Dear Hope Nation,
This morning I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine, a minister who also works in recovery. Michelle, who is much smarter and kinder than I—but not as funny—expressed her concern for folks who have never had to be alone before, but now are living in, for all intents and purposes, isolation. Maybe you are one of those people, a born extrovert now looking only within. If so, I may have a trick or two, based on years of experience.
That experience is not in life as an extrovert. Those of you who know only the glad-handing, back-patting, chucklehead on the outside may not know how I prefer to be alone, with at most one or two others. On any personality inventory, I’m in the 99th percentile for introversion, drawing energy not from others but from recharging in solitude. How else explain the Tiny White Box (TWB) and my 30-month affair with it?
Many of you know I lived alone in a six-foot by 12-foot converted motorcycle trailer, the TWB, first for a year in Pittsburg about five miles from the Canadian border and more recently in Manchester. (Those of you unfamiliar but interested can go here to see a video. The new photo header at the top of the page is the home I just moved into a month ago.) That time alone in the Great North Woods helped me learn a bit about being alone but not lonely, being productive with no paid work and being happy without distractions.
- Self-labelling matters. Take the difference between “isolation” and “solitude.” Isolation, I think, brings with it thoughts of desolation, confinement, forced separation and punishment. Solitude, on the other hand, seems like the choice of a well-rounded human, Thoreau going into the woods, Jesus going into the wilderness, Superman going to the Fortress of Solitude.
I live in solitude and so can you.
- Learn to laugh at yourself. Really. Be willing to observe yourself, looking for the inconsistencies, hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies that make us human. Alone in a box in sub-zero blizzarding weather on the outside, I loved the power of self-directed belly laughs when I’d look in the mirror and wonder if my hair looked goofy. It did, of course, but that I would care still makes me laugh.
- Define your day in advance and take pride at nightfall in accomplishing what you’ve completed. In the TWB, my daily tasks might be as simple as a) writing a 750-word column/blog post and 3,000 words of a still-incomplete memoir, b) making a meal that included vegetables (frozen and outside, natch), protein (from a can, of course) and starch (crackers, usually), c) bundling up to walk at least four miles on the coldest days and d) driving the three miles to the nearest Wi-Fi spot to post the column to my website . No matter your situation now, you can set and accomplish goals and pat yourself on the back for doing so.
- Maintaining communication with distant others. For most of the time I was in solitude, I didn’t have onsite phone or internet service, so I’d write emails to friends off-line and send them when I posted my blog. Almost every day I’d find emails awaiting me, sort of like . . . what’s that called? Oh, yes, the mail.
- Express gratitude. All day. Every day. The Apostle Paul got it right when he told the church at Thessalonica to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Letting thankfulness flow out of you is the best spiritual enema imaginable.
In closing, let me give you one question to ponder: the future can be reached by two different paths, hope and despair. The choice is completely yours. Which will you choose?
You matter. I matter. We matter.