Happily, Far Far from the Madding Crowd: On Choosing Solitude

(my first exposure to Joyce in the late ’60s via the popular green paperback edition)

(the 1977 film by Joseph Strick who did Ulysses in 1966)

An only child of the ’50s, I was often plunked in front of the radio-record player, while my mother popped out to work part-time. For the most part, my first 6 years were ones of isolation, away from other kids and other people. Later, in elementary school, I was a latchkey kid with a pet dog, which afforded me a ton of freedom and autonomy–something I still look back to with fondness–our poverty lending itself to the cultivation and development of a rich imagination and extended fantasy life.

You can get used to being alone and living a very individual life in such a context, which carried through my university years. That’s not to say I didn’t have many friends, girlfriends, and other possibilities. I consider myself very lucky to have had as much freedom and fun as I did until I began a full-time career as a teacher.

Quite often, my solitude through those years included my wife and young family as well. They got to experience the joys of solitude vicariously, too. Even when I became an author, I still had the freedom to work on my own and could not have accomplished as much as I did–over 50 school publications–without the support of my kind wife who often looked after our kids alone during writing times.

On the other hand, one can’t help getting connected with many others through teaching, playing music, doing poetry readings, and going to conferences (the latter which I did for 30 years). Up to the 1990s, I was an intensely socially-involved individual, but then I began to withdraw from the fire as teaching and schools started to decline with an onslaught of continuing government cutbacks and a changing society in which technology and parents started to have too much influence. This took out most of the fun and autonomy (the best of teaching) of being a teacher. I started doing more things for myself and began a long retreat until 2002, in which I basically followed my own bliss which was, for that last decade, very solitude-centered.

A good example of this were my two fall trips to New England in the ’90s (on personal leaves during the school year). This was a significant turning point, which brought me in contact with the spirits and haunts of American writers I had long admired–notably Frost and Dickinson–and introduced me to a great kindred spirit, a master of solitude–Thoreau. There began a close reconnection with and extension of my interests in Nature, capital N.

After a bitter strike in 2001, I gave up on politics, the ATA as a political force, and the negative way education was going in the province. I had worked hard enough in my life to create freedom 52, and retired happily from teaching in 2002. I had gone as far as I could go or wanted to go. (I had been offered administrative possibilities, but don’t much cotton to appearances, social lies, and playing someone’s else’s games according to their limited/limiting orders.) Let’s face it–there is more to life than school, teaching, and working to make money–largely unappreciated, let alone sufficiently acknowledged in the first place. Despite a financial hit, initially, I have never regretted the day I left the profession on my own terms when I was ready and unprepared to continue on the slavish school-calendared treadmill, especially working for care-less, agenda-ed people I did not respect.

Today, I continue happily with enough social contact from and with my family and a few close friends. (One needs no more, really.) So I am far, far from the madding crowd–where I have been most of my life with the exception of my 30 years of teaching (though, as previously noted, the last 10 were more on my terms for the most part). It has been refreshing and downright rejuvenating to have made this final big break. (The only crowds I ‘do’ are at concerts where I am happily unknown and unrecognized for the most part.) I never have needed ‘a lot of people in my life’ like some or many. I seldom feel a pang to rush out to talk to others or to be part of some social group. There are, in fact, a lot of people I’m simply not interested in, don’t hold with, and would want nothing to do with.

Looking back, I have and have had an embarrassment of riches and ridiculous ample luck along the way. My essential sensibility is and has been predisposed toward solitude and its many pleasures and freedoms. (Family remains the lone very pleasurable exception to this.) The blog has served quite well in allowing me to express the unique consciousness and inner life and freedom I have so long preferred and enjoyed. In and of itself, no, one does not need crowds and lots of other people in order to be successful, happy, and content. Especially not when an individual has had this much solitudinous experience, confidence, success, and luck in pursuing this blissful route through most of life.………………………………..

On St. Pat’s, I often hearken back to Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (first read at 19) and Stephen’s experiences and choices in the latter part of the book. I, too, have ‘left the herd’ some time ago in order to pursue personal freedoms, particularly the freedom to express and write as I may. The freest and most natural writing I have done in many a year, and my favorite by far, has been the writing of the past 3 years, most of which has appeared on this blog. Topics, like this one, simply write themselves as I reflect and contemplate without the interference of others. Today I shall raise a glass to Joyce and his example. “Cheers, my fellow artificer. Thou hast stood me in good stead.”


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