Correction: I can’t be alone without constantly doing something. Ironically, most of my hobbies are, by definition, lonely activities. I love to write, read, paint, play piano. Even the sports I participate in are individual ones — horseback riding, figure skating, ballet. As an only child, I was alone for the most part. Every morning in elementary school, I would wake up before my mother (who loves to faire la grasse matinée AKA sleep in), feed myself breakfast, and walk across the pond. No, I am not Jesus. For the better part of the year, this pond was frozen. When I was five, my father moved to Florida and I would fly down from Ann Arbor to visit him several times a year. The first time, my mother accompanied me. Every time after that, I voyaged alone. And you know what? I loved it. Flying alone is one of my favorite things to do in the world. I love every aspect of it, from waiting to go through security to taking the indoor tram to marching down the moving walkways. In fact, when I travel with people, I enjoy myself less because they distract me from my ultimate airport hobby — people-watching.
People-watching is a sport I take very seriously. Those bird-watchers have nothing on me, trust me. As I stand in line with driver’s license and boarding ticket in hand, I casually scan the humans around me. I have a particular fondness for families, maybe because genetics always intrigued me. In any case, I love spinning these crazy tales about where people are from, if they’re commencing or ending their trip, if they’re wealthy or poor, if they’re happy or sad. Perhaps people-watching is a very writerly activity. After all, isn’t it our job to observe people carefully and then craft our own stories about them? Once in awhile, I spot some particularly memorable people and I catalog them subconsciously for the day I need to summon them into one of my books.
On my last flight to Florida, I noticed a Chinese couple. They caught my attention because they had that look — privileged. I could tell immediately that they were Chinese Chinese and not American Chinese. They appeared to be a bit older than me. The man wore expensive frames and was thin in the way Asian men tend to be. The girl, on the other hand, was unusual for a Chinese woman. Perhaps that was why he liked her. She was tall, taller than me. Her black leggings emphasized her slim legs that ran for miles. Expectedly, she clutched a white iPhone. Let me tell you, there are two types of people in this world: those who own black electronics and those who own white electronics. I’ll let you figure out what the implications are. Anyway, I wondered what they were doing in Detroit. Did they have jobs? When the TSA officer said her name, I chuckled to myself. We had the same last name — Cao.
Now that I’ve gone on a long tangent, I’ll return to my original point. You see, it’s not that I have problems doing things alone. I have a knack for finding plenty of things to do, no matter where I am. The trouble comes when I’m alone and I have nothing to do. Sometimes, I’m simply too fatigued to be productive. Other times, I’ve exhausted all my options. When I get to that point, it’s like I fall headfirst into this well of darkness that is my own mind. My thoughts become a charging train of which I have no control. I start putting myself into the shoes of a drug addict. I wonder how it feels to be a gay man. I calculate how many days we humans have left on this planet. I read articles on Gawker and watch the author get trashed by commenters (oh, you Gawkerites) and feel like maybe I suck as a writer as well. I cringe, what would they say about my writing? Then I am terrified about the possibility that my novel will never be published. To appease my fear, I start Googling every editor who currently has my manuscript and attempt to predict which ones will offer/reject.
Needless to say, once the above happens, I get to a very dark place. I feel that I’m trapped in the jail cell that is my own head and I can’t escape. The only way I can un-imprison myself is to physically displace myself. Sometimes, class is an effective solution. Other times, Phineas drops by and I breathe a sigh of relief. I love being with my three half-siblings in Florida because I never have to be alone. In the worst case scenario, I can go help Kevin build his Lego SpongeBob house or get owned by Justin and Lily in Wii boxing. I don’t know why I can’t be alone. Part of the reason is that I’m a true extrovert — I thrive off the energy of other people. The other part of the equation…I don’t know. Maybe I’m just terrified of my own mind?
Are you happy being alone? What do you do when you have nothing to do?