Rendered Fat Content


Hermit Saints Triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, c.1505
"The background bustle could recharge my spirit …"

As a card-carrying introvert, I know alone. I know Alone In A Crowd. It's my natural state! I know the reassurance of bounded solitude, where I can hear the surrounding bustle without experiencing any danger of being run over by it. I understand Watching From Afar, where the whole rest of the world seems to be performing expressly for my entertainment and enlightenment. The Muse will tell you that she's often felt the need to forcefully expel me out into the world because otherwise nothing seems to happen. I can and sometimes even have passed for gregarious. I can work a room, though it burns through my energy like a diesel dually burns through fuel. I've known and come to prefer the pleasures of the solo presence, invisible at my choosing, alone on stage performing for a room of empty strangers. Not, though, sequestered away within an entire society of the sequestered away, I'm coming to know HomeAlone.

I hardly live alone. The Muse is here twenty-four seven since The Lab ordered her stay away and work from home. TheGrandOtter's here, too, though she keeps New Zealand hours, turning off her light about the time I get up in the morning.
Two kittens also cohabitate, one of whom even occasionally deigns to hop onto my lap to cover my shirtfront with fur while contentedly purring. Ordered to shelter in place, home loses most of its sheltering qualities, a variant on the old Be Spontaneous! Paradox, where directing spontaneity erases any possibility of anything like a spontaneous response. When the respite becomes a mandated choice, it no longer feels very much like a respite or a choice.

I have tools, though, ones which seemed almost adequate in ordinary times, but which utterly fail under duress. They each fail along the same ancient fault line. Long ago, someone proposed a standard user interface which became the pattern for every fricking user interface since. That original one featured some searching and box checking, an entity euphemistically referred to as a "cart," and the now-familiar extraction sequence intended to capture, confirm, and charge card information. Amazon, EBay, and even the little manufacturing company from which I recently ordered a replacement crawl space fan, all use the same basic configuration, each probably paying some patent troll use royalty for the privilege. This system does not work! It does not reliably produce the desired outcome. Amazon's UI never worked, usually blocking me during the PastWord sequence. eBay, if anything, was even worse, successfully chasing me away with every attempt to gain entry. I finally lost interest. LinkedIn, an application for which I swear nobody has ever figured out an actual use, took user hostility to an entirely new level. Twitter, too, proved hopeless. The Muse seems to figure out these things, little boxes arriving every few days as a result of her E-Commerce activity. I still try to find a brick and mortar alternative, since the online option seems as though it was designed for use in an alternate alien universe. It's the standard now, though.

HomeAlone and enjoined from shopping, I thought that I might utilize the supermarket's much-touted online ordering facility. After a day of concerted work, I managed to get past the Pastword trap, every bit as cleverly designed as any video game's super-secret access protocol. Once inside, the app goes crazy and takes me along with it. Some items feature an Add To Cart button, but some inexplicably do not. I quickly find myself stranded in a non-functional corner with no clues about what I might do to escape. The ESC key shuns me. I finally, having successfully added a gallon of milk I do not really need to my cart, simply close the tab, knowing full well that the likelihood that I'll manage to reenter that app within the next week will be tiny as a result. I figure that I might be able to observe the isolating protocol if I just show up at the store at four fifty five AM, when almost nobody else will be shopping there, get in and out using the self-check-out lane, and return HomeAlone again without exposing myself to mortal danger. Even mortal danger seems an improvement on that shopping app.

I take my responsibilities seriously. I'm the primary shopper, cook, and bottle washer here. When I see MY larder shrinking, I take personal responsibility to see that it's quietly restored. In ordinary times, I fulfill this role almost invisibly, as any card-carrying introvert might. I revel in my inherent invisibility. I can slip in and out without engaging in even the smallest bout of actual shopping, for I know what I'm after, where to find it, and how to extricate myself without inconveniencing anyone else. A ghost passing without notice. If I had to remember some Pastword to gain entry into a supermarket, I would never shop there. If I had to use a search engine to find items on my list in the store, I'd die of boredom before finding anything. … How do I spell "broccoli" again? … If I had to type in my credit card information to consummate each purchase, I'd end up leaving piles of checked-out selections by the scanner and depart empty-handed and steaming.

The tools intended to blunt the deepening sense of isolation leave me feeling even more isolated. The Extroverted Muse finds the isolation almost unbearable, but no more unbearable than does her introverted partner. My semi-sacred space seems cruelly violated. I struggle to find a corner in which to actually feel alone, producing more deeply isolated feelings than could actual solitary confinement. I might be a hermit, but even hermits have guiding principles. Their aloneness hardly defines them. Their rituals sustain them, and their rituals, deeply personal to the point of unspeakably secret, seem easily violated by any well-meaning benefactor in their midst. They do not play a spectator sport. HomeAlone comes when that old reliable solitary corner turns out to be within ear shot of another's YouTube playback or video conference call, when the door might at any time spring open, when no place remains into which to to safely flee. In ordinary times, I could give up on myself and run to that favorite corner in the public library or my preferred seat in that neighborhood coffee shop where I could practice my introversion in a slightly more public venue, just for a small injection of difference. The background bustle could recharge my spirit and I could return to being HomeAlone without feeling so damned isolated there.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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