Cabin Fever

I’ve been under house arrest the last few weeks.  First I stayed home to nurse my daughter, who suffered complications after wisdom teeth surgery, then hung around to monitor workmen painting our condo.

When I was younger, I admired recluses. The pathetic parts—agoraphobia, social retardation—never occurred to me.  Instead, reclusiveness was a noble choice. Giving up social contact required special sacrifice and strength.  Having that level of self-control seemed unimaginable.  I knew I’d ultimately beg for company.  I felt weak.

Isolation is less arduous now.  With a computer, you might work from home.  You need never go to a concert, a movie, a library, a game, or social gathering if you can satisfy for cybernetic substitutes.  Not even groceries are an obstacle.  You can order those online.  Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash described a future generation plugged into computers in rental storage units.  We aren’t far from that.  But I don’t hear anyone crowing “Progress!”

My family accuses me of being anti-social, and I suppose that’s true.  Mostly I’m resting from interaction.  Being a teacher, I talk and listen all day and, while that’s stimulating activity, it’s also exhausting and goes against my grain.  I’m shy, other people are messy, and the potential for conflict is never far away.  I’d much rather stay home and attempt something beautiful than waste energy on conversation.  Am I hiding?  One person’s hidey-hole is another’s self-protection.

Or rationalization. Some artists find reclusiveness romantic—you can’t make art without being self-involved, after all—and many see diffidence, regarding life from afar, as essential.  Emily Dickinson might not be the same poet if her eccentricity bumped into ordinary life more regularly.  For her God was a recluse. Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, and Don Delilo live in self-made worlds.  Visual artists and even performers like actors and musicians sometimes treat everything outside creation as frippery.

I can’t deny the last few weeks have been productive.  I’ve written my first full-length poems in months and done several paintings.  Many deviate from previous work in exciting ways.  And knowing they have no public place has been strangely liberating and inspiring—no worry about how they would be received, no one to please but myself.

Which isn’t difficult.  Ease is the problem as well as the solution.  How long can you separate yourself from life and still live?  Isolated art risks forgetting life altogether.  Challenge may make better impetus than protection.  And what about wanting to be heard and seen—can any maker really want his or her work to languish?

This blog is approaching its 100th post, an accomplishment but also a perfect time to quit, and I’m thinking about it.  If I can be satisfied with writing only to please myself, perhaps I should give it up.  Yet,  as Margaret Mead said, “Essays, entitled critical, are epistles addressed to the public, through which the mind of the recluse relieves itself of its impressions.”  If something moves me to speak, maybe I should be here.

Maybe I have to leave the house.

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4 Comments

Filed under Art, Blogging, Doubt, Essays, Gesellschaft, Home Life, life, Poetry, Science Fiction, Solitude, Teaching, Thoughts, Writing

4 responses to “Cabin Fever

  1. Rebecca Greenberg

    No! Don’t quit the blog. It’s the recluse’s facebook alternative. Plus, very entertaining reads.

    I’m not sure what to do. I go back and forth. I started blogging looking for a way to practice writing, but wonder if I need an audience to do that and what exactly am I practicing for, anyway?

    Facebook is clearer–sharing is what it’s about and you only need a line or two–but a blog is work. I worry I’ll run out of things to say–that anyone would want to read, anyway–and, since I deactivated FB, fewer visitors have made their way here, which only raises the question more vividly. I figure I have to go in one direction or the other–seek a bigger audience or take the weekend off.

    But I’m very grateful for your support. I like to think of people out there reading, and comments are the only proof they are.

  2. Oh, I’m so with Rebecca – please don’t quit. I know I don’t comment often (having a new baby, as you know, gives you just enough time to read through something before you have to dash off and do baby stuff), but you can’t leave us!

    As for being a recluse: I’ve always liked being alone, never minded the solitude. It’s very freeing. But too much time on one’s own can be problematic when you have to socialize, communicate with others.

    My son is headed off to college in a few days, and my daughter is now a sophomore in high school. I remember the baby days, however. They were a different sort of reclusiveness—you and the little beings, 24-7. Now I worry where they are, what they might be doing.

    I have an odd relationship with writing. I love doing it and love having readers, but it’s also work. Sometimes I suspect it’s finally only a matter of ego, and sometimes I envy people who feel no need to do it. My other blog had so many more visitors than this one does (it still has more in a day than this one does in a week) and perhaps that is what has me asking if blogging is worth it. Everyone blogs, it seems, and that only raises the question more dramatically, “Why?”

    But none of these thoughts diminish my thanks. When you wonder if you have anything to say, it’s gratifying to think about smart and fun bloggers like you out there reading.

  3. Marni

    I didn’t leave the house today. And though I’ve gone places- some more than an hour away- almost everyone I’ve seen in the past three weeks has been a blood relation.

    And so I ask myself: does phone conversation count as human interaction? Does e-mail?

    I’m impressed with your productivity. In isolation, I find, it’s easy to procrastinate. There’s no one around to impress.

    Maybe my productivity IS procrastination. I haven’t done much to prepare for school next week, and painting and writing are sometimes ways to pass the time rather than impress anyone. Maybe my reclusiveness is just being perverse–I’m hanging out because I resent all the me-time stolen by work over the years.

    And I wonder if the modern world hasn’t skewed our sense of what it really means to be with other people. Sometimes all our vaunted communication seems bounced off mirrors, deflected and oblique. So much seems fouled off. I’m hungry for some real contact with people but fear I can’t remember how that works or what to do…

  4. A

    You can’t forget life.

    Like riding a bicycle, that knowledge always comes back to haunt you and pester you, and even when you won’t want to talk to people, they’ll come to your home and find you–if only to say hello. But the people who actively look for your companionship are the ones who wouldn’t mind sitting with you in silence; the need for constant chatter is never important because small talk defeats the purpose of reclusion.

    You partake in rigorous social contact for 3/4th of the year anyways, and if what you need now is to sit down and watch the Food Network, then you are certainly allowed your luxury.

    And don’t quit now. 100 posts may be poetic, but wouldn’t 500 be more so? Even if you posted on the versatility of beets in the culinary universe, I’m sure I would enjoy it.

    I don’t like beets much, actually. But I appreciate your thoughts. I know what you mean about mutual silence–it’s a rare and special thing when it feels comfortable just being with someone. If I could find the same satisfaction with silence in my larger life, I might be able to set this blog aside and just live. I can’t imagine having 500 thoughts worth sharing–100 seems like a lot–but it’s tough for me to keep anything to myself.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting.

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