The Loneliest Monk


Back in 1992 MTV, which was still very culturally relevant and very much a part of my teenage life, played an integral role in the election of Bill Clinton.

Clinton had recently donned some shades and played his sax on the Arsenio Hall show, launching himself as the "cool" candidate and appealing to a new wave of GenX voters. MTV harnessed this energy to tremendous success in partnering with Rock the Vote, and inviting Clinton to appear for an audience Q&A and to be interviewed by MTV News reporter Tabitha Soren, who was the face of their "Choose or Lose" campaign voter registration campaign. I remember watching this, and it was a big deal at the time. As the (apparently apocryphal) story goes, Soren asked Clinton what was something he'd always dreamed of doing, to which Clinton replied playing saxophone with Thelonius Monk. Soren (hopefully?) misheard this and asked, "Who's the loneliest monk?"

Other than dating me as a member of the MTV generation, I'm sorry to say that this anecdote has nothing to do with anything except that if often occurs to me when I'm having a kind of blue day (I'm mixing my jazz references, forgive me, nerds), feeling alone and anonymous in the city. I think, "who is the loneliest monk," and I smile wryly to myself, wondering if its me.

The truth is that I've always been a kind of loner, which doesn't exactly translate into being lonely, though I feel that plenty, too. For me it means that more often than not I choose solitude over socializing. I'm comfortable with my own company, happy to have a solo dinner at the bar reading the New Yorker. Entire days can pass in silence when I'm deep in a state of flow, wandering around on long walks, or reading or writing, and especially cooking.

Cooking is an ideal hobby for a loner. You can spend hours doing research and getting lost in cookbooks and taking notes. You can stay in for an entire day and still feel productive and accomplished. The hyper-organization required for producing an elaborate meal makes you as focused as a laser beam. Your full attention to detail is required in baking. Chopping is meditation, the repetitive tasks of prepping fruit or vegetables are mantras. The output may be social, inherently meant to be shared, but the process?
That's just for you.