would build by talking to friends, that essential part of my identity that would make me smarter about who I am and what I should do, it’s just not there any more.

Of course, I have a lot of responsibility for my situation. I do fear intimacy. I crave for independence and yet I need a lot. I’m suspicious of other people’s motives. I demand extraordinary loyalty and integrity from me and others. I don’t nurture and maintain my relationships.

Yet this level of isolation is beyond anything I’ve experienced so far. And I know that it’s not just me.

Rome

Bright blue skies, yellow and red buildings, dog shit on the sidewalks, the many rude people, the kind people, people in your face, at your side, all around you. The cupola of Saint Peter in the background, small cars everywhere (where did all the scooters go?).

Once again, I find myself in the familiar and alien city—as my mother, familiar and alien, her face and Alzheimer’s mixing and overlapping in a new person I don’t recognize any longer, difficult to watch for more than a few seconds. This impossibly beautiful city, loved and impossible to love, dirty, sideways, always the same and so different. The thing is, I can’t recognize myself in the faces of the people that I see all around me. They look smaller, darker, angrier, more bitter than I remember, locked in a world that is not mine. Not any more.

I look at old pictures (70s, 80s) and they seem to come from an ancient age, from a third world country, and yet I was there, I know that if I look hard enough I would find my face in the crowd, among the young people in jeans and olive green jackets, and the different anger of those years (as if we could change the world with screams and desires). The world (our world) changed alright, but not as we hoped. It changed in the opposite way, with more divisions, more distinctions, and fewer opportunities for all.

But if this is not my place, which one it is? This new country that gave me a job and a family, wealth and excitement, too much work, and the most beautiful city in the world, but doesn’t take me as one of their own? I’m not here, not there; not in the old world, not in the new world. Suspended, a country on my own, lonely place.

What do I want?

When people ask me what I want, I often can’t answer. Which movie do I want to see? Which food do I want to eat? Which project do I want to work on? Where would I like to live? I look inside, compare the options, listen to my thoughs and inner dialog, and I still don’t know.

People get upset at me because they think that I don’t care enough to answer. Nothing is farthest from the truth. I seriously consider the question. I weight the answers. I try to be fair. Sometimes I come up with a fake answer, just to say something. I know they have the best of intentions. They want to make me happy, they want me to stop complaining or being moody.

What is it? Perhaps the right option for me doesn’t exist, and everything else is at same level of mediocre desirability? It’s just a failure of my imagination that prevents me from dreaming of new possibilities? Or do I have weak desire system? (I do however, have very strong feelings about the things I don’t want)

Perhaps I’m confusing these questions about immediate gratification with questions about life and happiness. “Which movie would you like to see?” becomes in my mind “which movie will change my life forever? Which food would be my madeleine and trigger the creation of my masterpiece? Which project will make me feel loved and fulfilled?”

Rubin's faces/vase figure

I really would like to be able to spit out simple and strong opinions about everything in the world. I would like to be able to give the black and white answers I hear from people all the times: “I love this! I hate this! This is what I really want! Yuck!” But I can’t. I try sometimes, and it sounds fake.

But I also think that my inability to know what I want has to do with the porous borders between myself and the world. What is real? What is true? What is me? What is not-me?

As young kids, both my sister and I had strange perceptual experiences. For both of us, these altered perceptions only happened when we were alone. They were not exactly scary, but they were strange and unsettling.

In my case, the texture of reality would slowly change, drifting away from normality. The entire world would become rougher or smoother. Matter would became larger and lighter, as a balloon slowly inflating. The familiar “sense” of reality would be lost. The way the world looked, sounded, and smelled changed, in a tactile way.

My sister called her altered perceptual states “velocite.” Time seemed to change its pace and got progressively too fast or too slow. I’m pretty sure that it was the same phenomenon, and we just described it differently because words are a poor tool to describe altered perceptions. But it’s impossible to tell.

Old or young?

Only when somebody arrived the spell broke and the world would suddenly recalibrate itself. The presence of another person would function as a reference point and bring time back to the right pace and give back the right texture to the world.

This experience convinced me that reality is much more of a flexible concept than it seems at first glance. The sense of “reality” is a mix of ourselves, the physical world, and the social world.

So, where does this leave our selves? Which movie do I want to see? Which life do I want to live? So many questions, so few answers.

Outside the Castle

Yesterday my horoscope urged me to get cozy with people and “do not remain outside the castle.” I could really see myself outside that castle. It felt so right. Everybody is in the castle having a good time. I’m outside the thick walls, looking up and unsure what to do. Should I knock at the door and try to get in? Should I stay outside? Should I just go home?

Castle

It reminds me of when I moved to Pisa to go to college. I’d just left home for the first time, and I felt very lonely. I rented a room in the house of a crazy family from Naples. From my window I could see the apartment on the other side of the street. There were people going in an out at all times. They would shout from the street, the girls in the apartment would open the window, look down and greet the visitors with laughs and witty remarks. The sound of those windows opening and closing, the laughs and the greetings that were never for me made me feel even more lonely.

That feeling is still with me today. I was sure then that somebody had locked me outside the castle, but now I know that it’s not that simple. I bring that feeling with me, anywhere I go. Even when I’m invited in the castle, some of those thick castle walls follows me, revealing the awkward outsider.

It’s about protection and about not losing myself. It’s about the distance between one person and another and the effort that takes to cover it. It’s about the lack of social efficacy and the fear that my boundaries will be violated. It’s about the intense desire to be with others and the intense desire to be with myself, and the impossibility to find a balance. It’s about feeling vulnerable and the fear to be hurt once again. It’s about the danger that I always feel in the presence of others.

Most of all is about the boundaries between me and the rest of the world: fragile, full of holes, leaking, and kept together by pieces of tape.