I am reading a book about Emily Dickinson. I love her poems, but I am more fascinated with her life. She became a recluse in her family mansion in early adulthood. She loved to bake; evidently she walked about the house covered in flour. She wrote beautiful and pithy poetry that speaks to all of us.
I have often thought that it would be very romantic to become a recluse myself. Of course, in order to be a happy recluse, you must have a beautiful place to hide in. I think I have finally achieved that. My house is now, after we have lived here for twenty years, nicely decorated, and every room is beautiful. It also seems to me that there is an irony involved. Recluses need nice surroundings, but the recluses I am familiar with were INDIFFERENT to those surroundings most of the time.
This is because a recluse must have a life’s work. Otherwise, staying home twenty four/seven would get very boring. So I would need a beautiful room to work in. I would require a desk placed in front of a window, so that I could watch the world go by and ruminate about the neighbors, the surroundings, and nature. There would have to be inspiring art on the walls. Granted, as a successful recluse I would become inured to all the beauty of my study, but rules are rules!
This brings me to the life’s work. Problematic, because I can’t think of a subject large enough to consume me every day. Recluses are devoted single-mindedly to a life passion. My only real passion is pets. Could I spend every day in my workroom thinking about cats, writing about dogs, or researching animal diseases? Could I become a crusader for animal rights right there in my little room? Not likely. In the midst of a treatise on dog fighting, I would need a snack. While researching Von Willenbrand’s Syndrome, I would look out the window and realize the bird feeder was empty. Are recluses allowed out in the yard with sunflower seed?
Successful recluses have doting families who do their shopping, invite guests over in order to freshen the outlook of the shut-in, and accomplish all the tasks that the recluse simply can’t do, by virtue of the fact of being a recluse. I don’t have that kind of family. My husband is always gone. He is the opposite of reclusive. My kids aren’t around, either. I don’t have any loyal retainers to do my bidding. I think servants are a prerequisite for recluses. HERMITS, on the other hand, live completely alone, don’t want any family ties, and shun the concept of servitude for anyone. By that definition, being a hermit is totally OUT, as far as I am concerned.
Back to the reclusive life. I think a successful recluse must also have a highly developed sense of the SMALL. Spending all day at home, every day, would require an appreciation of life’s little details. For instance, I am sure that Emily Dickinson reveled in the dust motes in the air around her, watching as they swirled and caught the sun. She probably counted the pleats in her peplum. I feel confident that looking out the window at the garden was tantamount to meditation for her. I am not good at this. I have no idea how many buttons are on my favorite cardigan. I have noticed that there is dust on tops of all the picture frames, but that is about it.
Recluses often carry on long conversations with friends by exchanging letters. Emily Dickinson maintained lifelong relationships with a number of people, some of whom published her letters to them. Thus, she was able to make HER FRIENDS somewhat famous, just because they knew her. Today’s recluse would have access to Facebook and Twitter. I can just IMAGINE what fine tweets Emily could churn out.
I did actually try out the reclusive lifestyle last winter, when I had a skin cancer on my face that required surgery of Frankensteinian proportions. I was on a recliner in my TV room for two weeks. It was hell. Without Netflix, a cell phone, and Facebook as lifelines, I would have descended into sheer madness. It is because of this experience that I have such admiration for Emily and her ilk.
If Emily were around today, would she restyle her life? Would she at least talk with her friends using Skype? Would she still bake gingerbread from scratch, or would she use a mix? Would she have a cell phone and carry on conversations with fellow intellectuals from the safety of her room? Is it possible to be a productive recluse in today’s world without the use of technology? I couldn’t do it. My hat is off to Emily.
The Soul selects her own Society—
Then–shuts the Door—
To her divine Majority
Present no more
Unmoved—she notes the Chariots—pausing
At her low Gate—
Unmoved–an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat
I’ve known her—from an ample Nation—
Then—close the Valves of her attention—