After the Corona Pandemic, it has been over a year and a half since I also spent almost all of my time alone. Other than going out to town once a month to attend a book recommendation meeting, meeting someone or leaving the town has become extremely rare. Like last semester, lectures are replaced with Zoom, movies are viewed through a streaming system, and chapters are usually ordered through early morning delivery. The regret of not being able to travel and not being able to meet acquaintances seems to have faded at some point. There are times when I even feel blunt that I think I can continue living like this. So all the time alone. When I showed this kind of heart to a senior, I sent a reply like this. It could be, but we don’t. As I looked at that sentence, the word ‘we’ caught my eye again.
I was on the phone with the person in charge to decide the timetable for the next semester, but I found out that the class for the second semester was being reviewed in person. After hanging up, I felt a little nervous. Aside from the safety issue of face-to-face non-face-to-face, because of the fact that we are meeting with someone again in the same space, we are worried about whether we will be able to spend time together well or not be awkward. To be more honest, maybe because of my poor sociality, I’m afraid I don’t have to be alone from now on. I came to the realization that I might have gotten so used to being alone while living in a pandemic era that I might have gotten too used to being alone, and that sounded the same as saying that I had long forgotten the meaning and joy of spending time with someone and working together. At the end of the lecture, I introduced a sentence by the poet Mary Oliver to the students. “I can’t go anywhere and I can’t get anywhere without them.” I emphasized ‘them’ and ended the class saying that that might be the attitude a writer should have. The necessary conditions of life that I myself had overlooked because I was spending time alone.
As I was reading the new book of a poet I liked, I started thinking more about this poem. The title is ‘Our Alone’. The content is as follows, if you risk the example introduced using omissions. “I’m busy by myself/ There’s no time to be lonely or lonely I’m all alone/ Alone is always surrounded by people/ Even the people around me know/ but they don’t interfere/ because they’re all alone.”
In the era of the pandemic, the poet named us alone or those who live alone as ‘alone’. In writing, nomenclature has great power. The moment you call that name, you become a special being. As soon as I read the poem, I immediately felt like I was ‘alone’. The one who doesn’t even pay attention to the calligraphic letters of hwaibudong (和而不同) and joigudong (存異求同) hanging at the entrance of the apartment where single people live together in the poem.
To ‘The Poet’s Words’, the author added a short poem titled ‘Pandemic Alone’. “Whether this strange first is the last/ or is this a truly new first/ It is a alone pandemic that is difficult to realize alone.”
When I open the notepad where I write down the movies I want to see, there is a domestic movie called ‘People who live alone’. The reason I haven’t gone to the cinema yet is because I don’t want to watch the movie alone. No, I wanted to go see that movie with someone. That was also on my little wish list this week. There is another such list. Having dinner with a younger novelist who sent him a book, and having a beer with a senior who sent the message ‘Let’s not do that’. Even before the formation of herd immunity, you can meet them, paying attention to everyone’s safety. You might even be able to do something to help each other. Both Hwai-dong and John-i-gu-dong are only possible with the person next to me. Alone time is absolutely necessary, but doesn’t it seem like the time has come to reflect on “living alone alone”? Slowly, carefully. The title of the poem at the end of this collection of poems, ‘The Breadth of One’, is as follows. “I was contacted by myself.”
Jo Kyung-ran, novelist
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