text: amber bird
Facebook logo  Twitter logo  Instagram logo  YouTube logo  email icon

Not Ashamed: Reclusive

If you haven't already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.

This one dovetails nicely with last week's post on being an introvert. My reclusive nature is similar (there's overlap), but it's not quite the same thing.

Last month, I was talking with an older, mothering sort of friend. I said something about being a hermit, and she got a little upset with me. There are a lot of connotations that spring into mind with that word, and none of them, to a casual eye, apply to me. I tried to convince her to let me call myself reclusive, because they're pretty much the same thing. She didn't like that much either for similar reasons.

When you see me, I'm not dirty or unkempt. I don't have twigs in my hair. I'm not afraid of you or gibbering madly. I know how to be polite and hold up my end of a conversation. My home isn't a little hut in the forest. Etc etc etc.

Matthias Grünewald painting detail: St. Anthony visiting St. Paul the Hermit in the desert. (Detail shows St. Paul looking scraggly and hermit-y.)

So a lot of people think I'm joking or speaking really hyperbolically when I say I'm reclusive or that I'm an urban hermit. Look at me on stage! Look at me chatting with some stranger at a bar! Look at me managing the food shopping without breaking down in fear! (If they can't believe I'm an introvert, they definitely can't believe that I'm reclusive. That's a step further.)

The thing is there's nothing in either the definition of "reclusive" or "hermit" that requires me to be afraid (or dirty or gibbering or living in a hut). Nope. In fact, in examining myself, I don't even think I have any real social anxiety. I mean, maybe; I might be deluding myself. But I have plenty of friends who struggle with social anxiety, and close enough friends that they've described it to me, and I don't think I'm having the same experience as they are.

For me, it's kind of like you asking me, "Amber, would you like vanilla or chocolate ice cream?" and I'm really not hungry for vanilla, so I shrug and say, "Chocolate, please." No big deal. And, sure, I'll usually choose chocolate. But it's not because I fear vanilla. There are even some times I enjoy a little vanilla.

"Amber, would you like to leave the flat today?" I'm not afraid of it. And, sure, there are times I enjoy seeing family or friends. But, mostly, I'll just shrug and say, "No, thanks."

Now, my reclusiveness is certainly at least partly there to satisfy the introvert need for time alone and the autistic appreciation for being apart so that I can prevent sensory overload. But it's not a burden for me. I really, truly, madly, deeply love solitude. I need hours of it daily. Even from the person I love most in the whole world. (Need. I've tried going without and it doesn't end well.)

I know I touched on this last week, but I want to be clear here that there is a part of this that isn't motivated by needing to recharge or by needing to cut down on stimulus. There is a part of this that's a deep hunger of solitude. For days or weeks of no in-person contact with other humans.

There was a day I was having a mad craving for Thai food. My cravings can be ridiculously strong. And there's a really tasty place nearby that I can get to in under 5 minutes. Or that can deliver to me. Massive craving and kind of busy and all I had to do was interact with a delivery person (I can order online) and I just shrugged and thought, "No, thanks." My craving was mad at me, but the thing deep in me that strongly prefers solitude was just beaming with contentment.

For those who worry, no, I never neglect myself. Beyond the occasional craving denied. I never go hungry, I've never risked a job or messed up a gig, and I've never let the cat go hungry or missed a vet appointment. I've left the house to do kind things for others. I even drag myself out in the middle of the night sometimes to catch a film that I'd really rather see at the cinema instead of on my TV.

I live in a city. On purpose. I love being near the things I want. Especially with this fortress of solitude into which I can retreat within minutes of being done.

And I honestly don't mean to confuse anyone. Nor do I like how often people think I must be lying about being reclusive in order to spare their feelings. If I were going to lie about myself or my motivations, I'd make up better stories.

Fake postcard with child sticking his head out of a castle and saying, "I'm sorry. I am way too busy living my awesome hermit lifestyle to leave my house and party with you."

Societies are, by nature, social. So, of course, my desire to stay tucked away in my cosy flat is seen as a shameful desire. Especially this part of it that I can't even blame on a validated thing like introversion or autism. And I'm flattered by those who, in trying to shame me out of being myself, demand to know what right I have to deny people the awesomeness of my company. Hey, I hear you; it must be hellish to live without me as your constant companion.

But I'm not ashamed.

And, someday, when it turns out that what I've put out into the world instead of a lot of social nights is albums and books and blogs and some killer live shows, I will feel like I've put more than enough of myself outside of this flat. If it weren't for my love of solitude, I couldn't do the work to create those albums and books and blogs...I suspect I wouldn't even have enough sense of myself and my emotional space to put on shows that are half so authentic.

I'm not the first or the last reclusive artist. It's a fine tradition. No shame here.