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Archive for August, 2010

A Social Creature Contemplates Solitude

It’s quiet in here. Even the sound of the rain outside  does nothing but make it seem more… quiet.  Beth is away; the kids are all out. It’s just me, Thug the rabbit, and the dogs Haddie, Timmy, and Abbie. They don’t have much to say. I’m getting a peek at what it’s going to be like in a week or so when we become empty-nesters, a little preview of what at least some part of my life will be like. My wife Beth and I have done a good job of finding things to do both together and apart, and this afternoon is like a trailer for the part of the movie when we’re doing the apart thing.

I don’t much like the view.

It’s not that I don’t like being alone, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy my own company. I really do enjoy having the dogs around–heck, they almost never interrupt me when I’m talking. It’s more of a duration thing, the realization that there’s lots more of this to come. How, exactly, will I spend my time alone? I’ve been telling myself and anyone who would listen that this is when I will write. Ahem… about that. It’s five o’clock in the afternoon and since my crossfit workout at 11:30 I’ve managed to do nothing but goof around on the Internet, writing nothing but idiotic Facebook updates and nonsensical Twitter tweets.  Houston, we have a problem.

This is really rather ironic. When I was younger I was quite famous for the ability to completely “leave” a group by simply opening a book or magazine. It drove my brother crazy. Every Christmas my parents would give me a book, and my brother would offer the same protest each year: “why did you go and give him a book? Now I won’t see him for a least a day!” You’d think that anyone who had the ability to create solitude in a crowd would be quite comfortable when presented with the real thing.

That’s just it, though. The timing and duration of my bouts with solitude were all chosen by me and me alone. I could choose to tune out everything that was happening around me, and by the same token I could choose to re–engage at any time. It’s a bit like that Ron White joke about being arrested for being drunk in public. “I wasn’t drunk in public! I was drunk in a bar. I wasn’t in public until that guy over there threw me out of the bar and INTO public.” In the past the vast majority of my stints of solitude occurred when I was surrounded by people, and if not they were rather short engagements.

This is a bit of a problem, and I’m not trending terribly positive. Many of my people are leaving, have left, or have never actually been here. I’m right smack dab in the middle of the lifestage when men tend to slowly drift apart from their people and their lives as opposed to women who continue to successfully flex their friend-making muscles. They not only draw existing friends closer but  bring more friends into the fold. Now, I don’t think I’m really complaining,at least not yet, and I’m trying very hard not to sound too terribly whiny, but I’m a little stumped as to how exactly to approach this.

There are two strategies that seem to be the most logical ones to consider: get in touch with my inner “friend–finder”, re-–engaging existing friends while I explore all the different parts of my life looking for new friends, or get much more comfortable with solitude. The solitude option is probably okay to a point. I think my problem today is that I have been more or less left alone all day, and I’m looking at much the same thing all day tomorrow. From a tactical standpoint the total immersion technique is failing miserably. Perhaps taking a crossfit–like approach would be helpful, short intense periods of solitude which hopefully will build my tolerance to the occasional necessary longer experience, just like our intense shorter workouts translate to an adequate adaptation when longer tasks are presented. I’ll see if I can engage the other stakeholders in this part of the program.

The friendship angle is a little bit more alluring, honestly. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why it is that men seem to occupy ever smaller islands as they go through midlife, kind of an “out of body” observational exercise. There lots of studies about men and women and how they make friends and keep friends at different stages of their lives, but theory is not what I’m interested in right now. From what I’ve observed my problem appears to be one of energy and effort. In recent years when given the opportunity to leave the house or the office and either explore new friendships or expand existing ones, whether in the company of my wife or by myself, I almost always choose to just go home. Therein lies the problem. Home is where I am alone today, and home is where I am likely to be alone in the future. There’s nothing wrong with home, except when I’m alone.

Is it an aging thing, an inability to summon the energy required to get out? Could it be just simple laziness? Is it perhaps a fear thing, an odd type of “second childhood”  where all of the confidences and comforts of adult life are somehow washed away and the vulnerability and fear of adolescence arrives for encore? Frankly, I have no idea. Short of embarking on some epic adventure of self–examination I don’t see a whole lot of promise in the “second childhood” thingy. Nope, got to go with your strengths on this one, I think. I’ve never been afraid of hard work, and once upon a time in college I was actually accused of working TOO hard at being a good friend. Now, I’m not really sure if that’s possible, but if I was once upon a time accused of working too hard at making and keeping friends, surely I can work hard enough at that tactic to try to solve this particular problem. Heck, I built two successful medical practices by basically doing just that–going out and making friends. I think I can do this.

So I’ll check with the dogs (Thug is sound asleep and therefore unavailable) and see what they think. If history serves they are not likely to offer up too many objections. The thing about dogs is that deep down they really do love you more than they even love themselves; they really want you to be happy, and they’re hoping for nothing but the best on your behalf. I’m concerned about the law of unintended consequences, though, what’s going to happen in the house when I get going. I’m not really sure my dogs know exactly what it will mean for them if I adopt this strategy and these tactics since I’ll actually be out and about working this, working to avoid the solitude. I just won’t be home quite as much.

After all, as everyone knows, dogs are social creatures.

Sunday Musings 8/8/10

Sunday musings…

1) Vacation. On the way home yesterday I realized, some 4 hours out, that I categorically did not want to be home. Not ready to be done with vacation? Something about home town? House?

I believe I’ll need a vacation to sort it out.

2) Advice. It was pointed out to me recently that, when I had a major life change to ponder, my “failure” to seek the counsel of someone with whom I have a lifetime of closeness has harmed that closeness. I had, indeed, purposely decided not to seek that counsel; it was the correct decision then and now, regardless of how helpful the counsel may have been. I intuitively knew that then, and nothing since has made me question that intuition.

But why? Why was I correct? What was it about asking this someone would have been, I dunno, dangerous or risky rather than good or neutral? I figured that out on the ride home (long ride, lots of deep thinking). You see, from this person, from most of the folks from my younger days, there is no asking for advice because advice and counsel is not what is given. No, what is given is DIRECTION. One is told what to do. Failure to follow this direction is a de facto wrong move, no matter how successful one may turn out to be.

It’s a very different thing, don’t you think, to give advice versus direction? To offer suggestions rather than to order up an action. It’s a bit like that Colin Powell quote from the other day (which is probably where I subconsciously made this connection): once advice is given it should be “given away”, released to the discretion of the receiver, and support transferred to the receiver of the advice rather than tethered to the advice itself.

It’s another version of that old saw about reaching the correct destination, or A correct destination, via multiple routes. Think about it…I know I will the next time I’m asked to give advice. Are you more loyal to your advice or to the person to whom you’ve offered that advice?

3) Scorekeeper. Who keeps the score in your life? Come on…none of that “I just live day-to-day” nonsense…we ALL keep score. Money, house, free time, successes of the progeny, number of followers, all simply proxies for hits, runs and ERA. I guess the better, more actionable question is really “who do you allow to keep score?” Let me explain.

It’s my contention that the score is ALWAYS kept. It’s inescapable. Not only that, but many people keep a running scorecard going on you. Your parents, siblings, children. Co-workers and neighbors. Friends. Everybody is paying attention and everybody is keeping score. It’s not all bad, of course, because many times folks are only counting the goals, runs, and touchdowns and ignoring the flubs and errors. It’s OK to be consciously unconscious of these particular scorekeepers because for the most part these people are engaged in a “non-zero sum” game in which victory for all is the goal, for all.

It’s the OTHER scorekeepers who use the score as a weapon, who compare the scores, compete to win in a “zero sum” game, who may or may not have your permission to even be in the game, let alone keep score, who can wreak havoc and render destruction on the playing field. These people insist on a game in which someone must lose in order that someone may win. +1 -1 = 0. They always see the game, every game, in these terms, and they want you to see it that way, too. They insist, demand, that you not only keep score in this manner, but that you also accept them as the scorekeeper.

Here’s where you get to choose, where I think you should exert your right to choose. You may seek, as I do, to convert as many of the games in your life into “non-zero sum” games, ones in which EVERYONE may triumph, as you can. Or, you can decide that this is pollyana-ish folly and view the world always through the “zero-sum” prism. Some combination of the two. Your call. When you have a choice, though, what I DON’T think is optional is to allow anyone else to wield the pencil that keeps the score on your particular game but you, or a very, very small subset of players intimately close to you. Think about it…how could you ever win, or even tie, if it’s “zero-sum” and someone else is keeping score? Why is that? Because the scorekeeper also makes the rules. Always. Why allow that to be imposed on you if you could choose otherwise?

I re-learn this lesson, slowly and painfully, again and again, over and over. My advice, offered freely and without condition, is that you should try to be smarter than I am, learn it once, and refuse to give up the pencil.

I’ll see you next week…

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