Short essay “Alone in a Small, Small World” by Dean Marshall Tuck has captivated me from the first sentence I read and forced me to thinking and reflecting on the issues the author is bringing up. There are a lot to ponder about: human relations, history and, mostly, the issue of loneliness.
The essay starts quite suddenly, without any introduction, straight to the point; there are several things the man is doing at the moment that he feels he is the only one doing. The young man is working in the farmland. The job is monotonous and long: and the young man is getting lost in thinking about his life. The thoughts that are coming to him are not happy thoughts, they are very troublesome and, at times, very judgmental. There is something special about older days and the music by Morrissey, but old people they are simply jerks, they seem to still be living in the old days, and they have no ideas about possibilities that are open today. But just to prove them wrong he will be doing what they said is not possible or sensible.
To reflect the intensity of feelings and the inner turmoil the young man is going through the author uses point formatting in presenting his arguments as well as short sentences and phrases, exclamations and text formatting. That is how the reader knows that the author is determined on doing something; the reader can feel the suffering and agony. Also, the author often refers to the things, people, songs from the past as if he is not happy to live in the present. He fantasizes about the times described in Look Homeward, Angel.
He had never done disking; it was always his father's job. Providing for the family was always father's job. So preparing the land for the new crop is something the father takes is his responsibility. But now the son is of age to help his father do the manly choruses, and to even do it instead of his father as the father has taken a job of carrying the mail. The father explained his son how to operate the hydraulic disk and also shared his life's wisdom – working in the fields is pretty lonesome and gives one of the best and most rare opportunities for real thinking; the only other places to be lost so deep in ones' thoughts are in church or on the top of the mountains. At those moments it becomes obvious that our minds hold some strange memories, although, after pondering on those, the thoughts do not appear so strange any more, even though the thought came to only one being in the whole wide world. If the world would be bigger, there would be other people somewhere there who would be having similar thoughts and doing similar things, they would understand. But it seems there is no one alike. This world is so small, and you are there all alone, dealing with the life all by yourself. Working on the farmland feels almost surreal and you feel like drifting into completely other reality. The memory brings the author back to the college. Back then some of the same questions were coming to the mind. Same concerns – does anyone care? When watching television, there were moments when certain characters had been just disappearing from the scene, possibly simply through going upstairs to play with the dolls, but that would be the last time the character will appear. Never again will it be mentioned by others, no one will miss them. Or will they? Back in the college young people were “posting fliers around town that read: “MISSING: Where’s Judy Winslow?” Why did they care for Judy Winslow – a very unattractive annoying little girl from Family Matters show? Maybe, because a very similar scenario was replayed times and again during the college years. And to make the matters worse, as he found out later, the same scenario is happening again, and again, and again. It is not a lame TV show any more. That is life. Life where there is no one cares.
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“One day you graduate or you move out of your apartment or you quit your job tearing tickets at the movie theater, but no one ever asks, “Hey, where the hell did Judy go?”
The human desire to be needed and missed… Ultimately, that is the desire to be loved and cared for. Maybe, one day a miracle will happen, and at least someone will care. Even if not here in this universe, but elsewhere, in the parallel world, the un-attractive girl Judy will be posting flyers with my picture as well, to find me because she cares to know where am I. If the world would be bigger, maybe there would be someone to care if I am there or not. But it seems there is no one, the world is too small and I am alone in it.
Then, there is seemingly unrelated thought comes to mind. I can do some things no one else can. I can play tenor banjo and, what more, I can play Morrissey's tunes on it. How awesome is it? And they said it cannot be done. There are many reasons for it. For one, the tenor banjo is a relict musical instrument that is simply cannot be found any more. At least that is what the opinion of the old guy at the guitar store. According to him pretty much “you won’t never get your hands on one because everyone who plays tenor banjo is dead.” And just to prove the guy wrong the author goes on e-bay and gets the tenor banjo, learns to play it and then takes long forgotten “Everyday Is Like Sunday” Morrissey’s tune and plays it.
The world is cruel and people do not have the faith in each other. The author’s professor was sure that something like a piece of literature, even though it is a great piece of literature, will never be able to reach youth’s heart and, therefore, to change it. He had no faith his student has any talent for writing all the while the young man was doing his best to prove to others his worth. Well, the old professor achieved his goal. The young man suppressed his desire to write. However, the passion for literature did not die. The very book the professor was so skeptical about had a very profound effect and reached the young man’s heart at the right time.
The hours of labors in the fields and thinking and reflecting let the author to come to the grand conclusion, that is freeing him. From now on he will disregard what the professor thinks about him and will allow himself express his desire to write at least to himself:
I will hike up any old North Carolina mountain and shout my literary delusions of grandeur to no one in particular; and I will write volumes about my life, thinly veiled as fiction, detailing the never-ending search for some universal truth about man’s ineffable longing. I will no longer suppress the urge to compose elegiac sentences such as: O lost, and by the wind grieved, Judy Winslow, come back again!
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The author makes clear decisions to follow his passion, even though he will make many mistakes along the way and might not ever write as greatly as his favorite Thomas Wolfe, who was lonesome himself, with no one but his sister to carry for him when he fell ill. No one else cared.
And now, after the long hours of labor the author is driving. He is listening to the Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman” and the story the Boss is telling almost moving him to tears. The song is about two brothers that do spend a lot of time together, however, they are very different, and each living their own life and they are making their own choices, however, they do watch for each other. One brothers had made a mistake and in the fight accidently killed a man. The other brother follows his poor run-away dear one and, once he met him, he gives him a chance to escape because “nothing feels better than blood on blood”. The special bonds they have with each other are more important than judgment. People are often afraid of this word, but the special bond the brothers have is called love. And that love is what makes the young man, who listens to the story, so emotional. Every human being is earning for true love that will not fail. The young man almost envies the brothers in the song. He himself never had a brother. He never even had a true friend. No one ever cared. Or, perhaps, he himself did not care much. Human beings are very irrational. As much as they earn for someone to be there for them, they also find certain comfort in knowing there is no one, that they are special and unique and now they have a right to feel sorry for themselves. They are perpetually trying to run away from their loneliness, but in doing so they only separate themselves even more from people around them hence becoming even lonelier.
“Commiseration’s the name of the game. You commiserate with yourself.” Loneliness is an excuse to feel sorry for yourself. It is a game, you are just fooling yourself. It is not a winning game by any means; the player will lose and be in even more pitiful state. It summed up very well:
Part of you wants to feel like you’re not the only one in the world feeling the way you do. But then there’s another part that believes somehow if you indeed are the only one in the world singing, joking, playing, reading, weeping—writing—then you really are alone, and like the Boss says, “When you’re alone, you ain’t nothing but alone.”
After all, the world is a very small and there is no one else who can understand your thoughts and feelings. If the world would be bigger, maybe there would be someone. To some people this could be a comforting thought. It feels safer. It is better to be the only one in the world and not to expect to open up to anyone, because then there will be no danger of people failing you and letting you down. If there are no bonds, there are no obligations and there are no hurt. Or, is there? If not having anyone makes you secretly happy, why is then the story-song makes you so emotional? Why do you care to find out what happened with Judy Winslow? Why is there weeping when hearing that “nothing feels better than blood on blood”? And why people are speeding up their cars so they do not have to be alone with their thought, alone with themselves.
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Fears, pride and commiseration make people prisoners in their own small worlds, where they locked themselves. It takes courage to say “I beg to differ.” But then the world will become larger, and there might be another.