Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Sometimes I read two articles in the press, that at first sight contradict each other despite the fact that they both address a similar topic. A good example of this was a recent essay by the novelist and short-story writer Sara Maitland entitled “Why do we have such a problem with being alone?” In it, Maitland explored the pros and cons of living in isolation. After more than twenty years of dwelling on her own she is probably a specialist in the subject. Her house is in a remote part of Scotland with distant shops, no mobile phone connection and very little traffic.

Idyllic, I hear some of you say. Well, it depends on how you see this almost total withdrawal from the world. To Sara there is a question about identity and belonging that appears as soon as some chooses to live in these circumstances. However this question of identity and belonging is being posed to someone who has used his or her personal freedom to select their lifestyle. It’s a valid theory and one I had never considered, perhaps because I am still on a Cuban mindset and my upbringing was rather dogmatic. Why do people fear living on their own?


There are myriad inconveniences to cutting oneself from the world and Maitland explains them in detail. Some of them I heard in a recent conversation with someone who is looking to relocate back to Britain from abroad. We touched on those middle-aged people who have saved all their lives and finally can afford to buy a small house in a picturesque village in Devon, Cornwall or Dorset. It is not long before they realise that having a car is indispensable in their new area because the only bus in town runs every hour and there’s a rumour that the service will stop soon due to local budget cuts. Hmmm... for some reason the estate agent forgot to mention that. In addition there is old age to think of. What if one half of the couple suddenly pops off leaving the other half facing an empty, big house with all the challenges that come with it? The dream home turns into a nightmare. But Sara’s essay does not just deal with this hellish scenario. It also highlights the positive of leading a hermit-like life.

For starters, a person’s individuality is reinforced in these circumstances. It is almost like running back to an earlier period in one’s life when one was allowed to be her/himself and the world accepted them, warts and all. A toddler/child state, I would say, but with a full, mature, working brain. Secondly, opting for a solitary existence demonstrates fortitude. You not only have to face the many challenges life will throw at you, but also people’s perception of you as a “castaway”. Maitland touches on some of these misconceptions: women are spinsters and men are seen as sociopaths or “not well up there”.

But then a few days later I read an article about farmers around the world sharing their “felfies”, a “selfie” taken on a farm. I know, I know, I also had to check the calendar to see if I’d fallen into deep slumber and woken up on 1st April.

By the way, I am not equating living in isolation with living on a farm. But many of those who take “felfies” live in remote areas with hardly any regular contact with another human being.

So, what is it? This “felfie” idea? Just a laugh, or a cry for company, albeit of the virtual kind? The irony was not lost on me. Whilst Maitland has swapped gregariousness for loneliness, these farmers post felfies on social media, including blogs and Twitter. To me it seems that despite the joy they derive from living on their own they also see need this lifeline as a way to anchor themselves to the world. On discussing crops, fertilisers and floods they are reaching out to like-minded farmers around the world.

Can we, as human beings, ever turn our backs totally on the world? By the same token should we, then, recast solitude “solitude”? Sara Maitland has neighbours (true they live in five miles away so she can’t just pop in unannounced for a cuppa), she knows her postman by (first) name and she can count on a cheerful young farmer to come to her house and work on her sheep. That is why when I read about Maitland’s isolation the first thing that came to my mind was Mario Benedetti’s love poem Rostro de Vos: Tengo una soledad tan concurrida/tan llena de nostalgias y de rostros de vos/de adioses hace tiempo y besos bienvenidos/de primeras de cambio y de último vagón. Mario’s solitude did not travel alone. It had companions: his memories, his beloved’s many faces and their goodbyes. In our globalised world we are never truly alone no matter what the average population density is in our neck of the woods. If in doubt, check those farmers’ “felfies.

© 2014

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 22nd January at 11:59pm (GMT)


26 comments:

  1. Very thought provoking post - lots of interesting ideas about the nature of solitude - and I must check out those felfies! Greetings from a very wet and rainy Nice

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  2. Buenas mañanas de domingo mi amigo.
    Llevo tiempo sin escribir en tu página, discúlpame.
    Bien, sobre este tema de hoy lo tengo claro en mi mente: Las personas, todos nosotros, estamos solos siempre.
    Aunque nos guste rodearnos de otras personas y sin ningún momento en absoluta soledad, estamos solos.
    A mí me encanta estar en soledad al lado de mi compañero, en casa al amor de la lumbre.
    No sé si he sabido explicar mi pobre pensamiento.
    Te deseo que tengas una buena semana.
    En Chipiona, tenemos encima la borrasca y un montón de viento suena alrededor.

    Besos

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  3. Isolation, in the age of the internet, is different from what we used to define as isolation. Those who are ostensibly connected withdraw into their smart phones. I’m thinking of the family I saw at a nearby table at a restaurant I recently visited. All four were physically there, but not talking to each other. Instead, they were focused on their phones. Then there are those, like the farmers you cite, who are physically isolated but virtually closely connected. I worry more about the first group than the second. When live contact is eschewed, I wonder if that ends up by depersonalizing people, turning them into beguiling bit streams without true human warmth.

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  4. Certainly made me think...are we slowly becoming a planet of virtual lives?
    I was sitting in a pub last week, just observing people around me. Only one very young couple were sitting gazing into each other's eyes and really talking. Everyone else seemed to be busy on their mobile phones...texting, playing games etc.
    Are we losing the ability to communicate face-to-face?
    Will we eventually lose the ability to, even if we want to?

    Have you noticed how people only very rarely seem to hug each other these days?
    It's almost as if we are being taken over by technology itself, to become IT'S tool...scary! :/

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  5. Me considero una persona solitaria, pero no llegaría a vivir aislada de las conexiones como la televisión, teléfono e internet, hay que amar mucho la naturaleza y disfrutar de ella.

    Que tengas un feliz domingo.

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  6. I suppose there is a difference in choosing to live alone when you could just as well live in a town. Farmers can't do that, but Sara Maitland could, I suppose. I am not quite as puzzled about her as I am about nuns who choose to enter an enclosed order and sacrifice their lives to praying for the world.

    I'm totally a city person, although I do love to be in the country too (for a holiday). If I am feeling a bit down, I like to mix with the crowds all rushing around in the centre of London.

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  7. Fascinating. I need time to myself. Every day. A time to regroup, a time to focus, time to simply be.
    I lived (without transport) in the country for a number of years and was alone often - and never lonely.
    Isn't it wonderful that we have choices (most of us) about what meets our needs and/or desires.

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  8. Living in isolation is good in a way, as long as you aren't too far out in the woods

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  9. i think i could exist on my own...but i really think we were created to live life in community and there would be a certain energy lacking in a solitary life...there are def days that it is appealing...ha...

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  10. ha.. some good questions... i usually have no problems being alone, traveling alone or doing something on my own..but then... i'm drawn to people like a moth to the light and i think we need each other..also as mirrors for ourselves..

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  11. I will read the article by Sara Maitland with great interest. I consider myself a minimalist but to live in near solitude may not be for me. Especially with no internet of which I'm addicted.

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  12. There is living alone and there is isolation or the life of a recluse. I live alone but I am in a city and so see people most every day. However, there are days that I do not go outside, do not see people, and do not get lonely. However, there are never days I am not on the computer. I prefer the structure of blogs where I can say what I feel, read what you think, and then trade comments. In real life, people are so very all over the place and scattered. I think a lot of farmers are this way in that they like being isolated in that it is easier but they still need some contact with other humans.

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  13. Many thanks for your comments. I really welcome this variety of opinions.

    Greetings from London.

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  14. Hi! I have a recent firsthand if disjointed experience of this as I moved this year from New York City to a rather remote place in the mountains in New York State. By remote, I mean that my nearest neighbor is about a mile and a half away, and there are often very few people in this particular valley for a host of reasons. That said, I travel to the City for three days a week--midtown Manhattan -and even up here I am on the computer a great deal because of the various work I do-- it is certainly interesting. Time passes in a much different way. You want to get up early and live more in sync with the light as it is really difficult to be out after dark--no street lights. I mean I do take walks i the dark sometimes, but I am always half-worried about a predator - a bear--

    But it is so beautiful.

    There's another loneliness of the spirit that we all seem to have - a wish for acknowledgement-- another topic perhaps.

    Thanks much for the interesting article and your kind visits. I've been a bit under the mental weather lately and doing a great deal of uncomfortable work so they have meant a great deal to me. K.

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  15. You certainly picked an interesting topic, CiL, and one which just came up for me during the past few days through re-reading, "Centennial," by James Michener. Loneliness, especially in terms of exploration and settlement of the American West, is one of its central themes. And, I have been a "student" of the isolation created during Nineteenth Century settlement of the Great Plains. My reading has included novels, diaries and assorted accounts about the era. Any number of suicides and instances of madness are recorded as a result of the isolation over periods of months.

    On the other side of the coin, speaking as someone who has spent much of his adult life living in the country a mile or two from the nearest neighbor, I have discovered a general consensus among people who do this, do it precisely for the reason of preferring life that way. "We" prefer a degree of isolation.

    Robert Frost wrote: "Good fences make good neighbors." I would add, a mile or two between neighbors works equally well.

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  16. I think we humans are social people and most of us wouldn't do well living alone and isolated. Having said that, being alone and having time alone with oneself is essential.

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  17. Interesting essays: both Maitland's and yours. I can see why an author would crave solitude for her work as I need that during the day, but at night and on weekends I enjoy having my family and friends pull me back into the real world. I don't mind a week on my own, especially when I have a lot of writing to do, but more than that makes me lonely. Good point of yours on the problems of living isolation as we age.

    The town I live in has very little public transport - just a bus a day and in the past couple of years we got 3 trains a day but the timing is for commuters. You need a car to get out of town or to buy groceries. We bought a house in town, instead of on the water or in the woods, so that I can walk to the shops and to houses of friends.

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  18. There is a tv serie going here right now about a man wanting to live without money. Spending his day walking and begging for food and shelter. Pretty hard to do nowadays.

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  19. That image is a perfect illustration for your thoughts.

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  20. good post I couldn't be on my own and tagging this for #agchat for the folks who post felfies to see ha

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  21. I think most of us need a balance, with time to ourselves and time spent with other people. Introverts need more time alone, extroverts need more time in company, but we all need both.

    The problem i would see if everyone suddenly decided to live by themselves is that we would need to build even more houses on our already very theatened green belt and there would go the countryside

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  22. Thanks to everyone for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

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  23. I've never been to England or two Cuba, but I enjoy your writing and would love to talk to you about your thoughts about my country--the US--which, I believe, has done your country wrong.

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  24. If I were better edducated, I would have written too instead of two.

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  25. I dont have any problema in be alone, more, I love to be alone sometimes:)))))besos

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  26. You are absolutely right. People are not good at solitude these days--they do not have practice at it--they have a weird loneliness that they fill up electronically and then that keeps them connecting with the real life around them, even though it is connection that they so want. Agh. Very thought-provoking. k.

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