I like to tell people that I don’t quite live in the middle of nowhere, but that I am about five miles east of it.
I mean this as a physical location – I live in a very rural area, which I’ve always wanted to do. And while I’m fairly isolated, it’s not nearly as much so as I’ve imagined for much of my life. The reality: I live about a ten minute walk from the small college where I work, with a few hundred acres of wooded mountain acres coming up to my backyard. The imagined ideal: a large plot of land all my own, preferably wooded and watered, and even better if it’s remote enough that I don’t see any other houses.
I like being someplace where I can join Nature with just a few steps out of my door. I like the peace, the silence (when there isn’t a loud campus party going on, though happily this doesn’t happen nearly as often as you might expect – plus the trees do a lot to dampen the noise), and the fact that my property and the adjoining woods are essentially a sanctuary for wildlife in multiple ways, from the undeveloped space to the fact that I refuse to use pesticides anywhere on my property. My home’s setting has been an inspiration and often the lifeblood for all of my creative pursuits.
This kind of isolation I thrive in. The problem is that over the last few years my hermitage has increasingly become a social isolation as well. I used to be a very social person, craving regular human contact, so this has been more than a bit of a problem.
This isn’t because of the physical location in itself, although I could point out that nowadays I have only one close friend nearby, while all the others live anywhere from 200 to 4000 miles away. My family lives only about an hour’s drive away, though my niece and nephews are now tweens and teens and typically away most weekends, or otherwise off doing their own things. Mainly it’s a combination of circumstances:
-Work schedule. I work a second shift, usually 4 or 5 to midnight, Sunday through Thursday. While this has been great for my writing time, and that I’ve never been anything close to resembling the shadow of a morning person, it keeps me away from a lot of activities.
-Depression. This is old and deeply-rooted, and also a vicious cycle. There have been times when I could have done something social but wasn’t feeling up to doing anything outside of the house – but then the lack of social contact feeds the depression and makes it worse. Which then makes it much harder to get up and go out . . . The idea of the island of the blog’s title came about a few years ago during one of the darkest of the depressive bouts, when I was feeling worthless, that everything I did was pointless, and that I was a let-down to everyone I knew, and that I wished I could just take my animals, books, and go find some remote island in the middle of the ocean to live, and not be a further disappointment to anyone. This idea still has some compulsion even in better moments, but gradually, bit by bit in pieces too small to notice at the time, I let myself come to dwell on that island emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
-My spouse. When we dated and early on in our marriage we were both social, would go out on dates, that sort of thing. Now she’s gone almost completely in the opposite direction – practically no socializing at all unless she has no choice – and incrementally I’ve let myself get pulled along towards the same mentality. She doesn’t like people in general, likes very few people specifically, spends most of her time either in the house (very often in her bedroom with the door shut), and most frustrating of all, she refuses to let anyone come in the house and fights me tooth and nail, in some cases for days, when I want to have visitors. (I’ll add here that we’re legally separated and the house is solely in my name, and she’s still living with me only because she’s unemployed. But that’s a whole other post.) She thrives on conflict and believes (and has said this outright many times) that constant rage is the only way she can get through life, so over the last few years I let myself be worn down through the regular arguments to the point where I’ve finally quit trying. (And on the visitors’ end, there are friends who don’t want to come by now simply because they don’t want to deal with her.)
I may write about the social isolation more generally here someday, but for right now I’m focusing primarily on my spiritual side of things. In the process of this closing off I let myself become isolated spiritually, too, one of the several reasons. I let myself become more and more apart from the people I knew who shared my beliefs.
How isolated? Right now, out of all the friends and family I have, and out of all the hundreds of people I’m connected to on Facebook, I can count all the people I would tell about this blog on one hand. Many I wouldn’t reveal this to because they have radically different beliefs. Some because I don’t feel close enough to them, or trust them quite that much. Some are simply too close to the people I don’t want finding this. If you’re reading this blog because you know who I am and I specifically led you here, that means I trust you enough and care about you enough that I want you to be reading it, and that you probably won’t think I’m nuts, or at least give me the side eye, for what I write (or at least most of what I write) here. And as I’ve said, so far people meeting all of those conditions are an extremely rare group.
So circling back to the original point of this entry: My idea of the hermitage.
Mine hasn’t gone so far astray that it’s become a prison, as I said earlier that such things ran the risk of, but it does feel like the door leading back out into the world is getting increasingly hard to open.
What I want it to be: a place of peace, of contemplation and learning, of relaxation, of safety, of sanctuary. Not just for me but any others I want to invite in, be it to my physical spaces or my inner ones.
If you’re reading this because I specifically invited you to this blog, that means you’re also invited into my inner hermitage, the mental and emotional and spiritual spaces that I’ve kept mostly locked up tight for so long. It means I care about you deeply enough and trust you enough that I want to open up that much to you. And while I’m still working out ways to expand this into my offline world, this blog is my opening step.
Sometime soon I’ll talk more about my Monastery ideal (which probably doesn’t mean what you think it means), and how that ties in with my beliefs alongside everything else.