I have a friend who occasionally asks me when I’ll move to a real apartment, meaning a modern one that I can’t afford. Mine is in a 130-year-old former bakery I like to think is haunted by donut ghosts. The building was built on top of an aquifer, and the sump pump thrusts out massive amounts of water every several minutes. The outlets are in odd locations, but I love the apartment massively, because it’s old and weird, because it feels like the city of Saint Paul—crumbling and iron-dense and mold-flowered and layered holy upon unholy ghost—and because my life has been lived in it.
I recently finished Olivia Laing’s book The Lonely City. The book, which makes the argument that art can defy and redeem loneliness in some way, was not what I’d thought it would be. I thought Laing’s book might be about how loneliness is a beautiful part of living in, and relating to, a city. About how we form ourselves like ghosts in a city of ghosts, watching everything, aware of the layers built upon layers, open to the invisible— all the lives that are not us—and always separate.
I thought it would be about how when it starts to snow, and the sky turns lavender at the horizon, and the Saint Paul’s Smith Avenue Bridge connecting two cliff-sides forms a line of light high above the freezing river, everything turns into a longing, a sadness that pulls the belly taut. About how loneliness is a beautiful way to long for and love something you can never have. [Read more…]