In the opening verse of 'Crack Rock', Frank Ocean sings "cause she was and you are madly involved" and then immediately repeats "madly involved" incase the listener didn't realise the significance of the involvement. As this is a verse that starts with "you don't know how little you matter" and is about smoking crack, we can infer that the involvement is toxic. It is not an involvement anyone should aspire to, but there is something about madly involved that sounds like love.
We are all looking for the comfort of being undeniably involved, lives so tangled together that separating them is unthinkable. There is a madness in the depth of our involvements with each other though, because they go unnoticed until it’s too late. You meet someone in a bar and a year later they’re named on your lease and three decades later you’re welcoming your first grandchild. All of this because you liked their smile. Madly is the linchpin to involvement, and it's only when the madness has dissipated that you realise how deeply involved you are.
In White Teeth, Zadie Smith writes “involved is neither good, nor bad. It is just a consequence of living, a consequence of occupation and immigration, of empires and expansion, of living in each other’s pockets… one becomes involved and it is a long trek back to being uninvolved” and the romantic in me despairs at her replacement of love with proximity, but I can’t argue with her. Proximity is how I ended up in Hawaii, on Christmas day, with the entire extended family of a boy who smiled at me in class a month before. I know the power of proximity and the heady intoxication of involvement, and it’s why I’m now more protective of my personal space than I’ve ever been before.
That space is both protected and protective because I am finally experiencing the gift of aloneness unencumbered by loneliness. There is nothing that I will not do alone and every meal, every movie, every evening spent in my own company thrills me. When I wake and think, “I want to go to breakfast today”, my freedom to do so encourages me to think, “Perhaps I will move to New Zealand next month or start acting classes or develop a one woman burlesque show”. There is no end to the things I might do alone.
Later in the same passage, Smith writes that involvement “is an enormous web you spin to catch yourself” and the imagery is dangerous. You are both the spider and the unsuspecting fly. Hers is a more subtle interpretation of Ocean’s mad involvement, looked at from a different angle, but the results are the same: a destruction of self that you don't see coming.
Visiting my family a few weeks ago, I was immediately transported to a universe of attachment. It is difficult to love people and be so profoundly involved with each other's histories; there is no room to forget. I looked at us, still bruising from ten year old hurts, and I wanted to tell all of them to un-involve themselves from each other, to buy a ticket for somewhere new, leave for a decade and come back unhinged from the past. It wouldn't work. We would all walk into the same room and resume the silk-spinning of a generations old web. And anyway, they can't, so deeply, importantly involved with each other and the new additions to the family. Still, I wanted solitude to be the solution.
Returning to my selfish solitude on the train home, I thought a lot about this gift of aloneness and how few people truly get to experience it. Loneliness we get in spades, involvement, too, but contentment in our own company and the time to enjoy it often proves elusive. We're always getting accidentally involved. Whenever I ask a couple in my family how they met and why they stayed, their answers are so breathtakingly circumstantial, and now look at all of us, barely hanging on but irrevocably connected.
I read the Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein on the journey home and she coincidentally echoes Smith's imagery but elaborates, describing the web as something "we depended on as much as we wanted out of it". There is no out; there is no leaving; there are no human islands. As soon as I step off the train, I am already heading towards new involvements, the gossamer threads of the old ones trailing behind me, unable to achieve the simplicity of an uninvolved life for longer than a single journey. But perhaps this is all any of us need. Just a brief moment of respite, time where we are infinite in our aloneness, where pasts cease to matter and futures are not dependant on someone else’s whims. Then we can return to our involvements, present and ready, and continue to support and survive each other.