Solitude and Community

Steve and I have scheduled a Summit for today.  This is what we call our periodic “relationship discussions” where we aim our canoes and talk about where we’re headed and what we want.  I tend to have a deer-in-the-headlight kind of reaction to certain phrases that have been used in these intense forums simply because I get over-anxious about coming up with a “right answer”.  One of those phrases is “on the same page”.  I hate it when Steve uses that expression, and I have forbid it from future talks. It makes me freeze up. “What does that mean?  Do I have to think the same way as you?  Do I have to be you?  I don’t know how to do that!”  So he now describes what he’s after in a different way.  Another question that is beginning to have the freeze effect is “What do you want?”  I am dangerously close to over-thinking that one, too, and getting defensive.  “What do I want when?  Now?  5 years from now?  What do I want about what?  I don’t know what I want!”  It was really helpful when he put it to me this way: “We have a really great relationship.  But we can always do better.  What are some areas where you want us to do better or differently than what we’re doing now?”  Suddenly, I began to have thoughts and ideas where before I would just draw a blank.

The first area on my brainstorm list was community.  I want to do better in this area.  We are both nurturing our inner lives very conscientiously and intentionally, and I really like that.  I also want to work intentionally on community.  This morning, I received notice of a new post by thousandfoldecho.  The quote by Orhan Pamuk described the formation of a writer’s inner life so well.  The blog author then turned that question over to musicians and asked, “What do you think of the musician’s paradox of needing both solitude and community?”  I think this is probably any human’s paradox.  We all benefit from both.  The work of finding that balance in your own life is what keeps my partner and me coming back together for Summit meetings.

So how do you go about building community, finding and developing relationships where you can be your true, honest self?  I am more conscious of being myself in every encounter now that I’m focusing on that.  I used to just slip into roles very easily without a thought.  That was the actress in me.  It was a way of life that was smooth and slippery, easy to glide by.  I would be who people wanted me to be.  Now, I’m trying to allow myself to be…myself.  Even with the grocery clerk.  And my broker’s secretary.  And my voice students.  This is a no-brainer to many people, and they wouldn’t know how to do anything else.  I think I got into “acting” very young and had some early encouragement that kept me there.  My inner life was so different.  Writing is a way for me to really exercise that inner self, bring it out of hiding without costuming it for a certain audience.  One writer whom I really admire is Annie Dillard.  I just finished An American Childhood and even had a dream about meeting her.  I love how she writes about her inner life and becoming aware of others.  But I’ll save that for another post.  For today, I’ll leave you with this photo.  I think watching waves roll into shore is a good background for musing about solitude and community.  I invite you to share your thoughts on the subject, too!

Lake Michigan again

10 thoughts on “Solitude and Community

  1. Solitude and community…. I retired at the age of 38 thinking I would spend the rest of my life doing what I wanted. I re-entered the work force 11 months later. I was bored. I had been at the beach in the middle of the week in February. I was the only one there. Everyone else was at work. We are a social animal and it’s no fun doing things by oneself. We need the interaction of family, friends, co-workers, even jerks just to remind us of how nice we ourselves are.

    • I have been unemployed for more than a year now, but I did begin to volunteer just so that I could be around people. I do need interaction, but I do need and enjoy solitude as well. I could probably be quite happy on the beach by myself in February…in San Diego!

  2. Thanks for the link scillagrace. Louise Erdrich once said that all the characters in her novels are different versions of herself. I think we all walk around with these different characters, and they “perform” in different circumstances. When musicians get together, they get to leave words behind. -Amanda

    • I truly enjoy leaving words behind when I can…dancing comes to mind. As a singer, I find words follow me even into music. As a performer, I do enjoy exploring different versions of myself, and I find knitting those versions together into a concept of my whole self another journey of discovery. Thanks for bringing up a great topic!

  3. I envy ( such a bad thing to do but true) your relationship with Steve and that you set aside time to work on it… Communication is everything and the lack of it is the rock that many a ship runs a ground on.. All those waves have made me go all nautical !

    • I recognize that I am very fortunate 🙂 And communication is definitely crucial. My husband and I used to lead a couples’ workshop twice a year for about 6 years. We did all the exercises together each time and always had new responses. The work always continues!

  4. I like to focus on four quadrants in my relationship with DWR: me, him, us, and community. Quadrants may not be the right word, because instead of a neatly squared off pattern it is more a weird Venn diagram of multiple intersecting sections. We are members of a dance community and we have individual and joint relationships with other members. We spend a lot of time paying attention to these relationships through our own conversations and by creating opportunities to nurture them both on & off the dance floor. When we plan our weekends together, I always try to balance time for social activities and time for us to be on our own. It isn’t easy sometimes, because we get a lot of invitations to inspiring events and we can’t do everything.

    The dance floor provides a microcosm of life. In the course of an evening, I will dance solo, in a duet with DWR, in duets with others, and possibly in a trio or larger ensemble with or without DWR, and he will do the same. Afterward, we discuss our experiences with the dance and use them as a window into how & where our connections with others are happening.

    Our weekends often feel like a whirlwind adventure. However, we are relatively solitary during the rest of the week. DWR speaks of it as his Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde lifestyle, and he maybe not surprisingly enjoys his 3+ hour commute because it gives him the solitude to meditate and ease into the transition between worlds. My solitude comes in chunks here & there, but mostly I stay up way too late to enjoy the quiet hours after midnight.

  5. Your balancing act of intersection seems to be energizing and stimulating for you both. Thanks for describing one model; I find those helpful to me. Next Summit is on Tuesday. The discussion will continue…

  6. Time for a pretty conventional reply.
    I think finding the balance between solitude and community depends mostly on a person’s temperament. 12 years ago my therapist had me take a long Myers/Briggs personality test, and he told me I was the most extremely extroverted client he had ever had. When I’m with other people I feel like my true best self. For me, even reading a book is enough community for me to feel more myself, and stoke the passions of creativity. All of my best and most creative ideas and decisions come from conversations with others or books I’ve read. It’s when I’m alone at home doing the dishes that I obsess over selfish or thoughtless things I’ve done, where I question my worth, and thus paralyze my creative powers. I’ve used just about every strategy that psychology and religion have to offer someone with stubbornly negative self talk, and I suffer only about 5% of what I used to. But I still feel like all my good habits and strategies are an elaborate software structure which can never completely compensate for a CPU which is hardwired to feel self condemnation.

    About being conscious and intentional in a relationship…I’m afraid I’m one of those guys who dreads “talking about the relationship.” I think the biggest reason was when Larry and I lived with our lunatic mom while we were in junior high school, she was always talking about the relationship. Those talks generally involved threats to throw Larry and me out of the house, accusations of us being cruel, insensitive sociopaths, and lots of crying from Larry and me. And, in 9th grade, she did throw us out. So, nothing triggers the fear-of-abandonment center of my brain as when I am with a woman having that discussion. I would have to feel very safe in a relationship with a woman before I could be free of the reliably powerful laxative effects of the woman wanting to “talk about the relationship.”

    • It’s hard to know how to respond, Lance. Thanks for commenting from such a deep place. I can say that in solitude, I have learned to love myself better. It didn’t come naturally, having had a share of negative self talk grow from my childhood experiences as well. Steve is a very different type of person; he talks about having known from the age of 3 exactly who he is and wants to be. His safe place is by himself, and he wants a lot of communication to go along with the adventure of going out from that place into the unknown. So, yes, the balance between solitude and community is very much an individual equilibrium. I do remember you as a very extroverted college student, full of friendly hugs and engaging conversation, an enormous vocabulary and plentiful smiles! 🙂

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