Can You Be Quiet Now?
by BRITTANY JULIOUS
Chicago is not a solitary city. I don’t know why I am just now realizing this. Perhaps because it was so easy to fill my time with friends, half ones and real ones. Once they began to fall away through big moves, growing up and growing apart, I began to realize the reality of this city. Not much has changed since college except that I feel it more now. I see it more. This is a moment of transition. Everyone is moving on in life and love and the solitariness that is fertile most in older age is beginning to settle into normalcy.
This is a city of friendships and communities. When we talk about Chicago as a city of neighborhoods, we mean it truly and deeply. You know your neighbors here. You make your friends and keep them close here. This is not a town for acquaintances. This is not a city for silence and oneness and the self. And yet here I am, alone for years, still surviving, but barely.
There are many activities that people say you must do with other people, but I’ve often found that other people can change the dynamic of environments. I am someone that likes to be with other people and alone. This means two things: I like to go out with actual friends and I like to go out alone. This also means that I like to go out alone, yet be surrounded by other bodies. I like to be one surrounded by groups of many.
I’ve always felt comfortable eating alone, my meals born out of a weird relationship to food: always a little chubby as a child from eating a lot, then obsessive about exercise as a teen and bingeing or not eating much at all, then more or less normal as an adult. A restaurant has been one of the easiest ways to experience the city on my own. I love going out with friends, but costs and coordinating often means that a get together can take a lot of effort. Sometimes I just want to go out and eat a delicious meal and do it right then and there. So I do.
People say you need a book or your cell phone or some other activity to eat alone, but I’ve been at a cafe with just a glass of red wine and a window seat and that’s been enough. That is why a true cafe is my favorite place in the world. Not a restaurant and not a bar. Certainly not a coffee house. Cafes have bits and pieces of everything, but mostly, they have the ability to keep one confident in the face of aloneness. Cafes are for secure aloneness, free most distractions, yet public and surrounded by people not alone. They are perfect places to be lonely because people can see this loneliness, but they won’t question it. In the back of their mind they might think: perhaps I will be in the place too. It is not a place of pity, but a place of understanding.
I go to concerts alone more often than with friends. I had to make a decision around my sophomore year of college: do I love this music enough? And the answer was yes. Often my friends don’t listen to the same music that I do. Often, my relationship to music is deeply personal and raw. I don’t need other friends there to want to go and see my favorite musicians. And often, I’ve found some friends to be a distraction from the music itself. Sometimes I just want to say: Can you be quiet now?
I regularly purchase tickets for myself alone, regardless of whether or not they’ll sell out. I don’t have time to convince people to go with me. As a college student, I regularly reviewed concerts and had multiple +1s. I could sometimes get a friend to go to a show with me if they had to pay, but I could always get them to go if I had a +1. That rubbed me the wrong way. I know why that happens, but I didn’t (and don’t) like it.
I’m surrounded by dive bars that make nice cocktails. No one goes to them during the week. Sometimes I outline my essays with a gin and tonic and my writing notebook. No one bats an eye. But also, there is no one there to say anything to you. Men usually occupy space at the bar, they are alone but not afraid to start a conversation with a stranger next to them. These trips to the bar alone for me are not in pursuit of friendships. Those men feel lonely to me in a way that I could never be publicly, even through my writing. When I go, I go alone and stay alone. I don’t pursue other people. I am there to fulfill a need. I am there to fill a hole that can not be filled inside of my office, my bedroom, or underneath the covers.
Going to a nightclub is weird, but can be done alone. I could never do it at those same dive bars mentioned above on a weekend. But a nightclub? Yes. Certainly. Here, when I say nightclub, I only really mean one place and that is Smart Bar. Maybe because it’s so dark and it is underground. Maybe it is the music rule at play: do you love this DJ enough? Last week I wrote: We are so alone together. I wrote it thinking about technology, how these screens often reveal a longing and loneliness, how we share these feelings with others. But maybe it can also mean the experience of being alone with others around you. Not everyone can handle it. It is intense and scary. The dance floor for me has always been a place of transformation. It doesn’t require knowing the people around me. It is personal.
If I am feeling in control of the situation, I love meeting strangers. I’ve gone to raves and Chinatown disco loft parties alone. I’ve taken cabs at midnight to desolate streets, climbed walls, knocked three times on old metal doors, and said the password alone. I have gone to corners of the city I never knew existed just to listen to Diana Ross and Giorgio Moroder records and I’ve done it alone. And I’ll say hello. I’ll flirt and I’ll make new One Night Only Friends. Or I won’t and that’s okay.
Sometimes I like to stay at home and re-watch My Mad Fat Diary, my favorite television show. Sometimes I’ll cry and wish I saw my real, true friends more. Sometimes I’ll cry a lot and wish I was still 19 when a friend was so easy to find and you were surrounded by these huge groups of people. It didn’t matter that you loved them or even liked them. They were there and that was comforting. But now I’m 25 and everyone is moving away and moving on. I am too. I know this. So sometimes I’ll just say fuck it and do what I want because I need to not be there, wallowing, wondering, getting trapped by the pull of the internet. Online, everyone is having a better time than you. I am not strong enough to deal with that. At the end of the night, at least I can say: I was not here.
My friend Gabriel recently said that I am a very solitary person. This was a compliment. It was about staying in Chicago versus leaving. I don’t want to stay here. I know where I want to go, to places where this solitary life makes more sense. The cities are busy and loud, yet still beautiful. More importantly, they are congested, full of people, full of opportunities to be alone together and not feel worse for it. This solitariness was also about doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. It was about being the person I’ve always wanted to be. It was about seeing things myself, staying curious, learning, laughing, confronting my fears, finding what I love and never letting go.
Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about status.
"Without You My Life Would Be Boring" - The Knife (mp3)
"Ready To Lose" - The Knife (mp3)