On Being Left Alone
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I am objectively tired of dealing with people. I'm ready and willing to be a recluse. Buy a cabin somewhere quiet and green. Plug all the outlets so I can't charge my phone. Bury my computer in the backyard of a house I don't own. Breathe air that is clean and not talk to anyone, ever again. I'm only sort of joking.
When we were kids, my brother used to sit quietly in the car and stare out the window. I had to be entertained, and his insistence on just looking outside was enormously frustrating. The audacity. Except now, I understand. I too, would like to go on a road trip where I am not driving and also not expected to maintain consistent chit-chat. I would pay someone a lot of money to drive me somewhere and say nothing.
The last time I took an Uber, I was traveling from a busy convention center in downtown Indianapolis to the Indy airport. Both busy places. Both places I didn't necessarily want to be. I requested that my Uber driver not talk to me, because that's something we can do now. We can click a button that says, "Silence" and another human will actually be silent. Except, my Uber driver was not silent. He wanted to know why I was in Indy, what I was doing, if I'd had the chance to eat a steak, if I liked my steak, if I was familiar with the ins and outs of college basketball. I wanted to pretend to fall asleep. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream.
I work in sales, and I'm expected to make 100 calls a week. Sometimes I make more than 100 calls because nobody answers, and I end up leaving the same voicemail over and over again, "Hi Debbie, Hi Josh, Hi Dr. Richards, Hi Mary Beth, Hi, Hi, Hi!" I have to bring energy to my day, every day. Nobody wants to hear from me to start with, and they'd want to talk to me even less if I sounded like a whiny lump of expired tofu.
The other day, I called a woman who filled out a "contact me" form on our website. Let's call her Kathy.
Me: "Hi Kathy, this is Sarah from TicketSignup."
Kathy: "....who?" Me: "Sarah from TicketSignup. You filled out a form on our website and I'm following up. We're a free event ticketing platform, does that ring a bell?"
Kathy: "Oh, that's right!"
Me: "Great! So, do you host events?"
Me: "Oh, so what was your interest in our platform?" Kathy: "I'm not. I'm not sure why you're calling?"
Me: "You filled out a 'contact me' form."
Kathy: "I didn't know you would call."
Two days later, Kathy sent me an email asking if I had any experience working with musical artists. She said she was creating an app, but she hadn't gotten started yet. She said she needed someone to market her "world class" events, and she sent a link to her website, which was nothing more than a wix outline. Her Google photo was a woman in a witch hat. I stared out my window for a while after that, wondering how Kathy gets by in this life.
I also called someone named Sara one day, so when she answered the phone with a "Hi, this is Sara," I said, "Hi Sara, this is Sarah, too. "She giggled like a feather had sprung from her end of the phone and was rubbing itself against the bottoms of her feet. Some people are terrible and awful and stupid, and some people are big bundles of completely unnecessary but nice-to-have joy.
Part of the reason I go to the mountains every weekend is to escape people. I grew up on a farm in rural Northwestern Wisconsin where roosters literally crow in the mornings and frogs chirp in the swamps at night. But for the past decade or so, I've lived primarily in urban areas, sitting in traffic and breathing smoggy air and feeling my cortisol slowly simmer, then boil, then burn. Being around too many people makes me feel like a caged animal, which is probably why I love my cat so much. I'm envious of his life-the way he doesn't have to answer phones or drive cars or make pleasant small talk with people he'll never see again. I envy the way his eyes go big and crazed every evening around 10. He's nuts, and nobody thinks twice about it.
To counteract the feeling of being a caged animal, I've resorted to more time alone. More mountain escapes. Even more minimalism, in terms of what I own, but also in terms of who I talk to. I saw a video the other day about how minimalism is the secret to happiness, not because fewer belongings means less stress, but because fewer cares creates more space for activities that make us happy. It's obvious, if not counter-intuitive to the way most of us live-accruing more things because we think we should. Buying new cars we don't need, or houses we don't live in, or (God-forbid) a boat that sits docked 364 days of the year. I want to have the opposite of too much stuff. I want fewer t-shirts and fewer dishes and fewer bills in the mail and fewer things to worry about.
I have a white Hyundai Tucson with light grey interiors that I protected with red seat covers. I bought it in 2020, and even though the car has nearly 40,000 more miles on it now than it did when I bought it, Hyundai wants it back. Hyundai knows they could sell it for a comfy profit and I know that Hyundai's hand-written notes and friendly voicemails are vapid and disingenuous. I'm keeping that car until it withers and dies, but sometimes I grow tired of Hyundai's eager outreach.
The other day, a Hyundai rep called me, "Is this Ms. McMahon?" he asked. I sighed, "It is." And then, because I'd had a long day and everyone seemed to want something from me, I said, "I'm not going to sell you back my car. Not today, not next week, not ever. Please stop calling." The line went dead for a beat before the rep said, "I was calling about your warranty. It's expired and I want to offer you discounted continued coverage-" and I hung up. I couldn't take it anymore. Which is why, when someone hung up on me the other day, I barely noticed. I almost felt bad for the guy. There he was, probably sipping some coffee and chomping on a stale bagel in the gruesome box that is his office, when he gets an unexpected phone call from me, of all people. Honestly, I'd hang up on me, too.