On being alone

Stringer the lab, asleep on the author around 6pm Sunday

I have spent the last week dogsitting my excellent nephew, Stringer. Stringer is the best labrador that ever there was. He belongs to my friends Ben and Sarah, who work at home from a big house in the hills and therefore have given Stringer a pretty fantastic life. When they are gone, he misses them. He consoles himself by loving me—usually by laying his big, soft head on whatever part of me has briefly stopped moving—and I console him with Dog Adventures. Every time I stand up, Stringer thinks we are going on a Dog Adventure. He follows me from room to room, and in this way I am never alone. Which is interesting, because I have not spoken to another human being in just over 36 hours.

That’s not true; Miracle Mike Sebba called me last night with a grammar question. Before that, on Saturday evening, I met friends at a local brewery. Saturday afternoon Stringer and I went up Mount Sentinel with my friend Kelly and her dog, Rocco, and Friday morning I was a barista. Between these events, I kept silent. I used the self-checkout at the grocery store, as is my practice. I made elaborate breakfasts while listening to Madvillain. I sat around the house with the dog, reading books, wrestling with Ableton Live and, of course, gradually going insane.

I know that I went insane because I developed a new Stringer voice. It is difficult to render in print, but you can make your own by speaking in a tone of awe with roughly the same impediment as Homestar Runner. The trick to the Stringer voice is to speak only in sentence fragments, so as to capture the dog’s transporting and completely externalized enthusiasms. An enticing sausage, Stringer says when transfixed by same. A worthy opponent, he observes, pulling on a rope. The path of a ninja! he says as he pursues an unknown smell around the yard. An unsuccessful pancake. A false doorbell. A powerful itching!

Yesterday morning, while I was in the shower, I conceived a video project involving the Stringer voice, slideshow images of him playing in a Photoshop-enhanced fantasy world, and an original soundtrack made on the aforementioned Ableton. It was to be called Stringy Is Impossible, after the epiphany Stringer has in the dog park just before he starts running around like a maniac. The only obstacles to my execution of this project were that I did not have Photoshop and had never used iMovie—plus the however-many hours necessary to take the pictures and digitally alter them and edit them together and write the beat. No problem, I thought. I don’t have anything to do today anyway. Then I watched Ghotsbusters instead.

My theory is, first of all, that it is good I did not try to make Stringy Is Impossible. It’s the kind of project where you finish the first seven seconds and realize it is dark out. Second, I suspect that Stringy Is Impossible, like the voice that inspired it, was a product of my overwhelming alone-ness this past week. Confronted with 22 hours of solitude each day, my brain began to hallucinate opportunities for expression—like the way a cartoon character in a lifeboat sees his friend as a big turkey leg. Obviously, Stringy Is Impossible was an important, even compelling project, and everyone else would want to see it. It’s the kind of conclusion you reach by not discussing anything with anyone for a day and a half.

Now the sixty-dollar question: Is it good that I went insane in this way? Obviously, nearly spending dozens of work hours on an impressionistic dog video is not good. But the impulse that impels one to do so is probably the same one that led DaVinci to draw the Mona Lisa, or at least that picture of a guy with a propeller screwed into his head. And that’s good, right? So many creative geniuses led weirdo solitary lives, it must therefore follow that weird solitude turns you into a creative genius, right? I mean, I came up with a funny dog voice after just three days. Imagine what I could do in a submarine, say, or old age.

All this rumination started because Mose sent me this article from the New Yorker. It’s a periodically funny and periodically infuriating consideration of solitude, which many say—a phrase that appears way too much in this and all other trend pieces—is on the rise. I wouldn’t know. What many say is not heard by me, and what I say is not heard by many. Stringer hears it, though. He cocks his head and wags his tail and, in the hills south of town, says nothing.



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  1. The difference between the *Times* trend pieces you usually bemoan and a *New Yorker* trend piece is that the later *does* have an obligatory nut graph early on with relevant statistics. They were a bit flimsy in this case, but they were there. Lotsa people are alone, it’s a real thing.

    Goddamn, I would go fucking crazy with your life (too?). I work at home right now, and I have to go out dancing or flirting or whatever nearly every night, because if I didn’t, working alone+dinner alone+bedtime would drive me … Brooksy?

    Do you really want to be a genius if it requires a weirdo solitary life? Maybe you do? I don’t.

    This is another one of those gorgeous, not-completely-thought-out inquiries that makes me keep coming back here. And sending you shit, hoping you’ll make it make somewhat more sense.

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