I recently read Walden by Thoreau and loved it. The book, detailing Thoreau’s two-year experiment of living in nature in the 1800s is acclaimed and heralded as a manual for self-reliance and has been for over a 100 years. The book’s call for people to live life as they see fit and to embrace it is a natural call of human longing which I believe that people should remind themselves from time to time.
Thoreau’s living alone was his own experiment with being a recluse. Recluses are a common theme throughout history and in my time reading and learning more about the past, I’ve grown an appreciation for those who appear, say what needs to be said, and then disappear because they either a) enjoy their company so much they want no one to disturb them or b) they hate everyone and wish to stay away from humans because of this inert misanthropy. Most of the time in my research, it’s the latter choice.
I remember my days in church, reading church history and becoming fascinated with Saint Antony and his fellow pilgrims, who under spiritual guidance, led lives of asceticism and became known retrospectively as the Desert Fathers. I remember reading of other religions, and encountering monks and their path to enlightenment being in silence and meditation and away from the materialism of the world.
I recall reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee only to find out afterwards that they had disappeared from the public view long before I was even conceived simply because they felt their work said everything it needed to.
After reading more, I encountered Friedrich Nietzsche, Lauryn Hill, Isaac Asimov, Howard Hughes, (side note – who The Aviator is based on aka Leo’s first Oscar snub!), Greta Garbo, Dave Chappelle and many more creative characters throughout past and recent history.
All of the above and non-mentioned have contributed their drop to the sea of human history in their own ways, all from the pleasure of keeping their distance.
My fascination with creative humans and reclusiveness however was set alight by reading J.D Salinger. He is one of my favourite writers, Franny + Zooey being in my top 3 novels list, and his disappearance from all public life to the point his local neighbourhood would point tourists looking for him away from his house resonated with me deeply. The fact that everyone was aware of his need and helped him achieve it helps conquer the misanthropy a little bit.
I go through phases of reclusiveness and cherish them as a time to regrow with self and prioritise my life. I remember a time in my first year of university, during a reading week, I spent 4 days in my halls room alone with my phone off! I never spoke for 4 days until I eventually ran out of food and had to say ‘Yes please’ when being asked if I wanted a bag with my groceries at the local corner shop. These were the pre-5p charge days, the memories!
Those days were spent mostly reading and writing as well as watching sermons on Youtube and I look back at them fondly.
I’ve never needed people to be around me. I’m unsure why this is but I’ve grown to not question it. What I do know is I find my inner misanthropy growing the more I’m outside and the larger the crowd I’m around.
I’m proud that by finding these people in history, I found spiritual kindred who I can say saw the world in a similar fashion. I’ve never related much to anyone (except a few fictional characters), but Salinger’s wanting of privacy resonated with me, despite loving the work I had read of his. From his personal World War II experience and subsequent writing career because of it which ultimately led to him disappearing at the height of his fame. Maybe he knew something we didn’t and that stopped his publishing. His book ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ was used as a justification for 3 murder attempts due to the nature of the protagonist Holden Caulfield. Maybe Salinger had insight that his work could be taken this way. His life seemed to the panning out of the innate fear of many creative people. That the messages we put out are used for things that you never dream of. Maybe that’s what leads us to hide away. We see the world as too intrusive and we wish to hold onto the last shred of privacy we have.
I find today’s world fascinating. Here I am writing a blog post which I will post online, share on a few platforms and after publicly sharing my business, I will carry on with my life. I recognise that we daily pick and choose our battles. I’ve always been wary of sharing the menial parts of my day with the world, which is why my love/hate relationship with social media continues to this day, however I am wondering how someone like myself, with reclusive tendencies can manoeuvre through all of the self-promotion and say what I need to say, in a way that conforms with my own integrity. I believe admitting these tendencies is a start and that’s why I say cheers… to the recluse. May our messages be heard in pockets of space not occupied and cause embers of realisation to the mass forest we wish to continue hiding in.