–To my friends (and family and everyone in my life),
This pandemic has given us all a lot of time alone. Since it’s been too cold outside to enjoy outdoor stuff with others, the only person I’ve seen is my girlfriend, and now she is out of town for a few weeks to take care of family stuff, so I am totally alone. First, I think it’s not such a bad thing that we all have this year or more of solitude; I think we could all use some space from others for reflection. I know most of us are ready to be around each other again, but since we can’t, let’s use this period of solitude for our benefit. I know I am. Second, I miss you all, and when this is all over I can’t wait to spend time with you again as circumstances allow. Third—and this is what this letter is about—I want to talk bout my lack of desire for conversation…I’m sick of talking, I’m sick of conversation.
As a former academic who spent years in grad school I have spent most of my adult life concerned with words, texts, tomes, lectures, teaching, and essays, and even my social life has been for the most part conversations over drinks about ideas and the words used to express them. My entire social and professional life, until recently, has been all about conversation. Even my new profession, bartending, is a lot about conversation, though thankfully it’s not all that. All of this is to say that I’m kind of bored with conversation and more than boredom, as I will explain below, I long for other things out of my friendships and relationships that haven’t always been there.
Now not being able to spend time together in person, relationships have been abstracted almost completely to conversation, dialogue. We can text each other or call. And even video connection reduces us to talking heads. Some people are creative with the video technology and engage in activities together like watching movies or cooking and sharing a meal together and yet apart, but even in those experiences, the non-conversational element is mediated to the point of abstraction and the conversational element is what becomes to focal point, the point at which connections between human beings occur. I understand that for others who do not need and enjoy pure solitude as much as I do that these conversational connections facilitated by technology, while not ideal, are the best they’ve got to fulfill the social need. But as I said, I’ve spent far too much of my life talking and listening and engaging in dialogue. I thought I’d miss bars and spending hours over beers digging into every topic under the sun with people, but I’m now grateful for the break from it, and I’m not sure I’ll go back to that way of spending time with people once the pandemic is over. There are other ways to relate to people.
The one person I’ve spent significant time with during this pandemic, my girlfriend/partner, we’ve been able to connect over many things because we have to get through this strange and trying time together. We cook together and share meals. We’ve biked hundreds of miles together and explored Cincinnati, Chicago, Austin, Nashville, and what seemed like the whole state of Ohio—at least we can still do stuff outdoors!–and without her companionship I know I’d have gone at least partially mad. The one thing we’ve fought about? Conversation. The substance of those arguments isn’t important here, but those disagreements which we have worked through together also betray my own frustration with myself, I don’t have much to say anymore. Part of what this letter to you all is meant to accomplish is to stop being frustrated with myself for not having anything to say; I’ve spent my whole life speaking and listening, writing, and reading, for goodness sake! There’s so much more to life and relationships than talking!
Why don’t I have much to talk about? The only things I really think about lately are these:
Cooking and enjoying food and drink. But that isn’t something I want to talk about. It’s something I want to do. I want to cook with people and then eat the food together, preferably after a full day of doing other things together so that the food tastes all the better for our hunger.
Bikes and bike rides. Building bikes and exploring cities on bikes. I want to travel with you all. I want to go on bike rides. I want to explore new cities and the city that we’re in. I want to go on walks and hikes and camping trips with all or any of you that want to and can. While the pandemic is on I’ll pass the time with my bikes to keep myself sane, but once we can all spend time around each other again, it’s not about biking per se, it’s about exploring our world together, being in it, among others, seeing what we might see, perhaps while pushing our bodies a bit while we do it, on bikes or on foot. Meet me at the Dunes or in the Balkans or on the bike trails between Pittsburgh and DC. Pick a city and I’ll meet you there, and I’ll tell you where I’m heading. You get the idea.
How capitalism is at the root of so many of our problems and how to live outside of capitalism and envision something different. But again, this isn’t something I want to talk about. I’ve spent years reading about anti-capitalist theory and discussing it. I want to engage in a revolution, whatever that ends up looking like and living as best we can despite the conditions of late-capitalism that we have to endure in the meantime. Again, I don’t want to talk about these things, I want to do them with you all. Maybe it’s a community garden that we run into each other at while harvesting our basil. Maybe it’s the riots which will inevitably come that we have to have each others’ backs for. Maybe it’s finding communal living and working situations to make these hard days to come easier for all of us.
So there are three things I think about: exploring our cities and world by foot and by bike, cooking and food, and realizing a new world together outside of exploitative capitalism. These are things I can’t wait to DO with all of you. And while we’re doing these things, conversation will come, and I can’t wait for THAT conversation, the conversation that comes out of combined activity toward a shared purpose whether that purpose be as simple as putting together a couple of dishes that taste great together or as grand as attempting to create systems of mutual aide despite few resources. That beer and conversation, that time with each other are what I long for so much more than I miss sitting at a bar and shooting the shit with someone.
I miss all of you, but I’m sick of talking and listening, so my distance isn’t about any one of you. We’re in a time that is for me one of waiting. I’m biding my time and conserving my resources until my time and resources can be converted to action once the social world is open to us again, action that is exciting, pleasurable, meaningful, purposeful, and connected to my highest and best values. When I cry out on social media that I’m lonely, I know there are people I can talk to and who care about me. That cry is more benign; as much as I can use this period of solitude for my benefit, I’m ready for it to be over. I may be ready for this time to be over, but I’m not ready for things to go back to the way they were. So let’s NOT meet up at a bar for a beer when all of this is over. That’s so 2019. Let’s go for a quiet bike ride in the woods that ends in cooking a meal where we end up talking about how we are going to do our part to live in rebellion against Capital. That’s all I want.
I love all of you and miss you.