Monday, January 16, 2012

More Lungs, Less Air

I'm at it again. I'm thinking about community and the on-going struggle I have regarding the concept. In short, in case you haven't read anything by me on the subject, yet, I have a rough time coming up with things that are positive as a result of community -- that is, outside of the benefit of shared work and companionship. I know these are big deals, but, then, when I start tallying up the problems that come out of community, my inner hermit peeks his long-bearded head out of the isolated cabin window and beckons.

But as a person who never closes the door on different perspectives (and who knows he has shifted on many an issue), I always question myself. A lot of times, while watching movies, I'll see scenes that make community look pretty awesome.

I think of Braveheart, for some reason. As you might know, it is set in the Middle Ages. In one scene, William Wallace comes home to his village and there is a wedding celebration going on. It looks pretty cozy. Everyone having fun -- everyone closely interwoven by a life that requires teamwork and friendship.

For some reason, I also think of the movie Sleeping with the Enemy, with Julia Roberts. She flees her abusive husband in to a town that Norman Rockwell might have painted. There are parades. There are neighbors who deliver gingham-covered baskets to each other's doors.

I see these things, and I start feeling guilty. Am I an early-onset curmudgeon?

Then, reality seeps through the cracks in my self-judgement.

A peasant woman, painted by Jozef Isreals
From the perspective of the Medieval villager, a party was a rare and exciting thing. From the perspective of a battered wife (filtered through the eyes of a director and a director of photography) that little town is an escape. These two pictures of community are so attractive both because they are Romanticized and because of one major ingredient: they are a break from the everyday doldrums of the characters' lives.

I don't know about you, but I spend too much time in community. Most of our worlds are structured is in relation to legions of others: workmates, schoolmates, colleagues, etc. For me, time during which I am not forced into these circumstances needs to be time during which I decompress -- time alone with a book or time with my family.

Have we created societies of people who crave the company of others like social vampires? -- people who "act as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on"?

I can't help but see it as a kind of sickness when someone constantly craves the company of others and I can't imagine that most of us are in positions, these days, in which we operate daily under circumstances that make us feel a balanced need for company. (If you spend all day organizing scrolls in the catacombs, I would understand the need for community; but, when you work in the constant company of people...)

We are not parts of communities, but parts of an infrastructure in which community is either an implied law or a compulsive need to blot out a silence that many of us seem to fear.

Alone, we might be lonely. Alone, we might not get as much done. Alone, we might not get help when we need it. But, alone, we will never have wars. Alone, we will never bully a child until he decides to slice his arm with a razor or to kill himself.

To me, life should be an adventure from the cabin out in to the big world, not from the big world to the bigger world, to the less big, but still huge, world.

More lungs, less air.


  1. Stop thinking of 'Braveheart.' For your own good.

    (My PhD is in Scottish history. I hate that movie with a purple passion).

  2. You want community? Watch 'Doctor Zhivago.' I'll be waiting for you with a shot of vodka and a beer on the other end.

  3. 'nora -- I know. It is so far offm historically. Still...I can't help it.

    Joe -- I'll take the shot and the beer, for sure. As long as I don't have to share it with anyone.

  4. I can so out-curmudgeon you on this, Chris! I'll go so far as to say that some people, some insecure people who won't shut up about the joys of "community," perceive your need to spend time alone as a personal attack. After all, if you're so comfortable being alone with your own thoughts that you're able to create, say, a book, a full album of music, a painting, a thriving garden, a handmade cabinet, you name it, then all you'll do is remind the insecure of all the time they waste not doing the things they idly claim they wish they could accomplish, too.

    I had a roommate in college, a jerk, who spent two long years urging me to study and read less and drink and party more. He always seemed so offended by my contentment. Perhaps it's telling that twenty years later, I can barely find a trace of the dude's existence on the Web...

    1. Jeff -- I always got a kick out of people saying that one is a "loser" for spending a Saturday night at home, reading. Because, surely, one is a winner if one goes out and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a thousand people in a room built for 250, listening to music that is so loud that no one can talk. Sounds like a winner to me. Woo-hoo! (Although, I shouldn't complain -- I base part of my income on these winners going out to listen to music that is so loud [blame the drummer]that they can't talk . . .)

  5. Jeff, I so agree with you about those insecure people. Those are the same people who -- upon discovering any creative endeavor that you undertake, or accomplishment you acheive -- tell you "you have too much time on your hands."
    Never has a comment irked me more.

    1. Where the heck do you losers find the time to comment on blogs? Get a life.

  6. Syfy-College Writing Student XIIIJanuary 17, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    I enjoy time from the community, I find it better to stand out from the crowd, rather than confrom to the norm. Silence is golden to me, a peaceful walk in the woods alone helps to clear thoughts. Not to say being socail is pushed aside, we would go insane without the company of others, but there wouldn't be much sanity left if we didn't have some time to ourselves.
    "I know that you're tired of this cause you're a robot, they designed your life"

    1. Well-put, student-o-mine ... it is all about balance. I love people. Just not all the time...

  7. It's a basic difference between introverts and extraverts, when we introverted types go out into loud communal situations, we get easily overstimulated. Overwhelmed by the noise and press of the mob. It can be exhausting. It's tiring to have to be "on" all the time.

    In my experience, this is the one fundamental thing about introverts that extraverts NEVER understand. It's a basic difference. People whose idea of relaxation consists of hanging out in a crowd of people seem constitutionally incapable (and often unwilling) to comprehend that not everyone shares their same feelings or needs.

    The point is not to avoid all company, but to choose the occasions and types of company that support you, that feed you, that give you something. And that don't wipe you out, or take your energy away from you. Introverts recharge in solitude, usually, while extraverts recharge by going down to the local sports bar or neighborhood pub. As long as everyone finds their own best way, there's no problem. The problems start when people start giving each other wrongheaded advice.

    1. "The point is not to avoid all company, but to choose the occasions and types of company that support you, that feed you, that give you something."

      Great to hear from you again, Art. I agree with you completely. It is a shame when those who lean toward introversion are made to feel guilty by extraverts for their basic need for solitary recharge. It doesn't seem, to me, to go the other way, though. I have never heard an extravert feeling guilty for his more social tendencies -- functioning in a group has, unfortunately, become an implid virtue; a boilerplate requirement for normalcy. "Live and let live" always seems to come back in all its cliched glory, doesn't it?