Monday, September 29, 2014

A Slanted Playing Field

I made it until nearly 1 p.m. today without feeling very miserable, but I had help, in the form of one of my tutoring students, who was heartbreakingly downcast today because a senior nurse at his hospital gave him a very hard time over the weekend for his Salvadoran accent. My driving him back and forth to the Beverly Hills Public Library, where he got his own card and checked out two more short novels by his new favorite author, John Steinbeck, noticeably raised his spirits, which in turn cheered me. But by the time I’d dropped him off at his bus stop, come home, and had some lunch, it was too late to head for the beach, so here I am, in midafternoon, gagging on the black dog’s ugly thick fur.

The sun is shining and it isn’t too hot. I look out my 10th floor windows and imagine everyone in sight — perhaps a fifth of Los Angeles — living a more interesting, more fulfilled life than my own, with meaningful work to perform, places to go, and people to see. Nearly all, I would guess, are very much less lonely, and whom do I have to blame for that other than myself? At this moment I am estranged from everyone on my very, very exclusive personal A-list.

It isn’t, mind you, that I’m incapable of recognizing that many people are sweet, generous, kind, thoughtful, loyal, thrifty, and obedient (a smidgen of humor for Holly!), but that none of that, in and of itself, is enough to make me want to spend time around them. erMost people bore me, and I’ve got enough of a boredom problem without putting myself in situations in which extricating myself from a stultifying conversation, let’s say, would hurt another’s feelings.

On a case by case basis, I don’t feel that I’ve failed to meet halfway any of my tiny inner circle. But when I step back and look at the big picture, I see one whose loneliness is a function of his inability to get along with anyone, someone who’ll probably die soon — social isolation is known to decrease longevity — and alone.

You know with whom I get along really well? Complete strangers (not counting our faithfully LIKEing each other’s posts and sending each other occasional messages of encouragement) who’ve somehow become friends of mine on Facebook. I haven’t spent 30 seconds in their presence, but I feel I can count on them to hear me crying out in the darkness, and to offer consolation. There are days when I can’t imagine what I’d do without them.

There’s something beautiful about that, and something deeply pathetic.  If we were to meet for a frappuccino or something, they’d probably change their minds about me pronto, or I’d get bored and want to hurry home to stare enviously out the window at people living lives more fulfilled than my own. Or, most likely of all, the Groucho Marx Syndrome would kick in, and I’d think to myself, “Do I really want to be seen with anyone so desperate as to allow herself to be seen with me?”

I like to imagine my students all like me a lot, and God knows I love them, but I can’t pretend the playing field’s level. Maybe I’m capable of being likable only when I’m in a position of power.


  1. Well, at least you know yourself enough for this one.
    Tho 'tis true. Words are powerful. My FB interactions allow me to figure someone out well before any coffee meet-up if I so decide to do so. So far so good, really. Out of meeting close to 50 "strangers" I have only had one unfortunate interaction. I have been taken on a tour of Salem by a architectural historian, had drinks with a marine biologist who went to the floor of the ocean on the Alvin, went to many a music gig, seen people's art, have been given cool tours of all sorts of places including various parts of England, NYC, & Boston. If you're bored then you're boring.

  2. This was beautiful. I love your writing... Reading it soothes me, much like a favorite quilt one loves to slip under. A cozy, warm, loving place carved out with words. Your brave willingness to share your thoughts humbles me. In many ways I feel so many of the feelings you describe. It helps to know someone else out there harbors these thoughts. Thanks for making the time to give power to them with words. It is a generous gift that I cherish every single time.