or, “The cats are restless tonight”.
Cities get brutally lonely.
That’s the thing though, I’m not sure what people expect from cities. I know we flock to them after seeing them on TV and hearing stories from friends living in them. From the outside looking in— tourist ads, TV, film, bright lights, skyscraper boners and insomniac heartbeats— cities look exciting. Things happen in them, and more rapidly than they do living in the middle of nowhere. People bring bags of their stuff over to wait for things to happen to them more rapidly than ever before. New chapters! Looking for opportunities! Money! Love ! New friends! Laughter! Dirtier air and metaphorically greener grass.
The Japanese— and they know all about successful high-density cities— strive to avoid causing ‘meiwaku’. It’s the idea of not inconveniencing anyone, integrated so deeply into culture that people would rather not sing in the shower. A city wants to fit as many people as possible and inconvenience as few of them as possible. At least, it sure feels like that’s what cities aspire to. A recipe like that produces the biggest silent crowd you will ever find. Compare it to villages, rural areas, lesser developed states, even suburbs; they fit fewer people who are all up in each other’s business. Cities for me seem to go the complete other way.
I think of folks who claim they’ll never understand ‘tumblring’ and ‘tweeting’ and all that young kid new internet nonsense, and I wonder if they could understand the despair of moving to— no, growing up in— a big and silent crowd. I wonder if they have ever woken up one day to an orchestra of morning traffic honks, feeling the loneliest they’ve ever been. Social networks seem almost made for city people, I mean how ideal: get internal noise off your chest, broadcast it for people to read if they want to, and now you won’t have to inconvenience anyone with unsolicited displays of emotion / intimacy. But try explaining that to my (late) grandmother who’d probably have no problem sticking her head over her neighbour’s fence and commenting on the choice of underwear hanging to dry in their garden.
My malaise in this city is well-stocked. It comes from prolonged playing invisible in public. (I’d say ‘blending in,’ but let’s be honest). It comes from being paralyzed with anxiety from having so much to choose from but no one who’d give a damn if I make choices anyway because they wake up every day with their own struggles. It’s tempting— in all this fast cynicism and concrete— to crystallize my big ol’ optimistic softy heart into a badass jaded rock so that it won’t get laughed at & eaten alive. Since I’m never successful with sticking to either, frosting and defrosting my heart causes despair too. The dazzling backdrop of Batsignals promises new opportunities, future stability and hope— yet while in the thick of it I still don’t know if I’d just blurted out ‘too much’ about my day/life to acquaintance X. Would acquaintance Y find it too ‘weird’ if I suddenly DM-ed them asking if they’re doing anything for dinner? Bodies stick together like they’re thirsty, but still may not know anything about each other after they pull away. Instead, people take pictures of what they’re wearing every day. Tweet their every meal and brainfart without twice a thought. The noise goes so many levels deep, but it’s not enough to save me. My loneliness has nothing to do with an inability to be alone— I have no trouble taking a book out to dinner and a long walk afterwards. The city crawler earns the same badge as the forest hermit, only with bleaker terrain.
“Well maybe,” a new friend says to me, “social networks have turned into cities themselves.”
That kind of stuck with me. Facebook, Twitter: cities of the Internet. Its Batsignal is composed of everyone else’s, looking for responses from each other that would ordinarily terrify us on a train.
Once upon a time, Livejournal, Diaryland, they were the cities (like Geocities, duh. If I called IRC dive bars, would this metaphor stretch too far?) and I was the country bumpkin who ‘moved in’ (read: transferred myself online) since maybe 2003 or earlier. And I can honestly say I started writing because I was frustrated with how many people around me didn’t seem to ‘get’ or want to ‘get’ any part of me. My socially awkward attempts at connecting felt like random ‘transmissions’ and ‘broadcasts’: banging into people when I should be easing in with small talk or whatever-fluff. My writing in the beginning was essentially weaving a net out of those transmissions and casting it out there— looking for someone who not only had the patience to read all of it, but first and foremost, actually sought it out. It was one long SOS signal.
“… broadcasting emotional declarations on a platform that people can choose to look at or not.”
It’s hard to know in a city, in this city at least, who chooses to give a damn, or who’s just being subjected to it and is smiling patiently until its over. People do say to me— and I agree— that I make far more sense online (read: in writing). Then they have the time to read everything and take it in. In real life, I’m just a series of explosions. I tried pursuing the same goal I had online in real life by reading my writing out loud, but wrapping my thoughts in a bundle of nerves just made it disintegrate under the spotlight. Unreliable packaging.
I can’t possibly know exactly how my new friend feels displaced in this city. If I feel displaced, I know it’s because I travel a lot internally at night. I feel like I have been travelling long and far this evening, only to end up here in this white box typing to him, and now you, before I go to sleep. I am grateful you both came this far, but I’m never too sure about me. Internet city borders have been redrawn— they say blogs are dying or already dead— and worn by age and time, this transmission comes from someplace far quieter than before. All I know is that even in this ghost town (statistically proven to be haunted by lurkers) my SOS signal still works once in awhile.
for a displaced and homesick new friend, R. Embuscado, who’s been travelling externally for two months. He types to me, “The cats are restless tonight.” He doesn’t see the cats; they are in the room across his. However, he knows they’re restless. He can hear them attacking something he can’t see (scraps, or paper) and the noise was louder than he expected.