Woman Gone Wild


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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.

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

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.

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