Miles and Miles and Miles to Go
In case you aren’t familiar, Half Mystic’s editor-in-chief Topaz Winters recently released SUPERNOVA, a short film exploring the complexities and wonders of loneliness. The film, directed by Ishan Modi and written by Winters, is a masterpiece of blue space and sprawling tempo.
It is so easy to believe that I’m made entirely of empty space. Loneliness is familiar – it’s blue and flushed, like remembering.
When Winters says, her voice lyrical and enthralling, “[Loneliness] comes so easily to me. I disappear into myself and I find solar systems, galaxies. I understand more than I ever could when I’m surrounded by others.” I understand exactly what she means.
I grew up as an only child to two loving but divorced parents. While they worked I read books and wrote stories. I wandered, perused, and discovered small, secret havens. There was something about being so small in such a large world that I grew used to, and at the end of the day I took comfort in making myself even smaller, tucking in my edges until I felt whole. Myself, a perfect and solitary thing.
As I grew up I made friends. My best friend and I were together so often that people confused our names. Her house was three short blocks away. When we began walking to school together she was the one who guided me, teaching me her landmarks so I could use them as my own, our venture becoming one more item of common memory. Other friends I visited infrequently. Their houses were strange to me, and existing in such a personal space felt uncomfortable. These other friends and I were always moving away from each other without meaning to, and learning more about others hardly equated to becoming familiar with them. If anything, they seemed even stranger. It was startling to realize there were other worlds and more people with other lives I could never be a part of. Because no matter how much we crave human contact, we experience the world alone.
As Winters writes one question, where are you going?, the tempo shifts. The screen shifts away from showing the single individual, the person alone. Instead we see Winters moving through a crowded street, her shoulders close but never touching the tide she moves against. A couple argues. A giant red question mark flashes overhead.
And so, yes: even love can be a solitary thing.
I know this best through the parable of Isabella. One of the first girls I ever loved, she terrified me by talking casually about her own mortality. How one day everyone she loved would be dead and gone. How she always packed a knapsack full of things she couldn’t live without to tote around in case her house burned down. How nothing was beautiful forever. How she wanted to buy an RV trailer and drive it out into the middle of nowhere to sit alone in silence.
Part of me was always trying to understand her. Maybe she craved the silence because she lived so close to the freeway. All that noise, the endless spinning of tires and fragments of other people’s songs, must be relentlessly pervasive. Maybe she dreamed about that sound. Maybe there was no birdsong there, or crickets to chirp in the summer. Maybe she just needed space to breathe. That’s what love was for me. She may have terrified me, but at the root of the root and the bud of the bud I wanted nothing more than to see the world the way she saw it. Beauty may not have lasted forever, but I was content to know that in those moments she was beautiful. Hearing her describe the world in letters left me breathless, and I wanted to be as much a part of her world as she would let me.
One thing she believed was that love and people were absolute singularities, and there was no way anyone could possibly know her. This left every other theory about love in tatters. Love requires us to know who we’re in love with, not just that they’re intelligent, or funny, or creative. These may be things about people, but they can never encapsulate a whole person. People are complex, primordial, beating out of tune, swinging softly, crashing down. It’s not simply that they inspire metaphors and songs and poems about the way a heartbeat skips, if we attach those things to people they become even more nebulous. We have framed and categorized them. She wanted nothing to do with it and this too terrified me. I wanted nothing more to be known and feel known. I wanted her to know me.
But nevertheless we create memories with one another. We can learn how the other person likes their coffee, their favorite songs to dance to, and dozens of other small things about the art of coexistence, even if every word used to describe those experiences is a narrative. My words come nowhere close to who she is, even now. I separate Isabella as a person who is fundamentally unknowable from the person that I create to understand. Harmony becomes dissonance. And after that, well...
I'm like a supernova, constantly imploding into myself, bright and burning.
Again and again in the film Winters finds her feet turning. They push off a bed of soft grass, body tilting forward with awful momentum only to come up short, her fingers grasping at a rippling chainlink fence.
Because even though the true nature of others is unknowable, we know we enjoy their company. Every day we acknowledge our need to know that somewhere out there, other human hearts are beating parallel rhythms to our own. Somewhere out there is a drumbeat echoing back to us, and even in silence we reach out for it.
Every language they speak is breathless and foreign, and I long to learn the words. I want to breathe in time with something more than my own heartbeat.
Here, the wanting to be felt is so overwhelming our edges begin to blur together. Here, we begin to run. Here, the sun burns like a beacon between the trees and we run toward it like the last hope we will ever have to unravel just what it is we are, just where it is we are going. Just where we hope this road will take us.
And here is the ocean. Our body is still tumbling forward until just like that we reach the edge -
And there’s no one else around for miles... and miles... and miles.
It’s fitting that this is where our journey takes us. Winters stands alone at the edge of a precipice with the water spreading endlessly out before her. The ocean is gentle and magnetic and utterly encompassing. This is where we remember the loneliness.
Like many things, I think the human condition leaves us with a nice little paradox. As a child one of the most important skills I learned was how to be alone.There’s a certain element of control in self imposed solitude, and even when I controlled nothing else, I had myself to retreat into. I knew the song of myself before I knew the songs my mother listened to. Dexys Midnight Runners. Duran Duran. The Cure. Through their songs I learned how to be content with myself, my thoughts, my own body containing multitudes. This loneliness ebbs and flows like the ocean, the constant thrum of sound cresting and receding.
On my walks home, on the days I feel most alone, I listen to other people’s songs. Saint Motel for Braden and Emma. Neutral Milk Hotel for Isabella. The Plain White T’s for Paige. Some days I want to remember what other people feel like more than others, just like the tempo shifts, song after song carried by the wind over the deserted lakes of Michigan. SUPERNOVA at its peak speaks to this: not simply isolation, but the solitude, the symphony of silence, the parts of ourselves that are vast, unknowable, marine. The difference between choosing to be alone and the aching sprawl of loneliness.
We yearn to be a part of something larger than ourselves, and that metaphor extends many ways. Sometimes it simply means expanding our space, making room to accommodate another, reaching a hand out to pull someone else closer. Other people expand our reality. The world that we are exchanges bits of atmosphere with theirs. We breathe air differently. This both beautiful and terrifying. It fortifies us, but it also makes us vulnerable. Being alone has given me strength, but there are moments where it has also torn down every wall I have, letting the wind whistle through me.
But most of all I have taken the time to watch this blue film made by someone I love, and remind myself that we are together even when we are alone. The feeling of loneliness isn’t singular. We all experience love differently. Our sadness is as multifaceted as a diamond cut a thousand ways, but the song of our loneliness often carries the same simple tune, played over and over, and we find it falling from each other's mouths too often to catch.
It is not necessarily important that we catch each other as much as it is we realize this same song in others. Their pain. Their desire to know and be known and remain unknowable. The blueness in their bodies.
For miles... and miles... and miles.