Thursday, November 20, 2008

Isolation, Solitude, Solace

I spend most of my waking hours alone. My job is a solitary one, both in the essential nature of the work, in my approach to it, and mostly because I am a "sole practitioner" in a small organization. In places where I have worked before, the nature of the job was more collaborative, with many people working in parallel. I am accustomed to having a strong and talented group to work with, sharing each other's strengths and covering for each other's weaknesses.

But now I find myself working alone, literally behind a locked door, in a windowless and timeless underground space flooded floor-to-ceiling and corner-to-corner with incessant white noise and shadowless white light.

I no longer have the collaborative cohort I grew to depend on, and though I have many interactions with people throughout the day, for the most part the interactions are transitory and shallow. In the end I remain a solitary worker behind both a barrier of physical substance and a more substantial gulf of communication and the absence of understanding.

I transit this place of isolation on Beast. When I come and go, again, I am alone in that uniquely peculiar aloneness of the motorcyclist—without the insular shell of a car and all its womb-like connotations. I travel alone, but clamped to the outside of my vehicle and exposed to the world in all its varied harshnesses.

But when I ride, it is different; I am not isolated—I am simply alone.

This is solitude, the quiet of being in one's own space and time, absent the droning harshness that fills your ears even when no voices are speaking to you. I ride, and there is white noise, but of a different timbre. It is the wind around me, and I am holding a conversation with it—sometimes we argue, sometimes we agree. But so far, I have always had the last word and have always won any arguments.

From time to time, I listen to music while I ride. Music cheers me, fires me up, helps the miles pass more freely and I fancy at times it makes me a better, more focused, more artful rider. Other times, I cherish a quiet ride and wear earplugs to attenuate the roaring wind. The solitude of the helmet is an interesting world to inhabit; it is pleasant if you are good company and the mood is sunny and bright; yet I know myself to be pretty poor company when my thoughts are bleak and dark. These moody thoughts stew inside the helmet, making the ride is less enjoyable and the riding poorer for the distraction.

Fortunately, more often than not I find solace in that quiet place, where I flow through time and space with the dulcet voice of the wind for background music. A resting, a restoration, a calming that both prepares me for the day to come and offers relief from the day past.

Isolation, solitude, solace. Not the same things at all.

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