In case anyone’s noticed, we’re in a pandemic right now. The last two years have been, in many places and for many people, a study in loneliness. Throughout 2020, bloggers and news outlets weighed in on how to combat “skin hunger,” the phenomenon of longing for human touch. We keep searching for a “new normal” that seems to demand a choice of caution or community every time a new variant flares up. I consider myself a lonely person by nature, but even I’ve had to reckon with the strain the current situation brings.
Which is probably why Kristen Radtke’s Seek You hit so hard. Then again, any graphic memoir tying Mad Men, laugh tracks, Las Vegas, reality television, Princess Diana, the suburbs, romcoms, Casey Kasem, mass shooters, and monkey experiments into a single cohesive meditation is a gem during any era.
In Seek You, Radtke considers her father’s obsession with HAM radios during his youth, a fact she finds out from her uncle years later. (It is here Seek You takes its name: the monotone beeps that designate any particular operator is known as a “CQ call,” which comes from a French abbreviation but was eventually taken to mean “seek you” by English speakers.) The earnest radio operator sending signals into the night seems so at odds with the stern, stoic man who raised her. But then, loneliness is only a facet of a person. And it’s one Radtke experienced both as a kid growing up in a tiny Wisconsin town and as a young adult relocating to New York City. That she felt even more acutely moving to yet a different state in her mid-20s, and that she has never managed to rid from herself.
“Of course I am still lonely,” she writes. “I’ve come to see it as an inevitability rather than an indictment. A condition that will continue to go in and out of remission in ways I can never reliably track.”
That acceptance, coming near the end of the book, feels like validation and connection with all the loneliness she wrote about before, and what little was yet to come. Her writing is superb throughout, thoughtful and unjudgmental. If this were an essay—some thinkpiece in The Atlantic or The New Yorker—I would eagerly share it with every lonely-seeming person I could think of. That it comes in the form of a graphic novel, with its prose dotting her blue- or red- or gray-hued illustrations, makes it feel more immersive. It forces you to stop and consider every anecdote she gives, every question she poses, every answer she offers. Reading Seek You feels a particular kind of lonely that is almost beautiful in its specificity.
Seek You was my companion for several days and nights, words and images alike lingering as I slipped into sleep. In the darkness, I felt seen. It’s an experience I can’t easily replicate, and one I think I’ll miss. In that way, it has brought on a certain kind of loneliness, but has given me lots to consider, too.
Because Radtke’s ultimate argument is that loneliness is not simply inevitable for herself, or for her father, or for the person who considers themself a lonely person. Loneliness, she says, is a denominator that all have belonged to at some point and to some degree. We are all lonely, she says, and we are all seeking.