I used to do stuff by myself. As a young adult still living with my parents, I'd sometimes take their car out for rides, nowhere too far, just to clear my mind. I'd put a cassette tape into the car's stereo -- or a CD; because, in 1997, my music collection was an amalgamation of both formats -- and drive around. I'd occasionally stop at a comic book or music store to browse around, but usually I'd just drive and think. It wasn't always cathartic -- it sometimes was -- but it was always calming. Growing up in my parents' house was never too chaotic or stressful (at least I tell myself that now), but it wasn't an environment conducive to reflection. So I'd drive around, aimlessly, listening to music and considering where I'd been, where I was, and where I might go.
Returning home, my father would bitch about the gas and mileage I used. It wasn't my car, and I rarely paid for the gas, so I saw his point. Still, at nineteen, those solo drives were my refuge, my only way to contextualize myself as an individual apart from my family.
After moving to Korea in 2000, whenever I wanted to take some time to reflect on life I'd take the subway to the Kyobo Book Store in Gwanghwamun. I'd purchase a few books and magazines, take them home with me, and discover the secrets they held within*. I got married in 2002, had a daughter, and moved to Bundang in 2003, but every other weekend, for the next two years, I would take an inter-city bus into Seoul, usually on Sundays, to buy books, magazines, and music. It wasn't the shopping that I enjoyed but rather the process. That was my time. To be by myself. To really think.
Perhaps that sounds selfish. Maybe it is. It definitely is, actually. But as Axl Rose once sang, everybody needs some time on their own. All alone.
I don't know if I crave solitude more or less than the average person, but I do know that it hurts the people I most love. In October of 2003, only two months after my daughter was born, I booked a trip to Fukuoka, Japan. I was 25 years old, a young father, and I needed to recharge my batteries. My daughter's mother, my ex-wife, wasn't handling motherhood very well, and so I extricated myself from the equation, hoping that two days would be enough time for us to catch our breath and think things over. Ah, how naive we were. Something fundamentally broken will never be fixed. Yet still we try, like artists painting over ill-timed brush strokes. Just as I used to do as a nineteen-year-old living with my parents, I had to take a time-out to think things over, this time a cramped Japanese hotel room being a simulacrum of my folks' Buick.
It worked for me in the short term. I stayed in my hotel room most of the time, contemplating life, reading SLAM (cover story about Alonzo Mourning's kidney disease, headline reading "Stronger than all"), Murakami ("Landscape with Flatiron") and taking belts of the 26 Oz. bottle of Jack Daniels I bought from the duty-free shop. On the morning that I was set to leave, I bought a ham-and-cheese sandwich from Lawsons, and ate it while sitting on the hotel floor in my boxers, watching the infamous Steve Bartman Marlins-Cubs game. Then I pooped and took a train to the airport.
When I arrived home that night, my daughter looked at me as though she'd never seen me before. She cried, wondering who this strange person was. I remember thinking that I wanted to know the answer to that question myself.
I don't do much stuff by myself anymore. Any book or article I'd like to read are available online, so instead of browsing book stores, I find myself purchasing -- or pirating -- material online. It's very convenient, but it lacks effort, like buying fish from a wooden stand next to a lake instead of going out in a canoe and catching them yourself.
That's sad. I used to enjoy shopping. Or at least the concept, the procedure. The method.
* Some have had a profound influence on my life (Dostoyevsky, Maugham, Dumas, Kipling, Murakami); others were pure garbage, particularly mags like Maxim and FHM. What can I say -- I was still a young man; in other words, an idiot.