Thursday, April 24, 2008

Adventures in solitude

Part of what made last weekend's walk on State Street so enjoyable was the fact that I did it alone.

This goes completely against 33 years of accumulated belief. Yes, there are certain things you do alone, like reading or shopping for socks or engaging in any form of cardiovascular exercise. But activities of a less purposeful sort--heading to the park or cruising a farmer's market or hanging out at the mall, you know, activities that can be best described as going places to walk around and see what's going on--well, aren't they best experienced with someone else? Someone with which to chat and joke and riff when something unintentionally amusing occurs?

Sunday was warm with a dawning summer, the sky cloudless. Without any concrete plans for the day, I decided just to spend a couple hours downtown. I admit I had a little shopping to do, but the main draw was just getting out of the house and seeing what was going on. The rest of Madison apparently had the same idea as State Street was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with students and families and couples and people all unified in the desire to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

I saw three guys and two girls perform an island-inspired drum and dance routine on Library Mall. I saw a washboard player of indeterminate gender provide rhythm for a weathered steel guitarist. I saw a trio of aggressively fashionable Asian men wearing scarves and elf shoes. I saw at least forty bickering cyclists lapping Capital Square in some extended endurance race. I saw an enormous dog mortify its owner by happily dropping a shit in the middle of State Street.

I saw a lot of things, and at some point I realized I was enjoying the experience in part because I didn't have anyone to share it with. Without a partner, the city and its people and its bustle of activity became my companion.

I was reminded of last summer when I travelled solo to San Francisco. It was my first trip alone, and while I enjoyed the point each day in which I met up with other vacationing friends, I found myself treasuring the mornings spent wandering the streets by myself. Much like Sunday it was just me and the city and its people, and I don't think I would have connected with San Francisco nearly as much had I experienced it entirely with a travelling companion.

There is a certain raw power in not having someone else with which to build a zone of defense--it's just you and the world around you. Without your own bubble of social activity, you're more attuned to the details of your environment. You're free to truly connect with your surroundings and let yourself be tugged in whatever direction most pulses with life.

Which isn't to say that shared experiences aren't rewarding in their own way--my mornings in San Francisco wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable without the accompanying social periods in which the city was used as a launch pad for epic collaborative brilliance, after all. I am inherently a people person.

But I'm done assuming someone else is necessary for those moments when I want to get out of the house. I think I'll take myself to the farmer's market this Saturday just to walk around a bit and see what's going on, in fact. I'll wander without a plan and drift toward centers of activity.

I'll probably buy something, but I won't be disappointed if I don't.

No comments: