Self-Portrait as Recluse


A piece salvaged from old files, this was written in August 2001, when I first moved back to Arizona.

"People look better back-lit," my photographer friend told me. It's also true of mountains. This evening I rode my bike down to the Gila River a mile north of town, which involved passing the old sewer pond and the new wastewater treatment facility, both of which smelled especially bad, perhaps because it has been so long since it rained. The clouds were orange for a long time and then they were gray. The mountains had contours for a long time and then they were just a stark, dark outline before a diminishing brightness. I had never noticed before how the Pinalenos and the Santa Teresas look like a felled dinosaur, the head pointing southeast and the massive tail jutting northwest.

These two ranges, connected by a long, low ridge, look like they could be one mountain range, but they're geologically different, I'm told. The Pinalenos, which are taller and thicker and longer, have nothing in them worth mining. The Santa Teresas contain gold, silver, copper, etc, and if anyone wanted those minerals badly enough, they could get them out.

I haven't done anything exciting in the past eight years except: get a PhD, fall in love and get my heart broken, write a book. Each of these activities has hampered the rest of my life in certain ways. Getting a PhD involved being in graduate school in the Midwest for eight years. I hated many things about being in a PhD program, course work being at the top of the list, poverty running a close second. Once I finished course work and could just sit at home and read the books I needed to read for teaching or for research, graduate school became a lot less vile. I had lots of time but not a lot of money. I started to knit and quilt again. I took up yoga. I began to garden. All of that was enjoyable but it doesn't exactly rank high on anyone's list of huge thrills.

Then there was the "fall in love and get my heart broken part." I am still somewhat bitter about that whole enterprise, as it could have been avoided: I knew when I first met the guy that he had all kinds of problems and issues; I knew better but for reason that seemed good at the time and seem really lame now I went ahead and fell in love with him, and he went ahead and broke my heart. That pretty much destroyed my desire to date anyone else. It did, however, make me feel like I should just shut myself up in my house and write a book, which is what I did, and why I succeeded in getting the PhD--they don't give you one of those unless you write a dissertation.

The problem with writing that book was that it took over two years and I got fairly good at writing it but I forgot how to write anything else but it. Except for email, which doesn't count.

In the past eight years I have not: traveled out of the country; bought a car; been arrested; given birth; profoundly disappointed anyone I love (having done enough of that in the previous decade or so); left a church or a political party; joined a new church or political party; attended many rallies or demonstrations (preferring to donate money to causes I care about, because I hate crowds); saved any money; found a lucrative post-PhD job; published a book. I have: attended two funerals (my favorite great aunt and my grandmother died on the day after Easter and the day after the day after Easter, respectively, seven years ago); buried a cat I really loved after she was run over and replaced her with a cat I merely like; begun practicing yoga, which has many benefits but which, I am beginning to think, is one of the reasons I haven't done anything exciting: I have moments of inner peace and contentment and don't really feel the need to amuse myself with exotic activities or to seek out the company of very many people.

Either I am a bit reclusive or I am more content with solitude than most people, which are perhaps ways of saying the same thing.


I'm very much like you in that I'm perfectly content to sit at home on a Friday night reading or making something. And when I say content, I mean happy.

I think yoga is partially about developing more profound connections to yourself and, as a result of that, to other people. It does help cultivate a kind of contentment with solitude, as you say. And if you can learn to do that then you don't need huge exciting thrills/big noisy crowds/exotic activities to make you happy anymore. Which is great! And much less expensive.

I have this theory that life is all about finding what makes you happy and then sharing your happy self with the people around you, who absorb some of your contentment and want some of it for themselves, so they go on trying to find what makes them happy. And the cycle continues. What a happy cycle it is.

Sounds to me like you're doing everything just right.

I like the idea of sharing a happy self with others--that it's not so much about "making" other people happy as it is about being the kind of person whose happiness is available to others as something they can share.


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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on October 12, 2005 8:09 AM.

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