Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Solitude

“Room 228 this time around, sir.”  The hotel clerk offered me a polite smile as she slid the key card across the counter toward me.  She’s used to my arrival in the lobby every other week or so.  She already knew that I wanted a relatively quiet room tucked away on the second floor.  I got a puzzled look the first time when I said I wanted something "far from the madding crowd."  Memo to self: literary allusions need the right audience in order to work.  You see, I teach various college history courses at satellite campuses for two universities, sometimes far from home, and, when coupled with military drill weekends and Army training courses throughout the states, overnight stays in hotels has become a routine for me.

I can tell the clerk is mildly curious as to who I am and what I do.  Why do I show up every few weeks?  I don’t volunteer much information.  Why should I?  I’m a private person, notwithstanding the fact that I joined Facebook last September against my better judgment.  She can think I’m a serial killer for all I care.  For the record, though, I’m decidedly not a serial killer.  I’m usually wearing my grey Army sweatshirt, a kind of security blanket for me these days.  Perhaps she or the other front desk clerk with whom I’ve interacted at this hotel thinks I’m doing top security work for the military and assumes that I can’t talk about it.  Well, that’s how my mind works anyway.  I like to embellish my mundane life with such flights of fantasy.  I’m no doubt revealing a narcissistic streak in attributing to the hotel clerk an inordinate amount of curiosity about me.

Once I enter the hotel room, it’s business as usual.  I turn on CNN and get my laptop connected to wireless before anything else.  Then I unpack my things and perhaps brush my teeth.  If I’m in my disciplined and healthy mode, I’ll crank out some sit-ups and push-ups on my yoga mat, get a cup of hotel room coffee going, take a nice hot shower, and then grade papers or create a game plan for my next class.  If I’m feeling rather lethargic or lugubrious, I’ll partake of some Mexican Coke and my flask of whiskey, an indulgence which is usually prelude to losing myself in a novel or watching one of those murder mystery shows like 48 Hours Mystery or Dateline.  Whatever I do, I’ll end up just sitting there in the hotel room, in solitude.

Hobbes famously wrote that the life of humans in their natural condition is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  I guess I’m constantly regressing into this pre-civilized state, for as far as the first adjective goes, I’m as solitary as they come, both by design and circumstance. (Moreover, friends and foes alike would probably call me nasty and brutish as well.)  I suppose the two are related.  That is, solitary creatures, whether intentionally or half-consciously, inevitably seek out an existence that allows them to be solitary, whereas sanguine and gregarious people desire the comfort of the group in their career choices.  As a university lecturer and platoon leader in the Army I’m not exactly separated from society.   Public speaking, before a class of fidgeting students or a gaggle of wisecracking soldiers, is routine for me.  Moreover, as a father of three rambunctious daughters, I find myself engaging in continual negotiations and putting my conflict-resolution skills to the test.  No, I’m not a monk or hermit.  Such desert-like isolation wouldn’t suit me.   Besides, I couldn’t get used to the hair shirt.  I'm solitary but not isolated.

Sometimes I think myself accursed for being a melancholy.  After all, seeing grey skies on a clear day, traversing the dunes alone while everyone else is warming their hands and singing songs at the beach campfire, withdrawing into myself when others find comfort in social gatherings or hanging with a friend, can take its toll.  Then there are those times when I embrace who I am and revel or find solace in reflection and solitude.  Yes, seeking solitude is part and parcel of my temperament. And for good or ill, I’m often marching to the beat of my own drum, less inclined to base my actions on those of others, especially as I get older.