I had to give up my little office last week to make room for a new guy. Now I work in a more communal area alongside my colleagues. Not really a cube farm, just a corner of a much larger room with three other people and a bit of foot traffic. Higher-ups broke this news to me as gently as possible, as if I might burst into tears, or cling possessively to the inspirational picture mounted to my wall. “No! I need my solitary space! How else will I LIVE?”
The answer is, quite comfortably. Though it was cool, when I got this job, to have my own office, it quickly became weirdly isolating. I found myself wandering over to the common area that now includes my desk to ask innocuous questions about a task, find out if I could help anyone out, or just chat. Turns out, unless I’m deep in the throes of a complicated assignment, I’d rather have some activity around me than none at all. Though I still would consider working from home the gold standard, but only because I imagine it the way Homer does, where Jon brings me a lemonade and a beer and we dance while I wear my fat guy muumuu.
There have been times in my life when I’ve really wanted to be alone. When I was a kid, I wanted my own room and when I finally got one, I guarded it fiercely (although it wasn’t as if anyone was desperate to gain access to the inner sanctum of a disgusting teenaged me). When I moved out on my own, I dismissed the idea of roommates entirely. At the time, my rent was so low I could easily afford a one bedroom apartment while working a crap job (something all but impossible now). Even after I met Jon, we kept separate residences for four years, and then have lived apart for long stretches since due to his work and mine.
The thing that surprised me about getting the solitude I thought that I wanted was that I became the worst version of myself. I’m not a depressive, but I am incredibly neurotic, and left unchecked by the presence of others, I become a literal and figurative mess.
Dream: Live in less privacy.
Goal: Achievable. I know that doesn’t make sense on the face of it. Who wants less privacy? Especially when one considers, beyond the tinfoil hat sort of way, that we lack so much privacy as citizens. Surely our emails are monitored, our money tracked, and suspicious movements subject to surveillance, and we’re not even important people. I wouldn’t mind if that scrutiny was lessened a bit; it creeps me out to think that none of us has any autonomy as a citizen of the world, I’m just saying I want people around.
Plan: Find ways to make myself more accessible and less imprisoned by my impulse to isolate. Such as:
Secrets. I don’t mean that I’m going to spill anyone’s secrets, anything I’ve put in the vault stays in the vault. I mean that I’m going to try to keep less secrets about myself, not that I have many anyway, but you get the picture. Anything I’ve held inside, for whatever reason, eventually festers and feels gross. Whether it’s times I’ve been bad with money, bailed on a commitment, treated somebody like shit, I have to own that stuff.
Relationship criteria. In my case, I’m not talking about criteria for a romantic relationship, as I’ve already got a good one of those; I’m talking about developing more connections and friendships with people. To generalize with wild abandon, I feel like straight women and gay men feel this need to have an inner circle, or maybe one or two confidantes, or one bff, and nobody else gets in. I look at the Facebook walls of my straight women/gay men friends and they’re filled with self-centered platitudes like, “I’m officially done with apologizing to people!” Or, “This is me, deal with it!” Or my personal favourite, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best!” Did you ever notice that people who say that actually have no best and are always the worst?
I’m not saying don’t be who you are, but never apologizing? Really? Isn’t life full of the mistakes we make and how we choose to correct them? Shouldn’t we be pliable as people, willing to accept different points of view, especially if it means changing our own? Isn’t that growth? If you’re going to summarily dismiss the people in your life who occasionally rankle or upset you, be prepared for the loneliest life! Ironically, these are the same people whose social media platforms are filled with Oprah quotes about “Living in the moment” and “Practicing gratitude”, but they can’t seem to do much of either.
Every body (even mine, even yours) is fine. The older I get and the more my body changes, the less I understand our collective insistence on privately (or publicly) tormenting ourselves about how we look. I don’t mean to be all free love and creepy, but they’re just bodies, man. Who gives a shit? It was awful and a huge breach of privacy when some person (or persons) hacked into the phones/computers of a bunch of female celebrities and posted their nude photos. A terrible violation, to be sure. But as I understand it, these aren’t pictures of people engaged in sex acts; they’re just naked selfies. The more we clutch our pearls and ready our fainting couches over nude photos that don’t depict anything sexual, the more we send the message that there’s something inherently wrong with our bodies.
I know taking this view is a little gross, it sounds like I’m defending the people that stole and leaked these photos, of course I’m not, but I read this article about teenagers and sexting recently that gave me a lot to think about. Because teens are perpetually horny and disgusting, and the dangers of sexual activity are hammered into them at every opportunity, a titillating but physically safe option seems to be sending each other naked pictures. I was surprised to learn that, at least among the teenagers surveyed for the article, there is rarely, if ever, a fallout as a result. It is only when parents find out and involve schools who in turn involve law enforcement, that it gets truly awful. Senders and sendees are interviewed, monitored, and in some cases, charged and arrested. The subjects of questionable photos have scarlet A’s permanently affixed to themselves as they walk the halls. Remember that this is not the result of explicit imagery of people engaging in sex with each other (though those do exist among teens and ought to be handled quite differently), these are kids standing there with their clothes off. Granted, if a naked picture of me was circulated among my classmates when I was a teen, I would be horrified and embarrassed. If cops showed up to interview me about it alongside my parents, I’d actually want to die.
Again, I’m speaking only for myself here. And I think perhaps I’m confusing privacy with secrecy, or being alone with loneliness. There are private parts of my life that I keep close to the vest, and I wouldn’t want that to be violated, but I also know that I want people around that really know me, warts and all. I like how nobody has to awkwardly knock on an open door to get my attention at work now. Nobody needs to be invited into my space; you’re already here.