Writers often speak of the loneliness of writing. Some have even attempted to rectify that condition by forming writing groups, even writing in each other’s company as an antidote of sorts. But whether other people are present or not, one must dwell within one’s mind in order to offer cogent commentary or to formulate fiction of any merit.
Being a writer does tend to leave one in a bit of a social lurch at times, but I know that I have brought it upon myself, and I hope that it shan’t turn me into a hermit, though I sometimes fear I may be trekking the narrow, stone-strewn path to the quiet, uniformly-shuttered village of Curmudgeonly-in-the-Vale. But I’m no troglodyte! My window shutters are fixed in the open position. I am happy to entertain guests. I’m very happy visiting and talking with next-door neighbours on both sides of my row-house abode.
On one side of me, Bob and Brian have been neighbours since my ex-wife and I moved here in 1990. Our talks are wide-ranging, sometimes lubricated by a mutual fondness for Laphroaig (scotch) or a three-olive martini, other times we just drink tea and eat dainties. We exchange witty banter. As Brian partakes of that one, last, over-the-top scotch, he is apt to say something akin to, “If there is such a thing as an afterlife, I hope I don’t end up in heaven! I’d like to spend eternity with my friends.”
I counter with, “Such a nice way of telling me to go to hell!”
To which he replies, “How sanguine of you to imagine that I was including you!” But I know deep down in my heart that he was including me. After all, I brought the Laphroaig.
As a retired Assistant City Clerk, Bob has knowledge of the workings of local government as well as the general history and lore of the town. Those tales are always entertaining. We also share comments about the general workings of business, commodities, economies and what those workings might mean for investment performance.
Like Bob, Brian is also retired. He spent many years as a professor at the University in the English Department, teaching courses as diverse as Thirteenth Century Literature, Old English Grammar, Children’s Literature, the Literature of the Bible, Speech, Composition and the History of the English Language.
Both gentlemen share a keen interest in opera and have won me over to enjoy a few popular operas like Turandot, Carmen, La Somnambula, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. Now that the Met Live series may be seen in theatres world-wide, I have taken that route for opera enjoyment. It avoids the long trip to a major centre, live opera ticket prices, hotel, meals and hospitality costs.
Opera is just so much more casual and accessible these days. I once told a friend that opera is to art like a manned space mission is to science. It takes creativity, vision, planning, attention to detail, talent, precise timing and team work. Unlike cinema, the live performances may not be ‘fixed’ in editing. It must be right the first time, every time.
Brian also has a keen interest in etymology (the history of words) and can tell me about things like how, through what is called “back formation,” the word ‘pea’ was formed when the original singular was “pease” and its plural was “peasen.” Our word “shoes” too was apparently once known in the plural as “shoon,” though its singular was historically “shoe.” That’s etymology. Some people would rather go to the dentist than to suffer through such learning as this, but I find it fascinating.
On the other side of me, my row-house neighbour is even more fascinating and even more friendly! Don’t get me wrong! I am very friendly with Bob and Brian, it’s just that a successful, well-educated, female artist, who’s a great cook, bought the unit beside me and moved here in early 2014. She was my girlfriend before she moved in, so yes, “more friendly.” We share many dinners together, talks, films, day trips, long trips, baseball games, seasonal canning, British TV murder mysteries, etc. She even lets me pretend that I am young and vital by calling me to investigate strange sounds in her house that give her a fright. My spirit soars when I am cast in the role of rescuer! I have a Mighty Mouse identification fixation and can sometimes be heard to operatically sing, “Here I come to save the day!”
Okay, so I’ve got good neighbours. So what? So I get spoiled, that’s what! And being spoiled does nothing good for my general sociability.
I go to social affairs and meet new people, but I rarely meet anyone as interesting as my neighbours. I admit that in a new group, I tend to sit somewhat quietly, listening to what people have to say to each other, but too often it turns out that they don’t actually say much of anything substantive, anything that I can appreciate. They simply wait their turn to blurt out what they did recently, what their children’s accomplishments have been, then they spew the latest ill-conceived, reputedly ‘common knowledge’ rhetoric that happens to be going around. Often, it is an easy-to-repeat saying that denigrates a person that they do not know, or stereotypes a group they think they know. The speakers of such drivel seem to think repeating the saying marks them as “someone in the know.” Then the next one takes his or her turn. I learn nothing from this except how empty the lives of these people must be for such braggadocia and superfluous lollitender to be the thoughts they wish to share with others.
Films, books, opera, discoveries in physics, science, medicine, technology, history, meteorology, art, architecture, even travel stories to an extent, are fine things for discussion. There are other worthwhile topics too.
I find I’m somewhat limited in not being able to discuss the relative merits of one sunshine resort over another, which ocean cruise line is the best, which Caribbean island is superior to which, how various gambling casinos rate with each other, which MMA fighter is the “one to watch” or why the sky will surely fall based upon the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. (Though I’ve had my own say on that one.) I guess the real problem is that I’m just not a glitzy guy, and I’m getting too old and too cranky to even imagine being a glitzy guy.
But all possibilities considered, I suppose I’ll make the trade of being a glitzless stub of a man in exchange for keeping my delusions of depth, even if it means that I have few friends rather than many. I say, “Quality, not quantity suits me fine.” I only hope that my therapist agrees.