All I wanted was to be left alone. Alone to read. Alone to prepare. Alone to be alone. I try to explain that it’s hard-wired in me, but it never comes out clearly. Saying without hurting, “I just want to be alone.”
And then I was. Flying across the country alone. Back home. Stepping out into the 60 degree California night en route to a dark, cold house. Alone. But then I got into the shuttle, just a short trip between SFO and my car. And there I was face to face with 20-somethings. Beautiful. Big diamond rings on the women’s hands. Smart clothes on the men. Tanned. Actual surfboards taking up the luggage rack. My overpacked suitcase between my legs, I looked down at my winter coat, now covered with cat hair and dry skin from a week away and a day of travel. I wondered if it was all worth it.
Immediately, though, I thought about this actual draft I composed before the trip, while I was still surrounded. Not alone. Not home. You can tell why I saved it as a draft, but never planned to publish it in this form:
There’s something quietly humbling about being here. In small town, rural Minnesota in the depth of winter. I live most of my life feeling insecure and out of place: knowing that I don’t make enough, that I’m not good looking enough, that my future isn’t as bright as I once hoped it would be. I’m convinced that my shoulders have grown hunched to reflect my inner feelings of inadequacy.
And then I come here, from sunny, futuristic San Francisco, teaching at Stanford, with several degrees to my name, seemingly a world away and so much to feel confident about. And here it means nothing. Instead I’m surrounded by men who built their own houses, women who sacrificed their careers to take care of their children and parents, and a historic downtown that keeps bumping along, unwilling to give in to the economic decline and drain of recent generations.
But here it’s different. It’s not inadequacy or insecurity. Here it’s a mutual admiration; that we live our separate lives in our separate ways
No one is at a loss for me not continuing in that vein. But the sentiment was at least partly right: at home I feel undervalued, and away I feel, well, perhaps just a bit full of myself.
But what does that say about being alone? The urge to be alone in the latter, the consequential loneliness I feel alone in the former?
I arrived home, as expected, to a house that had been locked up for a week. It was dark, and cold. I put things in order without music or sounds. I drank a beer by the light of Christmas bulbs we hadn’t taken down before leaving. I got into bed and never felt warm. And this, for what it’s worth, is pure coincidence, but today (the day after) I listened to Chet Faker’s “Cigarettes & Loneliness” on repeat at least a dozen times. I’m not feeling particularly lonely, but it still felt like the right song for the right time. It still does.
This song may just be my favorite song off of my favorite album of 2014. Against a lot of odds perhaps since I had never heard of him until my friend Christian dropped his name. Even then I didn’t get around to listening to the LP until CBC Radio 2’s The Signal started adding “Gold” to their rotation. And even then I was more dialed in to the R&B that anchors the front of the album more than the introspective, DIY nature of the back-end. In fact, this song really only came to my immediate attention when I fell asleep one night on the train back home. As we were pulling into 4th and King this song was humming in my headphones. I awoke, startled to be into the city already. I restarted the song, rediscovering it for the first time. Listening to it on repeat for what ended up being the way home.
And because Christian thinks that 1998 and C&L go together (they’re back to back on the album) here’s a live version, which–it should be noted–should probably be played first, before the video above.