I am reading another new book, to add to the three new books I’ve already started this year. But this one stands apart (pun intended). It’s called Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto by journalist and novelist Anneli Rufus, and is a much-needed exposé of how loners get a bad rap. Loners, claims Rufus, are moved to the margins because we challenge the idea that life is more meaningful when shared with another human being. But is it? Sometimes I have felt that yes, it must be. But many times I have felt that no, sharing turns my thoughts and words and hours into someone else’s. And then where and who am I? This is not to say that loners can’t or don’t enjoy company and can’t or don’t love, but “Sometimes just one fantastic someone is enough,” as Rufus writes. And sometimes even that one fantastic someone is too much.
I have always had a fear of crowds, but I wonder now if it’s less a fear than a severe distaste for being ignored by masses of people shifting around me, for taking an elbow in the back, for realizing that I am simply one of many. Sometimes it feels more isolating to be in a room full of people who don’t understand me than in my house alone with perhaps the only person in the world who understands me: myself. This is why I avoid malls, amusement parks, crowded bars, cruise ships, cities, subways, and China. This is why I will be cremated. Cemeteries are chock full of dead people.
Loners are all around us. My mom’s a loner. She says she wanted to be a hermit when she grew up, to live out behind the library alone so she could sneak in and get books whenever she wanted without having to make small talk at the circulation desk. This makes me think maybe loner-ism is hereditary. Maybe I have the loner gene that hasn’t been allowed to mature because I live in a society in which being a loner is scorned. It earns you a Scarlet L, una-bomber status, pity in public spaces.
Oh yeah? Well Rufus says that all the best superheroes are loners: Batman, Spider-man, the Lone Ranger, Einstein, Dickinson, Dylan. Apparently being a loner has its advantages, like saving the planet or rewriting the laws of physics. This, of course, allows for donning special costumes, or letting your hair grow wild, or like Thoreau just setting off to the woods for a couple of years to reflect.
Party of One certainly has its oddities, like loners themselves, but manages to reclaim the word from the masses, the media, popular culture, and profilers. If loners weren’t loners, certainly there would be a movement, like feminism, that would ensure equal rights or nondiscrimination. Me? I’ve got my manifesto. Now who wants to talk about it with me?