Grit Blogs > Kensho Homestead Practicals

Woman Gone Wild

A photo of Mishelle ShepardNot many people know this because there are those loved ones who think I shouldn’t share such personal information with the cyber world. But since I think those loved ones are my only readers anyway, I don’t see why not. So here’s the big secret: For exactly half the month while handy hubby works, I am alone out here. Half the month I go a week or more sometimes without seeing another human being in the flesh, or without hearing an actual voice not garbled by static. I’ve complained in this blog about the ever-growing list of challenges to my recently adopted rural life, so it seems strange that until now I wouldn’t write about the very biggest one of them all: Solitude.

I know very few people have experienced anything like it. Consider, before you believe you can relate, just because you feel alone in your head or at your desk, or maybe you imagine you are not really registering the dozens if not hundreds of personal human interactions you are having each day, but this is something entirely new for me. I was always one to appreciate solitude, but I see now it was because I didn’t have that much of it. Imagine for a second, a married woman totally alone half the month, no children, only virtual colleagues, very few neighbors, no real schedule, no real boss, no employees. Almost complete flexibility. Almost no responsibilities. Almost total freedom. A long time pursuit of mine achieved prematurely par hazard. It sounds so easy but nothing and no one could have prepared me for the toughest part of it. It’s unbearably lonely sometimes. Not only are there very few people, there are only a handful who would ever choose to be in such isolation, literally or figuratively, even if given every opportunity.

If I have one physical human interaction in a week it’s because I found some excuse to go to town or to visit the neighbors. The internet is my only lifeline to civilization. My truest connection at the moment is to nature, and I think we are really starting to understand each other. Maybe I am facing my fears, because since childhood my worst dreams always centered around losing virtual connection – the perpetual busy signal, or for hours a line where I can’t get through for some unknown reason, or I can’t remember or find the phone number, or the number’s been disconnected, the buttons won’t push, there’s no dial tone, or oh my god, the line’s been cut! Nowadays the dreams are more often a screen that won’t respond or storms that take out the satellite.

If you’ve traveled seriously you know what I’m talking about, at least to some degree. You have to get used to some degree of loneliness as a traveler. It’s not as challenging today as it once was, now that it’s so much easier to stay connected. What I most remember about my stay with a French family in 1984 is the loneliness. I was a hyper-self-conscious 15-year old with little means of communicating on an isolated family farm for the first time. I cried so much the family was probably shocked I stayed. I came home a different person, a better person, a stronger person I instinctively felt.

In the Peace Corps something similar happened. Along with the regular symptoms of occasional purposelessness, emptiness, lethargy, there bloomed something more. But in the thick of it, it was bitterly lonely and that’s all I could feel. It wasn’t friendships, or a lack of them, it was a lack of deeper connections.

The inner and outer journeys share the common instinct of exploration, that’s what drives the explorers among us to pursue them. They also share the common features of surplus time and adequate means and ample courage. Just like those lonely days as an exchange student and PCV, they set a precedent of self-reliance, they open new worlds, they teach humility. Without these travails I wouldn’t be who or where I am today – someone with excessive time, enough means, and compounding courage in order to thoughtfully observe loneliness, no doubt the fear of which helps induce us to adapt to many of the laws and various unpleasantnesses of civilization.

We love to brag about the outward journeys, sometimes keeping track on a map with little pins, different colors for the places we’ve been and those we still plan to visit. The green pins on Paris and London and Prague for “Been There”; the red pins on Moscow and Istanbul and Buenos Aires for “Going Soon.” But where do we keep track of the inward journeys? From whom do we gain bragging rights for the trips through Pain, Failure, Rejection, Loneliness? Where are the pins to stick on future stops at Loss, Disease, Humiliation? I guess we don’t celebrate those because we don’t want to go there so much. But then again, maybe if we had less fear of life’s travails then we might find both our travels and our connections would become far more meaningful.

Some are so disturbed by what they find on those journeys inside or out that they instinctively retreat and only go back if absolutely forced by circumstance. How do you comfort these poor cowards of love and life? I can only offer this advice: If you embrace solitude and heed nature’s voice now, you’re sure to avoid pricey therapy later. Otherwise, prepare to live the rest of your days among those sad civilized individuals in perpetual fear of the wild side.

don thomas
8/26/2011 10:24:12 AM

Mishelle, I have a great idea for you learn to play a string insturment, We live on a farm and it has been a great addition to the the family, I am learning to play the banjo, what great fun I have for hours and hours, I would rather play than doing anything now, have a great day, just a small drive by, dt


susan_7
12/27/2010 11:07:24 AM

Mishelle, Great post! I think we all need solitude--I know I seek it and love it and rarely feel lonely when with it. I do have 4 pets, tho, so never feel lonely with them around, even when my husband is away for weeks at a time working out of town. And we're not so rural as to not have friends close by. But that said, solitude leads to reflection, and too much reflection can lead to either despair or enlightenment, depending on your nature. A change of scenery is good for the soul, so keep making those trips into town without guilt (for "wasting" gas/time) when you feel the need for some human contact! I think we need both to appreciate each separately. Susan


nebraska dave
11/17/2010 3:11:19 PM

@Mishelle, I do send confusing signals don’t I. Let’s see if I can explain. My very early years up to 8 years old was spent on a farm with only the woods, derelict cars, old barns, and bluffs to entertain me. My sister came along about five years behind me but we didn’t have a lot in common during those years. I had three make believe friends who were Gokey, Honey, and Litte. I was very much introverted and isolated except when school started. At that time I was a wall flower and went unnoticed. Because of that beginning I continued to be introverted and really didn’t date at all in high school. Life traveled through two marriages with the wife being the dominate force and me being the background force. After my second wife died 9 years ago, the door opened for adventure in my life. Being the way I was I hesitated to go down that path. After being encouraged by some friends, I stepped out into a very scary world and haven’t looked back. Those that know me now can hardly believe that I once would not talk hardly at all and never entered into conversation. It was like a transformation from a caterpillar into a butterfly. Not in the beauty sense but in the totally different person sense. It is quite amazing when I think about it and those that knew me back then can hardly believe it’s still me. The funny thing about it is that I was quite happy being who I was back then and I’m quite happy being who I am now. Have a great day.


mishelle
11/16/2010 11:37:40 AM

Thanks Dave, you are v kind! I'm curious, was your family growing up introverted or extroverted? Have you noticed any particular change or pattern over your life as to how you feel about solitude?


mishelle
11/16/2010 11:32:39 AM

V interesting Conspiracy, thanks for sharing your perception. May I ask, what is your age and gender? I believe this makes a MONUMENTAL difference. Have you read "Party of One"? Great read, think you'd like it.


conspiracy2riot
11/15/2010 2:05:56 PM

I too go a couple of weeks at a time without seeing anybody. I do have a telephone but I keep it off as I can't stand the sound of a ringing phone, trapping me on one end. I ask everybody to simply email me. It's easier and I prefer this method of contact. As far as touch goes...I have a kitten and a dog. I can't imagine them not being 'enough'. I LOVE living like this. To have my own work schedule and people NOT in my way, everyday...I find it heavenly and I'd die if I had to socialize and waste time with folks that aren't living like I do. I can barely stand it when folks DO visit me. It breaks my routines and my sense of accomplishment at the end of the day is compromised. It's hard for me to see the isolation as a drawback.


mishelle
11/15/2010 10:34:09 AM

Hi Robyn, thanks for your comment! It's interesting because I have been looking closely to try to find women of the past who would have been also dealing with similar isolation--pioneers certainly would have been among them, and so much more than today of course--virtual connections have become so important to me and they would not have even dreamed of such things. I have taken very much for granted in the past, not realizing how important physical connection really is, not really grasping or appreciating simple daily interactions. I value all those in my life SO VERY much more now, and for that it has been a great blessing this isolation!


robyn r ireland
11/14/2010 7:01:39 AM

Mishelle, perhaps you know that the leading cause of death among American pioneer women was isolation. They would be left out on the prairie for days, weeks, sometimes months at a time and the sound of the wind would, literally, drive them crazy. Many of them, like you, had no one to contact. The other thing your story reminds me of is the orphaned children in poorer countries than ours, and what we call "failure to thrive." Because they don't get the touch required by small children, many of them do not eat properly and either die, or don't grow as children in the same age group do in homes where their need for touch is met. I think all of these examples, yours included, go a long way in establishing that humans are social creatures.


nebraska dave
11/12/2010 4:53:24 PM

@Mishelle, there once was a time when I thought that all I would need is a good computer, fast internet connection, and food shoved under the door periodically. I soon learned that the touch of a human hand and the sound of a human voice are cravings that are born into us. I have learned to be happy with both solitude and business. I have learned that there is no better thing than to just listen to what another person has to say. I don’t have to agree or disagree but just listen. Loneliness is one of the most common emotions that people deal with. Isolation is only one facet to loneliness. Single mothers are surrounded with kid activity, single people are surrounded by work activity, married stay at home wives are surround with domestic activities but most deal with the loneliness emotion. One of the biggest reasons bars are popular is to find something to over come the loneliness. I’m not sure that I could with stand long periods of solitude or isolation. My way of dealing with that emotion is to reach out to others. Help them with what ever projects they have. It seems, for me at least, that giving overcomes loneliness. Of course I live in an urban part of a city. I hope that your isolation and loneliness will become less and less of a stressful emotion for you. Have as great a day as you can.