In all honesty, I don't mind being alone.
I'll never forget when I was 24 years old and I returned home to New York after a few years in Washington, DC that left me an emotional mess. Not only was I between jobs and low on self-esteem but also, to make matters worse, I was living in an apartment that my parents owned and I was severely conflicted about how that would impact me. I had no money. My coffee table was a cardboard box and I lived off ramen for months at a time. Frequently, I would stay up late at night alternating between staring at empty walls and staring at the ceiling.
One night, I was fully immersed in the kind of self-indulgent self-pitying postmodern self-awareness that normally makes me cringe. I hated myself for it and, in the midst of this, the only thing I could think of was, "Shit, I need a fucking road trip!"
So in the middle of the night, I jumped in my car by myself and drove to Graceland.
This makes no sense for two reasons. One, although I'd been to Graceland before, it never held any emotional appeal to me. My previous trips there were solely for the kitsch factor. As a young and cynical New Yorker, it always made me feel smugly superior to witness Elvis fanatics who had saved their entire lives to make that once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to a place that I was unable to fathom could have any emotional impact in a meaningful way for anybody.
Secondly, truth be told, I don't even fucking like Elvis. As Chuck D once said, "Elvis never meant shit to me." I always thought that he was a white poser capitalizing on a legacy of black music that was marketed as an apologistic fallacy for black people. It would have made much more sense for me to drive to Asbury Park, the birthplace of Bruce Springsteen, a man whose music actually always resonated with me (and still does) in a much more meaningful way. Shit, sometimes if I'm in the right mood, I'll still tear up when I hear "Thunder Road."
Anyway, regardless of relevancy, I just got in my car and drove. Between passing empty Waffle Houses and listening to talk radio, I immersed myself in solitude. Though I wasn't quite sure why I had initially jumped in my car to drive, I suddenly knew I had made the right decision.
Solitude is a funny thing.
Armed only with bags of beef jerky and a carton of cigarettes, I found myself on the road pondering what I really wanted out of my life and what I needed to change in order to effect those things. I realized that I was currently on a path that could possibly cause more harm than it did good and I needed to get myself in a completely different frame of mind.
I can't even begin to explain how cathartic of an experience I underwent. The longer I drove, the more I began to find clarity. A million things went through my mind.
Towards the end of the drive, I started thinking about how much I enjoyed the comfort of solitude. Growing up as a child, I had always been somewhat of a loner. While I enjoyed playing sports with my friends, I much more enjoyed isolating myself in my bedroom with a stack of books. There's a myriad of reasons for all of that but I won't get into it now. Like Paul Auster (in his semi-brilliant memoirs,) I've often explored the estrangement among the relationships of those isolated individuals closest to me and the common experience that linked all of them together.
Sometimes solitude is emotional. Sometimes it's physical. Never underestimate the power of both.
Anyway, the sun was partway up the sky as I drove into Memphis but, in many ways, the sky still looked as tortured as Elvis' soul. Some people are filled with optimism when they see the sun rise. Personally, I've always enjoyed the quiet solace of the night. At this moment, I remember still being filled with doubt and dread. All I really wanted to do was keep driving but I had no idea where to go. My Motel 6 map had failed me once again.
So I drove to the gates of Graceland and sat outside in the near-dawn and waited for the ticket booth to open. I could only imagine what the graveyard shift workers were thinking as they saw me. A Japanese hipster on some sort of international self-ironic journey to Mecca? A drunk college student passed out from the night before? Hell, in all honesty, I didn't even know what to think of myself.
At the end of the day, it didn't even matter that I was at Graceland. What mattered most was the comfort of being alone. For the first time in a while, I had the luxury of time and freedom to work on myself. And it helped. I won't get into the nuances of it but it was what I needed to do at the time. We should never forget that occasional solitude is occasionally critical.
In this regard, parenting changes things in ways that we can never imagine.
If I've learned anything, it's that the key to parenting is finding the nexus between making the ultimate sacrifice of always being there for your child while also allowing the time to be alone so you can better know yourself and work on your own personal development. Finding that middle ground is a constant challenge and both are necessary in order to not only happily raise a child but also in order to raise a happy child. I can't overemphasize how important both those things are.
Because let's face it. Raising a child requires constant attention and engagement. The stakes are high. It's not their job to realize that we sometimes need to take a break from the realities of everyday life. All of us, at different points in our life, need to take responsibility for understanding that it's important to take care of ourselves. It's better for us. It's better for our kids.
For some people, I imagine they can have a spa day or a round of golf to refresh and just be quiet. For others, maybe a couple hours is enough to recharge. If some parents can retain ownership of those hours (with no cell phones, no play dates, no running errands,) I applaud them. Whatever you need to do to calm your mind and settle your soul, hey...I get it, man. More power to you.
That's just not how it works for me.
So, in the meantime, I struggle with this selfish belief that life is somewhat of an individual journey yet, at the same time, I realize that being a parent means subsuming those thoughts for the benefit of one's child. As I write all of this down now, I find myself finally starting to understand the difference between Hume's philosophy of the Self and Hegel's philosophy of the Other.
Does that make it any easier? No.
In all honesty, I'd think about it more but personally I'm too drunk to continue.
What say you?