1a. Without companions; lone.b. Characterized by aloneness; solitary.2. Unfrequented by people; desolate: a lonely crossroads.
3.a. Dejected by the awareness of being alone. b. Producing such dejection.
As the ferry chugged away from the mainland, I studied the map that the nice ladies at the ticket office had handed out as we boarded. Treasure Island Map of Koh Chang, it read, clearly catering to the pirate crowd. I checked the booking reference and saw that my guesthouse was in a place called ‘Lonely Beach’. I envisaged it positioned snugly between ‘Forlorn Sands’ and ‘Hopeless Bay’. Then, in small print in the insert box. Parties go on until late. My heart sank as Koh Chang, the second largest island in Thailand grew from a bump on the seascape to a gently curving coconut-palmed bosom.
Of the four taxi trucks that met the ferry, two had signs to ‘Lonely Beach’. They were both so packed by the time we pulled away that one of the passengers had to stand on the running board. Lonely Beach was looking less lonely by the minute. These must be the partiers alluded to by my trusty treasure map. Polite, youthful, long-limbed Europeans. I groaned inwardly at the thought of nights of Eurovision-trance music and politically-correct bong-induced chatter.
“Lonely bitch!!” the driver shrieked and we all dutifully disembarked. I looked around for signs of my guesthouse and then asked the driver who ushered me back in the truck. “Your guest house more far!” he squealed. “Oh! That’s great!” I found myself squealing back.
Of towels and butterflies….
My guesthouse is comprised of twenty cabins, many of them on stilts, strung along a stony deserted beach. When I arrive at Number 19, a butterfly the size of a robin and black as the Ace of Spades pokes its black tongue at me as I try to photograph it. I watch one of the ten best sunsets of my life, and eat the all-time best spicy papaya salad. I marvel at a lizard licking drops of spilled coconut juice off the table as I sip mine out of a nut the size of a football helmet. I’m waited on by a staff of petite beautiful girls with Minnie Mouse bows in their hair. A black and yellow butterfly flits by, wings beating time to an orchestral version of The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music over the speakers (I’m really not kidding). And I return to my cabin by a winding staircase lit by the glow of magic lanterns….you get the idea.
It’s getting late now and all the traveling of the past weeks has caught up with me. I’m lying exhausted but happy on my cheerful covers. Someone has twisted my towels into the shape of a swan. Or maybe it’s a duck. Whatever it is, it’s delightful.
There is some creature that makes a call like a toddler saying “Fuck off” four or five times through a rubber horn in a decreasing range of decibels. It is always proceeded by a run of mini-honks. I can’t imagine what it is. When I do, it’s something like a Dodo playing a plastic trumpet. I drift off to the soft lapping of the waves; the sound a giant might make while taking a sponge bath.
Sometimes I have absolutely no idea how to navigate this interface between my sense of self and the world around me. But one thing I do know. I need to start appreciating this life of mine again. Because by some bizarre twist of fate I have landed in something close to paradise. My sad, surly mind emerges like that hermit crab on my doorstep, easing its way from its shell, feelers first. Assuming the worst, naturally…
The ‘Myst’ Factor
This place I’ve landed is all strangely reminiscent of that whimsical Jules Vernesque mid-90’s interactive CD-Rom game, Myst. Except with creepy crawlies. One of the scenes was a jungle island not unlike this one. Like in Myst, I seem to be the only occupant (apart from a chain-smoking German who I fantasize is on the run from Interpol). The soundtrack of my cabin is also eerily Myst-like, with the constant losh-losh of the tide, and the craake craake craake of the turning fan like the groan of old rigging.
The wooden steps leading up to the road are imprinted with the patterns of ferns and leaves. There are little palm parasols on tiny jetties decked with wooden seats a few feet into the sea. A broken lamp stand is a sign, or a handle to the door of the next level. A monsoon churn of banana and other leaves above the corrugated roof of my bathroom looks like a work of art….
I slept for two days straight, ostensibly from a combination of a virus and jet-lag. But there’s a lurking sense of some other underlying condition. Something I can only call life-lag. A disorienting gap between experience and the digestion of that experience. The information coming to me in this present moment and my sense of that same present feel completely out of synch. Like someone still screaming a month later from a close shave on the freeway. It’s like living in a time delay. Reeling from punches delivered by the dead.
Recovery from jet-lag only requires enough external cues to synchronize internal rhythms with the environment. Your biological rhythms are entrainable, meaning that they can be adjusted to match the local time. The adjustments for life-lag require a kind of cognizant adaptation. But this must also be entrainable, no? If not, then I’m in serious trouble…..
In my early 20’s, when I was living in a log cabin six miles down a dirt road with the nearest neighbours ten minutes walk away, my sister asked if I ever got lonely. I vividly recall not being able to understand the question. I do now.
But what is this elusive noun, loneliness?
1a. Without companions; lone.
But being alone doesn’t necessarily imply loneliness. I’ve had some of my happiest moments solo.
b. Characterized by aloneness; solitary.
Fine. Same thing.
2. Unfrequented by people; desolate.
OK, desolate is getting warmer, ‘in a state of bleak and dismal emptiness’, like marshlands in Winter. But this place is also ‘unfrequented by people’ and it’s not bleak or dismal at all.
3.a. Dejected by the awareness of being alone.
Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere….
b. Producing such dejection.
Is there anything that is inherently dejection-producing I wonder?
And I find it interesting that the definition doesn’t include ‘missing company’. I like ‘dejected by the awareness of being alone’ much better, because although it implies the same thing as missing company, it hints at the possibility that one could not be dejected by the awareness of being alone. I think for me, loneliness involves losing the capacity to enjoy my own company. This is the darker and messier side of loneliness. It is a feeling of not being complete. That something is always missing. Not a companion, but a comfort of mind.
I’d begun to think that being alone was bad for me. ‘Time to think’ to me meant ‘time to obsess’, to run over the same sore spots again and again with my mental thumbs, checking that they still hurt, but only getting in the way of the healing. And now? I have all this time alone. Why I’m not using it to rub those old wounds, I don’t know. But my neurons are making cooing noises and doing Cirque du Soliel moves in my head. And I’m writing and smiling. Every day.
After a week in my private paradise, I must admit I did hanker a little for a conversation with someone, other than myself. But that didn’t seem like loneliness really. Just normal human stuff. When other occupants slowly began to arrive, it felt like a minor invasion.
It is so enchanting and glorious, that to not be alone here, to allow its magic to work to its deepest level, would almost be a violation of the spirit of the place. I am ‘without companions’, I am ‘lone’, I am ‘solitary’, but I’m not lonely at all.
The irony is not lost on me. That I learned how to be contentedly alone on Lonely Beach.