Many of us were forced into isolation in 2020. But being alone is not a punishment for everyone – plenty of people deliberately choose a life of solitude. But what is loneliness? We find meaning of it from art, music, books. But what is the feeling of being lonely? Journalist and educator Peg Fong wants to find out why with her podcast “Alone Together.”
Sidney O’Reilly, creator and host of “We Regret To Inform You: The Rejection Podcast” from episode 8 of Podsauce, named “Alone Together” as one of her favorite podcasts from recent times. From Apostrophe Podcast Network, the podcast is looking at everything in the realm of loneliness.
Episodes revolve around more specific subjects like boredom, comfort foods that fight loneliness, the comfort of certain pieces of clothing, imaginary friends, and lonely music genres (jazz or blues?). They go even deeper, talking about the theme of the isolated superhero in their fortress of solitude, the lonely life of spies who must keep their identity secret, the loneliness that plagues certain groups in China.
Maybe you want something even deeper. Are we alone in the universe? Is one truly the loneliest number? Could you survive 30 days in isolation, a long-debated barbaric practice used in prison to punish inmates? “Alone Together” was obviously inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, when people who stayed home on their couches were hailed as heroes – when loneliness reached an all time high.
How the American diner became a symbol for loneliness
The first episode of “Alone Together” is actually about diners, which have always been a beacon of loneliness. Fong introduces us to writer Michael Tisserand, who, at the start of the pandemic, tweeted four Edward Hopper paintings, captioned, “we are all Edward Hopper paintings now.” Hopper was an artist from the early- to mid-20th century. His most famous works were painted just after Pearl Harbor, right before the United States’ entrance into WWII. He would sit in diners, drawing sketches of the other people around him.
Nighthawks is his most well-known artwork. It’s an image from outside a diner lined with glass windows. In it, we see a man facing away from the artist at the bar, a man and a woman sitting together on the other end, and a bartender. In these paintings, Hopper found refuge from war anxiety. He was unconsciously painting the loneliness of a large city.
Prong goes on to explain how diners represent capsules of moments where people connect, or wait for a connection. Where Sally feigned an orgasm for Harry. Where Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer laid out terms of a contest over milkshakes and scrambled eggs in a diner. Where Walter White and Jesse Pinkman would eat breakfast as a reward for a hard week’s work.
Prong dives into history, referencing the late John Lewis and the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins. Diners are where politicians go to connect with ordinary people. Diners have a whole lingo of their own, even! And knowing the lingo automatically makes you one-of-them: “Adam and Eve on a raft” is two poached eggs on toast, a “cowboy with spurs” is a western omelet with french fries, “pass the hemorrhage” is a request for ketchup.
“Alone Together” is a fascinating look at what we believe to be loneliness and questions what we can do about it. Prong guides us through steps to heal loneliness, and explains what we can learn from hermits and the 1918 pandemic. She is adding one more voice to your life so we can all be alone together.