Friday, April 10, 2009

The Talented Mr. Smith

One of the teachers that is new to us this year is a guy I shall call Mr. Smith. He is an incredibly talented writer and a great teacher and we are lucky to have him. I have his permission to post some of his writing here....I only wish I could write this well. It describes my feelings pretty well.


The Vices and Virtues, Downturns and Delights, of Living Alone

For years I lived alone in the damp expanse under the rickety garage of an elderly couple. Though the stripper pole in the corner made me think "hole in the wall" more than anything else, the couple advertised the place as an apartment. (It wasn’t really a stripper pole but a support beam. It jutted through the dark space of my ‘apartment,’ and the two times friends visited me there, the first thing they did after bringing up how weird it was that my bathroom was my kitchen too was walk over to the corner, wrap their legs around the black pole and shimmy. So it felt like a pole.)

I was renting from the couple and didn't have to worry about upkeep, so I spent a lot of time surfing online, looking for obscure trivia. According to the 2000 Census Bureau, about 27 million other Americans live alone. That's 26% of all households, almost triple the 9.3% percent from 1950.

That's a lot of Generation Rx-ers eating cereal over the sink. It's a lot of retired folk spreading their newspapers out at the kitchen table. It's a lot of working women with boxes of Nutri-Grain bars on top of the fridge. We're the Breakfast Club, and every morning we never meet. We know the downturns and delights, vices and virtues of single dwelling. We know the romance of living alone for a Little While (fluffed, unused pillows), and the ruins of living alone for Too Long (more fluffed, unused pillows).

We live in all kinds of places, for myriad purposes.

Flirting still with the fantasy of a storybook castle, the professional princess fills her posh studio apartment with silk coverings and fine art. She doesn’t mind being confined to her high-rise because she doesn’t spend much time there. She works full time and on her lunch break lets her hair down and whips it around in the windy crosswalks between office buildings, like in shampoo commercials. She meets men for asparagus dinners.

My old apartment wasn’t fancy, and everything in it seemed to be single. It had one sink where the plates air-dried next to the toilet, one fire alarm missing AA batteries, one bottle of Dawn dish soap used for shampoo, and one bed donated by my Uncle's black lab who, with characteristic harbor-dog showmanship, upgraded to a twin and gave me her futon.

These are two extremes. Most people who live alone dwell between the princesses’ neo-castle and the Neanderthal cave in comfy apartments and houses. That’s kind of where I’m at now. After three years of underground hibernation, I'm in an '85 Fleetwood single-wide with more than one room. And a hallway! And I love it.

A lot of us do. There’s a lot of good stuff here.

Breakfast Club members change the TV channel without tallying family votes. We monologue in front of the bathroom mirror and perform exceedingly well in public. We respond to emails daily, update real photo albums with real pictures, and monitor our Playlists constantly. We bring home teriyaki in little boxes and leave it in the fridge for a snack, happily knowing no one will eat it, except maybe the mold that got the last box.

During these times, we say we selected this solace. Living alone was a choice, a time for making a monastery of the mind, for learning to cohabitate with Quiet. (Quiet, if you don’t know, is the roommate who asks pointed questions and waits for answers.)

Yesterday while quietly folding laundry I thought of a poem by Richard Jones, where the character does typical stuff like take white towels from the dryer. After that: "I carry them through the house / as though they were my children / asleep in my arms." In difficult moments when Quiet stalks, our seclusion may feel less like a choice and more like something that happened without our permission. Like somehow our pit-stop became a permanent prison from which only e-Harmony can free us.

If one is the loneliest number, it is also a meditation for ascetic souls. I used to, in that old apartment, sit on the floor and fold the labels from Bud Light bottles into origami swans. I would stand by the windowsill while brushing my teeth and re-read greeting cards. I would burn expensive red candles all the way down to fragile, cooling circles of wax.

Sometimes, curled in a ball, I would fall asleep on a blanket in front of the heater, sad and happy at the same time.


Want to read more of Mr. Smith's writing? There is an excellent sample here and some more here.

1 comment:

Melissa B. said...

Has he been published, other than in the blog world? Sounds like a promising candidate, to moi! And so nice of you to feature him, too. BTW, don't forget Sx3 tomorrow...this seasonal salute even features a Real Prize!