When I entered the room, 20 minutes late to a three and a half hour dinner, and with what I believed to be a respectably late arrival, my eyes widened and my body immediately slowed, my feet pulling me to the other door, the way out. The entire room was filled with laughing, chattering people, somewhere around 800 souls munching and networking and lifting their glasses of oaky California chardonnay to toast nascent friends and old accomplishments. I had expected a more subdued crowd, or at least one more serious and fashionably late. Instead, I emerged through the double doors to bear witness to a room full of epidemiologists, cardiologists and endocrinologists who had, apparently, been at dinner for at least an hour.
Humans are social beings, but sometimes I like to disconnect from that vast web. Connections are wrought, finely or with steel fibers, drawing us into new networks and worlds. Once in a while, I feel myself slowly unraveling those threads, loosening the bonds just enough so that I can slip between the layers, settling in a dark, cool space with just my thoughts. I can’t stay for very long – I crave the spoken word and company of friends and penetrating ions of sunlight that revive my smile and optimism. Relationships can be sacred or nefarious, they uncover parts of ourselves that would otherwise be shy and dormant under the eaves, and their unexpected effects can change a life’s trajectory. Yet, they can be exhausting, their very incandescence inspiring the need for the opposite: quiet and darkness and rest.
The need for respite from people is not a well-understood phenomenon. Sometimes it may even require white lies. Its success often is contingent on having an escape – an apartment, a lock on the door, a spot of solitude somewhere in the world. Once in a while, when I wish to depart and enter this space, I begin to shed the expectations of all those words and glances and social responsibilities. I slowly shut down, system by system, my eyes staring at my veiny inner lids, the phone ringing until it stops, until my restive thoughts are all that accompany my anxious heartbeat. That too slows, breath by breath, the worried thoughts taking the longest time to settle.
Solitude is not, by any means, the solution to anxiety. In fact, the opposite often occurs, with lack of physical or verbal engagement with others leading the mind to overdrive…hypothetical disasters, imagined possibilities that serve as adrenalin secretogogues rather than representations of the truth. Hibernation only produces loneliness for me, which is neither calming nor productive.
It is not this prolonged solitude that I intermittently crave. It is the peace of allowing myself to forgo charm and wit and generosity for a few hours. I cannot possibly say or do anything to myself that may be misconstrued, thus there is no energy spent on repairing such inadvertent damages. I am accountable only to myself. I have time to read and absorb, to write, create and ponder. I know that I would have nothing to write about if I did not ever engage with this complicated world, yet I am unable to amass and coalesce my passionate thoughts unless I separate my mind from those very experiences.
Craving this quiet, while I was mentally tired and wishing that I could connect with my pillow instead of a future colleague, the experience walking into such a dinner made me suddenly recoil into my introverted sphere. I said hello for a few minutes, then drew back, falling into step with my thoughts, smoothing the darkness over myself and retreating to my own space, holding onto the ribbons of my energy extravasating into the room. A re-charge of vitality gained from the involution of my focus. The next morning, alongside the misty morning and square black and white tiles of the breakfast hall, amidst the speakers and posters and opportunities, I was ready to chatter with the world again.