Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Night Thoughts

I have a capacity for bitterness that I'm not fond of. Byronic melodrama aside (and I don't have the dark looks or profile to pull that off), it's not an attractive quality. It feels petulant--not childish, but adolescent--the impulse isn't to stomp one's foot but to sneer and say hateful things that one doesn't really mean, but which express the ugliness that's percolating within. It is, as I say, not appealing--it speaks to a weakness of character, an ability to forget all the good things my life contains and to focus only on what I've lost, or lack. And yet I keep circling around it.

Late nights are the worst. I don't work a normal 9 to 5 schedule, so I can and do stay up quite late. But those around me go to bed earlier, and it leaves me alone in quiet and darkness, the perfect environment for brooding. Alone. That's the sting. I'm alone, and it feels unfair, and unfairness makes me bitter. QED.

But why? It's not as if I particularly deserve to be with someone. After all, isn't my propensity for bitterness Exhibit A in the case of Why I Shouldn't Be With Someone? (Well, actually, Exhibit A would be my looks, but the propensity for bitterness is in the top six or seven, trust me.) There are people I know who are kind and giving and patient and good, and who are, through no fault of their own, alone. Hell, I don't even much like other people--surely I'm tempermentally designed to be alone. Misanthropes shouldn't date, shouldn't marry, and I'm a misanthrope. I should be alone. QED, again.

But like Johnathan Swift, the patron saint of misanthropes (well, maybe Ambrose Bierce or H.L. Mencken) said, "Principally I hate and detest that animal called man; although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth." Hating the lot as a lot doesn't mean there aren't individual exceptions. And there are for me, plenty. Enough so that, perhaps, I'm not utterly wasted on human company. On love. Perhaps.

At the moment, though, not. There's no one here. And I'm aware, at night especially, of the emptiness. Of the empty time between now and bed, when there's no one here to share the quiet. Of the empty bed itself that's waiting in the next room. Of the emptiness that fills--hah, oxymoron--my head and my heart.

And I know--believe me, I know how incredibly freaking tedious it is to hear someone drivel on about 'boo-hoo-hoo, poor me I'm so alone in the world'--well, I know how tedious it sounds to my ears when I drivel on about it. When others do so, I'm actually quite sympathetic. But then, that's because those others aren't moody pricks who deserve to be alone. Still, conversationally, it's a dud--it's a complaint about something that isn't, fundamentally vacuous as a subject. I mean, you're literally talking about nothing. Yawn. And yet, sometimes it's all one can think about, and that means it's all one can talk about. So, boring, perhaps, but inevitable.

And yet it's something I have to get used to. Something that I can't be bitter about. Because if I'm bitter, oh, you'd better believe I'm going to stay alone--who the hell needs this kind of noise on a first date? But the only reason I'd be on a date (a huge, huge hypothetical, I might add) would be to alleviate the bitterness. So the condition precludes the cure. Damn these vicious cycles.

It's not easy, being with someone. I know this. (Believe me, I have nothing but grateful sympathy for those who have and who still put up with me, as friends and lovers. If it's not easy in the abstract, it's doubly so with a moody prick like me.) And it's too easy to simply say, Oh, if only someone were here, then it would all be OK. Because of course it wouldn't. The strange comfort is that if someone were here, I know that I'd just find something else to grouse about--that I wouldn't be happy--I'd just be miserable about something else. That's how it's always been in the past, that's how it'd be now. Except--

Except maybe not. My new shrink is working out well; people have been telling me how much more relaxed I seem, how much more confident--I'm in much more of a toss-the-head-and-say-what-the-hell frame of mind. I'm actually feeling good about things--even the prospect of not getting hired this year and spending another year on the market doesn't faze me; I like where I live, what I do, the people I work with. I like what I'm teaching (usually--the next few weeks are going to suck, but that's just because of the text, not the students). I like teaching--no, I love teaching, and I'm grateful to be able to do it. In short--so much of my life is so good, and I really am aware of it, in a way I haven't been for, well, years. So maybe--I don't know. Maybe I'm obsessing over being alone because it's the one big piece that's missing. No, it wouldn't be perfect, my life, but it's finally--I'm finally good. Ready. Calm. Even happy. I like this 'me.' And there's no one here to give myself to--to make happy--to be happy with. Happiness needs to be shared to be whole. I'm not whole. And at night, it's easy to think about that, and nothing else.


Anonymous Katie said...

I know how this goes - I think many of us probably understand more than we wish we did. So while parts of your post made me frown in concern, it ended hopefully, which is all I ask of myself on certain days. So while I get the dark thoughts, I also love the bright hope.

Someone will come along for you, Dryden. I'm sure of it. And I try to believe it when you say it to me, so be a sport and nod along when I say it to you. :)

11:28 AM  
Blogger phd me said...

Yes. I know. Uh huh. Exactly. Yeah, I could have written this...

3:21 PM  

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