The Appeal of Lonely Places – Free Ebook

When we imagine where in the world we’d
be happiest, we’re often prompted to imagine

places filled with people; a cosy home with
family, a party with friends, a busy office

or bar, well-lit streets teaming with cheerful
faces… But defining happy places in these

terms misses out what can be the deep appeal
of far less publicised and distinguished sorts

of environment: locations that are starkly
downbeat, empty, melancholic, architecturally

compromised and isolated – but where we
nevertheless experience a deep pull, coming

to feel, perhaps, that we belong here far
more than in the gaiety, elegance and colour

of familiar vistas. We may have an instinctive
sense that we are true natives of the isolated

motorway diner at 11pm. Or of the open road,
under a boundless sky in which a billion stars

are starting to appear. Or of dusk at the
container port – or of night under the shadow

of vast electricity pylons marching across
the landscape to an unknown city whose eerie

orange aura glows over the hills. In these
lonely, isolated places, we have an opportunity

to meet with bits of ourselves with which
the routines of daily life don’t allow us

to commune. We are keeping an appointment
with a disavowed side of our characters, and

can have internal conversations of a sort
that are drowned out by the normal chatter,

the smiling and the casual enquiries of our
regular lives. We are recovering a sense of

who we are, turning over memories and plans,
regrets and excitements – without any pressure

to be reassuring, purposeful or just (so-called)
normal. The bleakness all around is a relief

from the false comforts of home. We don’t
have to pretend any longer. The environment

supports us in our wish to own up to a sadness
we have had to hide from for too long. The

fellow outsiders we encounter in these lonely
places seem closer to offering us the true

community we crave than the friends we should
supposedly rely on. In their sad faces and

grief-stricken eyes, we recognise the most
sincere, bruised bits of ourselves. They seem

like our true brothers and sisters – also
unable to accommodate their characters within

the strictures of the ordinary world, outcasts
and – in their own way – visionaries.

There can be something almost beautiful about
the ugliest kinds of lonely places: plastified,

brightly lit, garish, cheap. The lack of domesticity,
the pitiless illumination and anonymous furniture

offer an alternative to ordinary sentimentality
and good taste. It may be easier to give way

to sadness here than in a cosy living room
with wallpaper and framed photos.

If we are defined by the places where we feel
‘at home’, some of these may have nothing

at all to do with homeliness as we presently
conceive of the term; and yet they may comprise

our truest and best homes nevertheless.

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