Erica Berger

Director, Publisher&Partner Development, Storyful

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For the Sake of Solitude

It’s a crisp Wednesday evening in late Autumn.  The sun is falling further in the horizon and the last lines of light are visible, reflecting through the clouds above the steel of the Williamsburg Bridge.  The smell of pine infuses the breeze floating in off the East River as the Christmas tree vendor in his rented corner lot prepares for an evening of sales.

North 6th street, a bustling block full of shops, restaurants, bars and concert venues is quieter than it is on the weekends. It’s one of the touristier sections of Williamsburg, but still has its hidden, local-frequented gems.  Sweetwater happens to be one of these, an unassuming shop front, hiding its culinary secrets away in contrast to the flashier Thai and Italian restaurants across the street.

I sit on the painted green wooden bench in front of the restaurant, waiting for a man named Jay Parkinson.  He’s best known as the “internet doctor,” and has an MD and an MPH, which is no small feat. His previous company, Hello Health started back in 2007 and changed the way he as a doctor connected with patients. By using a website and a Google calendar, patients were able to upload their symptoms and schedule an appointment with Parkinson.  He would then receive an alert on his phone, and subsequently make a house call.  His patients paid him over PayPal, and follow ups would take place digitally.  As one could see, he garnered quite a bit of Internet attention for this “disruption” of the healthcare system.  And now, his new business Sherpaa works with companies to try to curate and create better healthcare experiences for their employees.

But I’m not really that interested in how Parkinson is attempting to hack healthcare.  When we were first introduced, it was under the premise that he might be one of the most interesting people in Williamsburg, and it was probably on account of his business. 

What became apparent after speaking with him the first time in Williamsburg’s unique coffee shop and roaster, Blue Bottle, was that he was indeed a man who had found a clearer path in his career than many others.  But the moment that we finally connected was when he dropped his guard, after about 45 minutes of conversing.

I asked him about one of the more unexpected moments he's experienced throughout the time he’s lived in Williamsburg.  He recounted his habit of going out to dinner once a week by himself.  Sweetwater is one of his favorite places to frequent. 

In the beginning of the summer, he was dining there while reading a book, and found himself sitting next to a lovely woman doing the same.  Fast forward, and he was leaving his contact details romantically at her apartment window.  6 months later, they’ve had a whirlwind relationship, full of highs and lows, but all in all reminding him of the vitality of life and of love.

What piqued my curiosity was not this actual story, but the unexpected behavior of Parkinson.  This busy, successful man chooses to dine once a week on his own, beyond the confines of his apartment, in a crowded bohemian neighborhood.  It’s not for lack of friends. It is for solitude’s sake.

What drives a person to dine out solo?  Is it that solitude in the company of others at a lively restaurant is more tolerable?  Is it the knowledge that one could expect a certain atmosphere and rely on a cuisine, making the solitary meal more palatable? While researching solitude on the Internet, I came across this analysis from Psychology Today:

Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others. We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves.”

After meeting the first time at Blue Bottle, I asked Jay to meet me again a few days later, this time at Sweetwater.  Rather than talking about his company, we talked about his relationship, and a deeper question with which he has been grappling: How does one become a man of the world, while at the same time being a man of one person?

I asked him for an example.

Jay:

I mean, Johnny Cash! Look at his relationship with June Carter Cash.  At the end, Johnny died just shy of 4 months after June passed.

Erica:

But that relationship was so incredibly tumultuous…their highs were so high, and the lows were just as low.

Jay:

Maybe, but Johnny was what a man of the world is it me.  A man of the world pushes things along, and he’s not just doing the average.  He’s not just doing what’s expected of him.  And love, well love is action, and it’s a decision.  Johnny said that love to him was waking up in the morning and having a cup of coffee with June. That’s what it is like to be a man of the world, and a man of one woman.

Jay and I continued speaking about love and about relationships, but in the end, I was left considering how a man like Jay used moments of solitude to empower his life.  Has his ability to pause and embrace being alone led him on his path less traveled?  Which moments have made him the person he is today?  And furthermore, does instilling a bit of solitude in a life make for a more interesting journey?  It seems that it just might, especially in Jay's case.

Williamsburg is a busy neighborhood, with 3 or 4 story apartments crowded onto each block and real estate developers chomping at the bit to build out any remaining empty lots.  It’s arguably not the best neighborhood in New York to be alone.  But it is a great place to be inspired.  And maybe in a setting like that of Sweetwater, with just the right amount of reliability, atmosphere, and reflective solitude, people like Jay can better discover answers to questions like what it is to be a man of the world and a man of one woman.

 

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