|Is solitude over-rated?|
This morning I am wrapping up chores so I can go to the winery a little later on for my afternoon shift. I love my job, but there is no question that on cold, cloudy mornings like this my first instincts are to hunker down in the quiet comforts of pasture, fireside and kitchen instead of heading away from the homestead for the sometimes crazy, lively bustle of life behind the wine bar.
There are even times when I think I should go ahead and retire, or at least find a job where I can work from home; standing behind the bar all day and sometimes lifting cases of wine is difficult physical labor, especially if you're over 50. It's especially hard on the feet, legs, and back. But like exercising and cooking dinner, I can honestly say that my job at the winery is something I enjoy once I'm there.
And usually, once I'm in the midst of pouring Rousanne and discussing the finer elements of Rhone varietals or telling out of town visitors about the great restaurants in town, the thought of being at home becomes a distant memory -- something I know is there for tomorrow, or the next day, but which can wait.
The bottom line is that I intend to keep working, the same way I intend to keep exercising, and for the exact same reason: Social skills are like muscles, and once you stop using them, they atrophy -- they shrink, they weaken, and it's much harder to get them moving again, when you need to.
I'm thinking of several women I know who have moved to the country in search of new, more rural lives, who are not the better -- at all -- for all that tranquility and time alone. For some, I have seen an actual break with reality -- the desire-turned-into-wish-turned-into-belief they are living the fictional-type life of a movie or book character, or that they are living in a certain era, with an exclusion, suspicion, or outright derision of all that lies outside of that restrictive boundary.
A couple of others I know decided there was no longer any good reason to bathe regularly or wear clean clothes. And sometimes, the prolonged isolation just shows up through a distinct lack of social skills, which can sometimes get rusty as the person spends more and more time with only their own company to keep and only their own opinions, thoughts and voice to listen to.
I'm not knocking time alone -- I am, by nature, an introvert, and after any social gathering I tend to find myself physically craving several hours of peaceful time alone to balance the scales. But like any balance, the scale can also tip the other way at times, and sitting atop my hill, performing tasks alone and only seeing my husband for companionship become things I realize I need to break away from, in order to keep my "social muscles" flexed and strong so they are toned and ready to put to use when I need them.
My rural life might be different and less isolated if I had several kids of school age running through the house, as we did years ago, but as I've grown into an almost-empty nester, I've realized more than ever that I don't want to give in to the eccentricities and quirks that come from rarely interacting with another human. And it's easier to do than you'd imagine, when you live in a place where you can avoid actual human interaction for days or even weeks.
And so, it's into the car, down the hill, and then behind the wine bar I go in order to chat, schmooze, joke around, and generally pretend I'm an extrovert for a few afternoons a week. It's the equivalent of a gym membership for my social skills, and they're muscles that usually feel good to flex, once I put myself out there and do it.
It's use it or lose it, whether you're talking about your biceps or your ability to shoot the breeze.