Confessions of a Modern Day Recluse
Ding-dong… diiiiing-donnnnng. Knock knock knock.
Even though I’m standing at the other side of the house folding laundry, my heart jumps and I freeze at the sudden noise. I try my best at invisibility—like a wild gazelle just after catching a waft of imminent danger. For a split second I stop breathing. Then I come to my senses and realize I have house guests. How embarrassing! I rush out to the kitchen where two girlfriends from Hong Kong visiting me in Seattle watch me run out, bemused over their breakfast coffee and English muffins.
One friend starts, “Uh… were you going to answer the door? Or should we get it?”
“Oh no, just leave it,” I reply, feigning nonchalance. “I never answer the door. It’s usually just the UPS or FedEx guy or a solicitor. If it’s a delivery guy they always just leave the package at the door. Besides, I can hear the truck driving away.”
Like the gazelle, my hearing is heightened and I catch the UPS truck start up and rumble down the street. I then slowly shuffle to the door, open it, and pick up my UPS box. The scent diffusers I ordered online from gilt.com have arrived. Score!
The other friend pipes up as I walk back into the kitchen with package in hand, “Wait… so you never answer your door… like ever?”
“Nope. Usually nothing good can come from answering your door unexpectedly. Remember, this is the US and unless a delivery guy is dropping off a package, it’s either a solicitor or a crazy person. I never answer the door when I’m home alone, unless someone calls me beforehand to let me know they’re dropping by.”
My friends laugh. And this is the perfect time to tell them the story of the Knife Sharpening Guy.
A few weeks ago, I was home alone doing housework at dusk when the doorbell rang. My husband was still at work and for some reason I decided to answer the door.
I open the front door to find a young 20-something man wearing a red ski hat with ear-flaps. It was chilly outside in the dark winter mist. He bore a large backpack and looked friendly enough. He delivered his sales pitch to me on how he had studied under a local Master Bladesmith and was offering door-to-door knife and garden tool sharpening services. He was charging $5 per knife and could set up outside and have everything done in about 20 minutes.
Door-to-door knife-sharpening services? Hm… kinda sketch. Quandary… I mean the young man didn’t exactly look like a serial killer, but who knows what serial killers look like these days? And our dull kitchen knives were in desperate need of sharpening. But would my very own Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S blades end up in my throat on the doorstep of my own house? At least they were extremely dull giving me some time to make a run for it.
So I took a chance, said yes and brought him four of our kitchen knives. I shut the front door, locking it behind me and dialed “9-1” and waited the rest of the 20 minutes with my finger ready to dial the last “1” in case things didn’t turn out so well.
Thankfully all was fine and I was just being my usual neurotic self. 20 minutes and $25 later, I had 4 newly sharpened knives. More importantly my neck was still intact. I confess I let too many PBS Masterpiece Mystery episodes get the better of my imagination.
My friends stopped laughing, grateful to live in urban Hong Kong complexes with lots of guards and doormen to take their packages so they never have to deal with solicitors or potentially crazy people standing at the entryway to their homes.
This exchange got me thinking about living in the US as an American taitai. I’ve noticed how very easy (and almost disturbingly attractive) it is for me to comfortably live my life as modern day recluse. I have my books, magazines and the Internet. What else does one need? And other than the weekly grocery shopping, almost all of my other shopping is also done online via amazon.com. (More on this at the end of the post.)
There really isn’t any reason for me to step outside of the house like ever—unless it’s an unusually (rare) sunny Seattle day, or to visit with an old friend at the local coffee shop. As a result, I rarely get sick (I don’t actually come into human contact very often these days) and I’ve often gone the entire day without hearing or uttering an audible word until my husband comes home. Is that weird? I don’t think so and I suspect there are those of you out there like me. We are the people busy reading and writing blogs!
Now I can certainly see the negative aspects to the “cult of one.” Fears brewing over how we are becoming a society no longer fluent in face-to-face human contact abound preaching the perils of declining social capital. Today, we are already a society of “Singletons” particularly in US urban areas where more than 40% of US households are one-person households.
This phenomenon is brilliantly and eloquently described in Nathan Heller’s recent book review in the New Yorker reviewing Eric Klinenberg’s new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (Penguin). At the conclusion of Heller’s article, he writes: “The greatest grace of living single is the existence of other people who are doing the same.” It seems we are not really alone and it is still in our human nature to find ways to connect.
In learning to embrace my Seattle life relative to my days in Hong Kong, I’ve discovered that I enjoy being alone and having time to think and to read. I realize that this is a supreme luxury and I’m extremely grateful and thankful to be blessed with this life. But since I don’t officially work anymore, people often ask me what I “do” these days in addition to the normal Amercan taitai housework of cooking and cleaning. Honestly, now that I have more time I’ve actually begun to write more. It’s a little bit lonely, but it is also a sort of bliss—kind of like graduate school where I get to read, think and write on a topic of personal interest, minus the pressure paper-writing and sleepless nights, of course!
I’ve also just finished reading Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (Crown), and I’m learning that there is much to be gained from the contemplative life. Often the most creative and original thinking doesn’t come from loud group brainstorming sessions, but from quiet concentrated solo work. And yet much of our hyper-extraverted ADD society and workplaces don’t do an effective job in capturing or celebrating this type of productivity. We should listen more and talk less and find ways to engage those who don’t tend to speak up loudly or often during meetings.
Cain’s book brings me to my last reclusive confession for this post: Massive Amazon Guilt.
I must confess that I purchased Cain’s book off of amazon.com at half the price after first seeing it in my local bookstore. I received the book 2 days after ordering it with free shipping (insidious Amazon Prime membership perk!) After celebrating the “deal” (basically 2 books on Amazon for the price of 1 at the bookstore) I felt a deep pang of guilt as I realized my reclusive online shopping habits will eventually destroy most bricks-and-mortar retail stores. And since my local bookstore is probably the closest environment to my natural reclusive ecosystem, I’m actually helping to destroy my very own natural habitat by my online shopping habits. The U-Village Barnes & Noble was a place of many fond memories for many students at the University of Washington but inevitably another upscale furniture shop has replaced it. Where do UW students go to study these days? Ironically I’m guessing they’re not hanging out too much at the U-Village.
What to do? I guess it can be simple. While I won’t give up on my online shopping habits central to the modern reclusive life, I have resolved to buy every third or fourth book from my local bookstore and to eat more often at their cafe. Besides, it also gives me an excuse to get out of the house. After all, today’s modern recluses could always use a bit more fresh air.