On Loneliness, Addiction to Distraction, and Losing the Self to Trigger-Horses

Everything which is happening is happening to me, and I do not know what is happening. –Stanley Cavell.

I just feel like I’m losing part of myself, he said.

Suddenly, some self within got distracted by a side-trail and wandered into another region, a vague feeling of some ghost following behind.

You’re just going through a transformation, I said. Perhaps you’ll find a new part of your self come into being.

He said, is it because I’m not spending enough time alone?

Maybe, I said.

And just then the light changed in the distance. Not a visible flicker, but a faint remnant of a desire I’d thrown out, discarded when it no longer fit in. A worn book smudged and hard to read at this distance.

I do not know what is happening.

At once, when my friend said “alone” I thought about the past few months, how I have not been able to think strait. Not in a line, or a curve. Not even in swirls anymore.

The self that could sit for hours and think, touch base with the revolving stone inside the chest, or entertain herself with a quick laugh and a cup of tea, had lost her solitude.

When solitude is raided by loneliness, the last thing to do is build a rope, climb out the window and hope fragments of the self spill out with the rest of you, down into the guardian oak leaves.

He said, What are you thinking?

I realized the conversation was still in the air. Two minutes passed. The moon, I thought, must gather distraction in its belly, rounded with twisted realities.

Beautiful moon tonight, I said, and, Being alone does help one know more about the self.

When the foundation of self scatters, time becomes more and more subjective. Attention grows wings and hops on a mustang.

Everything that is happening is happening to me. But the distraction away from solitude, the plunge into loneliness because this, happens individually, and in patterns.


I’ve been an addict to distractions.
I sit down to read, and my eyes create patterns in the white spaces between text.
My feet move, though I try and still them.

I read alone in my room, and thoughts fill up the ceiling like baby sand-pipers, waiting for the next wash-away.
I read in public, at a coffee house, and others’ conversations run up to me, begging for crumbs, tickling my ear and sending my thoughts with them around the room, spinning. No use, no use.
I repeat to myself, walking around the park, observing trees.
Check my blackberry once, twice.
An email pops up, brings me a coffee, sits and chats for a while.
I get restless.
Taking out the trash, writing a poem, reading a novel—these things I used to accomplish with ease.


When the reach of our selves to others becomes so fragmented and confused that we find ourselves arrested, or halted, or otherwise blocked from contact with them and from ourselves, we become lonely. –Thomas Dumm

The fragments add up. The self inside stands on a pile disembodied conversations.

9:15 pm: Check Facebook.

Note so and so’s recent trip to Mexico. Compare success in ones own life with apparent success in so and so’s life, as represented by Mexico Vacation Photo Album.

9:33 pm: Attempt to write another sentence in Word Doc.

9:45 pm: Realize that you’ve been playing with your hair for 12 minutes, thinking about something in which you already forgot.

9:50: iChat pops up. D wants to know if you’ve heard about the piece T wrote about such and such scholar. D thinks it’s pretentious bullshit. Oh, and check out this video from Youtube on mystics.

9:53 pm: browse R’s photo album of Death Valley National Park, daydream for a bit about childhood. Think it may be easier to write once back in the desert again.

10:10: Put on Mendelssohn for help in concentration. Write a couple more sentences.

10:12: Self doubt. Self doubt. Self doubt. Railing against new doubt. Wondering why the sudden feeling of loneliness crawls into lap.


What makes loneliness so unbearable is the loss of one’s own self that can be realized in solitude, but confirmed in its identity only by the trusting and trustworthy company of my equals. In this situation, man loses trust in himself as the partner of his thoughts, and that elementary confidence in the world which is necessary to make experiences at all. Self and world, capacity for thought and experience are lost at the same time. –Hannah Ardent, On Totalitarianism.

To discover the state of our being-alone— whether it’s the state of loneliness: tossed into some desert pit and so dusty with fragments of false identity that the self is lost, or the state of solitude: standing on the Mesa above the pit, twirling in the surrounding blue sky, all alone, but with the past and present self watching, taking part, celebrating—we must first wake up into our being-alone, risk going over the rock cliff, to test which state our being-alone falls under: loneliness or solitude.

It’s a scary prospect, one in which many run away from with jolty distractions.

Dancing into the night with liquor or huddled in a corner.
Reading fantasy or staring in a mirror,
It’s all the same if the self is sitting in a pit, waiting to be discovered.

Running comes in many forms.

At times, we set off out the front door assured that the self is dancing within us, dressed in confidence and joy, capable of interacting and breathing fragments of others’ dialogue,

but something essential is misplaced.

Standing in the middle of someone’s living room, suddenly something seems off. Conversations become muddled.

How was your weekend, someone will inquire, What are you DOING now?

And perhaps it’s the slight tilt of the world caused by the Vodka, or the trigger-horse in the word “doing” that sets some herd inside you galloping, but a fear arises.

Your self stops dancing on the Mesa in its confident solitude. It begins to ascend to the valley, wanders a bit and, distracted for what went missing, steps one foot, then two, into the pit of lost-self, loneliness.

This jolt may be slight. The trigger-horse may have arrives quietly and what was stolen may be so miniscule nothing is noted.
But something tugs.

Perhaps your date briefly gives you a sense of having-that-thing-back, and the self, deceivingly, seems fully present. But later, days or months later, the missing self carves ideas of fulfillment in the walls of the pit, denoting what might help it climb out again—
a job promotion, a date, another piece of work to add to the pile-of-doings, accomplishment.

And we turn away from being-alone to discover the root of the fear, the actual texture of the cave, and rely on the lonely self to dictate what it needs to climb out again.
In this the self gets lost.
Distractions become jewels and promises of happiness.

Even if we don’t have the capacity to stop this cycle as it is going, eventually the reality will become clear. Sometimes it takes going so deep in the belly of loneliness that all we can do is create a rope and climb out the window, hoping remnants of self will follow. And when loneliness weighs the belly of the pit enough, gorged on distractions and fear, solitude will force itself back in.


Above loneliness are lines of crows. The black spots remind the lonely self of a distant dance. But perhaps the same trigger-horse that stole away the confident solitude will return with another herd—self-discovery.

When the trigger-horse steals the canyon seeds of confidence from the sleeping self, it returns, carrying now in its mouth a bushel from a different plain, a new self. Look for the past selves in the sunset, but the horizon is an illusion, because it cannot be reached.

The moment is slipping by the stream with tiny trout.

The selves are in their eye sockets.

But sit there long enough, and bits of the old selves come back around.


1 Comment

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One response to “On Loneliness, Addiction to Distraction, and Losing the Self to Trigger-Horses

  1. ryan

    ha…yeah, I’m actually writing about distraction addiction in my book. I have the same problem. I have lists of things to do and will look at them 40 times throughout the day yet somehow still always find other things I need to do before I can start on the list.

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