It started following me during the gangly, awkward years of adolescent loneliness, when I was growing up in small-town Southwestern Ontario. It continued to follow me for many years into adulthood, even after I’d moved to the city.
No, it wasn’t a strange smell floating behind me, or an errant square of toilet paper stuck to my shoe. It was a dream.
The dream would arrive a few nights each year, and though it was never precisely the same, I always woke up feeling slightly confused (Where am I?) and even somewhat detached. In the dream I found myself wandering the streets of Anywhere city, and all around me were slow-moving, soulless, dead-eyed people.
You might even call them zombies.
The Age of Loneliness?
When I was a little wee, small-town lad, sitting safely beside my dad on the couch, I bravely watched the original Night of the Living Dead.The film both frightened and fascinated me like only a horror movie can. While there were lots of jump-in-your-seat scares paired with a slow-building sense of doom, the feeling that buzzed around my face like a fly for days and days after—and one that I couldn’t ask mom or dad about (because I didn’t understand it enough to put it into words)—was the heavy sense of loneliness that weighed the story down.
Looking back at the film now, I understand why it was such a lonely one. It’s because there was no hope for the characters.
A couple years back, George Monbiot coined our current times as “The age of loneliness.” His well-written piece made the rounds on social media, and has even garnered a few sequels, like The future of loneliness by Olivia Laing, and an even more dramatic take, called Addicted to love in the age of loneliness, by Caroline Kent.
While there are some interesting ideas to support this so-called age of loneliness, backed by tons of science-y experiments, to be completely honest with you I think the whole idea stinks. It stinks like that same times-they-are-a-changing attitude that bubbles up at workplace water coolers and awkward family reunions—the one about how technology is slowly transforming the world’s population into narcissistic zombies, wandering the streets taking selfies.
At no other point in history have we been as connected as we are now. Sure, it’s a virtual connection, and perhaps less “authentic” because of that. But even during the peek loneliness points in my life, as a gangly teenager living in small-town Southwestern Ontario, I can’t imagine how much MORE lonely the world has been for others throughout history, when oceans have separated them from their loved ones or plagues have threatened to take their children from them.
What seems more accurate in my estimation is that this is the age of fascination with loneliness. Just look at the explosion of zombie narratives in pop culture, in films like 28 Days Later, Zombieland, World War Z, and TV shows like The Walking Dead and its recent spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead (the premier of which has just broken the US cable record.)
Has Loneliness Become Liberation?
A curious shift has occurred in the z-land of today’s pop culture. Where George A. Romero’s classic made loneliness a vehicle for exploring hopelessness, in recent reincarnations, the loneliness has become—oddly enough—liberating. They have become fantasy worlds we can enter into, ones where we’re not kept awake at night worrying about our retirement savings, or how we’re going to make rent this month. In the zombie world, we wouldn’t care about that five pounds we were trying to lose for beach season, or getting that picture perfect selfie to maximize on Facebook likes.
All that really matters is all that really matters: being alive.
The romance of surviving the zombie apocalypse floods up inside us as we delve into romantic thought experiments over cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and kale salads. What will you do when the zombie apocalypse arrives? Will you flee the city and grow your own food on an isolated farm, or will you hide somewhere within, repurposing Ikea bed frames and kitchen tables to cover windows while stockpiling a year’s supply of canned goods (preferably organic)?
How to Survive the Loneliness Apocalypse
Regardless of which route you take to survive, one thing remains key to survival: seeking out and finding a rag-tag crew of random survivors, each with their own unique weapon, and forming a posse. There, you can create a community of like-minded individuals where you all have something in common, i.e., not becoming a zombie! And together, in your tiny, close-knit community, a sense of hope can be cultivated, and hope is the very thing that separates you from the slow-moving, soulless, dead-eyed people.
It’s been about ten years now since I’ve had my zombie dream. You see, I’ve found my rag-tag crew of like-minded folks and we’ve formed a close-knit community. We chat over beers, eat meals together, shoot pucks together, sit quietly by each other’s sides, and know each other, cultivating a sense of hope in order to protect ourselves from the zombie-making elements of the world.
And maybe technology is changing the way we interact socially, but you know what? At least 50 percent of the people I’ve found—as I wonder the Earth looking for survivors—have been through technology. It’s not perfect—it’s always nice to meet someone at a party, or while reaching up for the same book at the library (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, perhaps?).
But, it works! And as a bonus, you have a camera on your phone to take selfies.
So, how does my butt look in this butt selfie?
Photo credit: Getty Images