Dear, um,

I thought I might try writing a letter. Don’t get the wrong impression, mind you—I’ve written letters before. Not often, admittedly, certainly not as often as people would expect someone like me to be writing letters. I write other things, mostly—clinical documents, heartbreaking poems, fantastical stories—all of them fondly irrelevant in their own endearing ways. But letters, not so much—not really, not earnestly. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and I recently came to the conclusion that the reason is because I simply have no one to write to.

Now, again, don’t let me mislead you—there are more than a handful of people in my life to whom I could write and send letters. Some of them would probably enjoy receiving letters from me. A few might even enjoy reading them. But would they understand? Would they pay attention? Not so much—not really, not earnestly.

You are not paying attention, by the way. You may believe that you are; you may insist upon it. Don’t flatter yourself. How much have you really understood of what I’ve been saying thus far? How much have you truly considered? How much have you deeply listened to without defense, distraction, or judgment? Do you even know how to do that? You’re a fool if you think you do. I know how hard that is; I know what it costs. Most people can’t afford to really pay attention. You could be the exception—maybe you’re rich like that—but what are the odds? Hardly favorable. That’s why this letter isn’t addressed to you, or to anyone else in particular. But I’ll get to that.

First, I want to say that as soon as I decided to write this letter, I started worrying about it. Mostly, I started worrying that it wouldn’t be any good—that I would start rambling, or get bogged down in melancholy, or present myself as an emotionally detached, self-righteous prick. Now, you might think that worrying about these things would put me in a better position to prevent them from happening, i.e. control the outcome. As it turns out, all the worry did was inhibit me; I couldn’t get started. The perceived enormity of the task swelled up in my mind (“How will I possibly stop myself from being a prick throughout the entire letter?”), and it seemed to demand a staggering commitment from me (“If I write one letter, will I have to write more? How many? How often?”). I was paralyzed, and anxious self-doubt reliably crept in. Fortunately, I knew the answer to this one. You might have figured it out as well, if you had been paying attention. If.

Good Lord, I already feel so weary about this whole thing. I find that I get more weary than tired about things these days, if you understand my meaning. If.

The answer, by the way, is to do it anyway. Write the damn letter, I mean. Feel anxious and insecure about the prospect of writing it, and then write it anyway. A revolutionary concept, I know. (Do you realize it actually is revolutionary for some people? Pray for those poor bastards, if you think it will help.) How many well-loathed Intellectuals have sagely observed the sprouting forth of courage from the soil of fear? Do you suppose that any of them really grasped the spirit of what they themselves were saying? Do you reckon that even one of them consistently put into practice in his own life the lauded notion of courage? Most men will choose not to, if no one is watching. And no one is, of course—even if they are, they’re not paying attention. That certainly makes it easier to be a coward. Funny enough, it also makes it somewhat easier to be brave. Some of us don’t like to be recognized for our positive qualities, you see. It creates a painful dissonance between our public and self perception—that is, while externally we are showered with adoration, the internal spotlight is cast upon our most intimate and shameful shortcomings, our closely guarded emotional and moral deformities. The praise reminds us of our faults, and our faults drive us to dismiss the praise. Agony. But if no one is paying attention, then no one will praise our courage and we can avoid that pain. We can be brave and cowardly at the same time, and that is quite cozy.

I suppose that if I were really very courageous, I would be saying “I” instead of “we,” right? Well, there you have it.

Regardless, I have somehow come back around to the point: this letter is not addressed to you, or to anyone in particular. For the record, there is a small part of me that clings to the idea that I should address it to someone. It hopes to take hold of this exercise in frustrated self-pity and transform it into an honest attempt to address and resolve the central ongoing tragedy of my life. What a nauseatingly helpful urge; I worry that it may succeed in spite of my best efforts to undermine it. But I will press on with the letter, undeterred by my fears. How brave of me, wouldn’t you say? Please don’t, thank you.

The central ongoing tragedy of my life, by the way, is, in a word, loneliness. You must be so surprised. “Wow, how could this guy be lonely? I mean, he just seems so likable and easy to get along with. He must get invited to at least a few parties here and there, right?: Well, first of all, yes, I am likable and easy to get along with, damn you. And yes, I go to parties, often having been specifically invited to attend. I have even gone on the occasional romantic outing with another brave human being who willingly accompanied me. The significance of my numberless social accomplishments cannot be overstated, clearly. And yet they do very little to fill the emptiness inside of me—to span the vast, aching gulfs of distance between my authentic self and the others who might validate and sustain it.

Before you suggest it, I want you to know that yes, it has occurred to me that I am not the only one who feels this way. I understand very well that there is nothing special about my pain beyond the fact that it is mine and I am personally living through it, and therefore I am disposed to see it as meaningfully unique. Just like anyone else would. Having considered this, I believe I have at least overcome the misguided adolescent tendency to seek individuated identity by glamorizing and enmeshing with the popular experience of being fundamentally misunderstood. (Sorry for the condescension, teenagers, but this letter isn’t addressed to you, so you really shouldn’t even be reading it in the first place.) You know, you would think that the idea of not being alone in feeling lonely would make me…well, less lonely? It doesn’t, though—not really, not earnestly. The knowledge that other people are lonely is no sufficient substitute for actual connection to those people—and connection, for that matter, is no sufficient substitute for deep understanding and acceptance.

The gulfs are vast indeed.

Sometimes, I suspect that everything I have ever done or tried to do has been in some way an effort to cross this profound distance. Have you ever thought that about yourself, I wonder—that maybe the proud achievements and prouder attempts that comprise the defining value of your fleeting life have all been primarily motivated by a desperate need to escape the pain of being lonely? I can’t be the only one, after all—we’ve established that truth. At times, I envision myself launching fireworks into a clear night sky. I align each rocket with the greatest of care, then I light the fuse reverently and watch them soar upward, one by one, arcing into the air with a joyful wail, and then blooming into a doomed explosion of brilliant color. And after each explosion, I hang my head in disappointment because I had been hoping against hope that the missile would not stop at the bottom of the sky—that this would be the one to finally go farther. Up and up, on and on it would sail, splitting the atmosphere and blazing a bright trail through the stupefying immensity of vacuous space until it arrived, at last, among the stars. Then and only then would it detonate, painting those far-flung corners of the galaxy in exotic hues. And to know that those hues are my own, to see them reflected in a neighborly incandescence twinkling faintly at the other end of a limitless distance! Once I have savored this triumph, even once, I will have slain my loneliness with sound and fire.

I am poetically inclined, if you couldn’t tell. I did warn you earlier, near the beginning of the letter. For what it’s worth, I try not to take it too seriously; no self-respecting poet respects himself overmuch. Anyway, I am reminded in this moment of a poem, or really just part of a poem, which goes like this:

there are no truer tombs

than ballads echoing in empty rooms

The crux of this couplet is, I think, the unutterable, death-like estrangement of art and beauty without an audience. If you are an artist, you likely know exactly what is meant here. (Don’t worry—you’re not the only one who feels this way. Isn’t that helpful?) You may also understand it if you happen to be beautiful, or if you are merely vain. Truthfully, even the plainest cattle among you should be able to relate if you can muster just a bit of imagination. Consider, for instance, a young girl performing at her ballet recital. In her ten years of life, she has never loved something so much as she loves dancing. She has never practiced something with such dedication as she has her poses and routines. She has never before wanted so badly to do so well. Is her father in the gallery? Of course not. What about her mother? Oh, yes: even through the glare of the spotlight, the girl can feel her mother’s critical eye keenly cataloging every slight imperfection in her form. Are there others? Perhaps a jealous sister, or a bored brother. And there are plenty of strangers—politely encouraging and patient, mostly, but ultimately indifferent. Now imagine that you are the young girl, cattle. Where is your audience, really? With whom are you actually sharing this tender, sacred part of yourself? Does your heart not break? You might be better off dancing for an empty auditorium; it is tempting to think so.

The point is this: if you’re having trouble understanding why I was jabbering on about lighting off firecrackers, or why this letter is addressed to no one especially, or any of the other bits and pieces you haven’t been listening to, then just think about the little girl dancing for nobody at her recital. Or, if not her, think about something similar. Think about a talented musician busking in a dingy subway station while the passersby do as their name suggests. Think about anything you have ever posted on social media, and why you really posted it. Think about any of the many times a person might go looking for a distant flare of acknowledgment from the other side—only to be dispirited by a silent and uncaring void.

And if you still don’t quite get it, then don’t think about it too much more for right now, okay? I’ll just keep shooting at the bottom of the sky.

Twinkling faintly,

Good Sir Darcy