Finally started watching “Mad Men” a month or so ago. I know, I know… better late than never, right? I swear, if I had a nickel for every pop-culture phenomenon I missed the boat on…
When the show was originally on the air, I was a married man, and my wife at the time wasn’t real keen on letting me watch it. I think her aversion to “Mad Men” had something to do with the show’s semi-romanticization of the misogynistic attitudes of men in that era, or it could have been the rampant alcohol abuse of nearly every character, or merely that the show’s protagonist was a philandering alcoholic son of a bitch. Perhaps it was all of those things, I dunno. Regardless, the award-winning television series saw very little airtime on our tv set because it simply didn’t make for a comfortable viewing experience for this particular married couple.
Cut to a few years later…
I am no longer married. I’m alone (“utterly alone” as Lydia Deetz would say), and it occurs to me that there’s no reason I can’t be watching “Mad Men,” so I begin binge-watching the show. And it’s great. The casting, the art direction, the set design, the wardrobes, the writing… it’s all really, really good. And really, really depressing. Depressing for me, anyway, but I know I have a tendency to read into things a bit too much sometimes. I’ve made a bad habit over the years of reading the cards wrong and projecting my problems into places they don’t truly belong. But sometimes I’m reading those cards correctly, and sometimes my projections aren’t entirely unfounded. One such projection/problem is loneliness.
Superman’s “Fortress of Solitude”
There comes a point when one recognizes the difference between solitude and loneliness. “Solitude” is something we value. Everyone needs a little time to themselves now and then. Hell, even Superman had a “Fortress of Solitude”– a Kryptonian castle in the middle of the Arctic where the Man of Steel could get away from the hustle and bustle of Metropolis and its many helpless denizens. Superman understood and appreciated how valuable solitude was, and you’ve got to figure that it was at his Fortress of Solitude where he also realized just how lonely he was. When you’re a nigh-invulnerable alien with god-like powers, there aren’t a whole lot of folks who will really “get” you. There was no one on Earth whom he could truly relate to, so he just had to get away to collect his thoughts from time to time. And when he had that time to himself, I’m sure that Superman must have done an awful lot of thinking and introspection. As the great poet John Keats wrote in “Ode to a Nightinggale”:
“where but to think is to be full of sorrow and leaden-eyed despairs.”
And I’m sure that Superman was chock-full of sorrow and leaden-eyed despairs. Alone time is only worthwhile when you’re able to escape it– when you’re able to return to being loved and valued as a human being by another human being. But Superman never had that. Lots of folks don’t have that, honestly. I myself have an abundance of alone time, with which I do an awful lot of introspection, and it’s during this alone time that I’ve picked up on a whole host of observances. The one observance I keep coming back to– the one that keeps kicking me in the skull like an L.A. riot cop– is that I don’t even know what solitude feels like anymore. What once was solitude to me is now strictly alone time.
I just finished watching a particularly poignant scene in “Mad Men” which really struck home with me, and I figure there’s no better way to cap off this day than sharing.
When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up. If you listen, he’ll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel or dreamt of being perfect. And then he’ll smile with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn’t perfect. We’re flawed, because we want so much more. We’re ruined, because we get these things, and wish for what we had.