Thursday, April 14, 2011

Loneliness in America?

Americans' circle of close confidants has shrunk dramatically in the past two decades and the number of people who say they have no one with whom to discuss important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at the University of Arizona. "The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants" said Lynn Smith-Lovin, one of the study's authors. "This change indicates something that's not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action."

The study compared data from 1985 and 2004 and found that the number of people with whom Americans can discuss matters important to them dropped by nearly one-third, from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004.
Researchers also found that the number of people who said they had no one with whom to discuss such matters more than doubled, to nearly 25 percent. The survey found that both family and non-family connections dropped, with the greatest loss in non-family connections.


The problem with an art and spiritual blog, which I guess this is, is that I feel reluctant to write about anything "personal", even though I'm a believer in the notion that the "personal is political". And spiritual.  I think, for this post, I'll step outside of my own taboo.

Yesterday I saw something that happens everyday, but it stayed with me.

I'm staying near the Renfair in Los Angeles, working at the show. It's not like the old days, when we were an "encampment" that lived and worked together for months.........this show people turn up, or their employees turn up, do the weekend show, and go home. .

I was looking for a post office, which I found.  There was a long line, and a nice looking gentleman, with a badge that said "Allesandro" was the "maitre'd" of the operation.  In the section between the postal tellers and the long  line was an older woman in a wheelchair.......I could see that she often came to the post office because she knew everyone's names, and in that unfortunate and busy place, she was trying to engage the tellers and Allesandro with conversation by asking a lot of questions about mailing options, asking where the bathroom was, and making some personal comments in the hope of response.  The people in line were annoyed because she was taking up time, and space, and the tellers smirked.  Finally she apologized, and told everyone she was "under the influence of legal drugs", meaning I assume painkillers, and away she rolled, looking embarrassed, down the street.

I didn't think she seemed like a crazy person............on the contrary, she had an intelligent face and a pleasant voice.  She was just desperately lonely, and here was a place with people who were "familiar", and where the hum of  activity was going on.  She was like a stray dog, hoping for a scrap of affection or attention in a place where she surely wasn't going to get it.

Did I do anything?  No, but I sympathized.   I have a better social mask than her, and I have legs and a car, so I'm better off.  I can go look at stuff and talk to myself (quietly) at the library, or a mall, or at the beach if I so choose.    I'm here for a month, and well stocked with books.  I am resigned to the idea that other than on the phone, I'll pretty much not talk to anyone.   And because everyone I know is so busy, I'm reluctant to call anyone anyway.  No one has time anymore, do they?

Besides talking to customers, and telephones, I won't lose my vocal cords, however.  There will be a thousand ritualistic interactions with tellers that will go, as regular as clockwork: 

"How are you?  Find everything you were looking for?  Have a great day!"

and I will answer in the same ritualistic ways "Fine!  Yes!  Thankyou!".  

Once or twice, being ornery and  infantile, I've responded with things like "no, I was looking for enlightenment" or, "well, actually I have been having an out of body experience" .... but all that does is throw an uncomfortable cog into the machine which pisses them off.  O brave new world.

Out of the same kind of lapsed memory the poor woman in the post office has (I bet she once lived in a small town where everyone knew the postmaster)......I still go to coffee shops, and sit there with a cappuchino looking for a receptive face.  But I think that avenue to conversation closed long ago, with the advent of wifi.  I'm used to being invisible, which isn't such a bad thing at times.  Should I be embarrassed to even be sharing these thoughts?  Probably.  I'm a mask maker.  I should know better.

So how do you meet anyone in America?  Well, I guess most people do it through family and work.  People like the Post Office lady have fallen through the cracks, and are very difficult to see - am I the only one who saw her?

I don't think people still have cocktail parties or dinner parties or bars where you can hear each other over the pa system, but I could be wrong about that.   My work puts me on the road often, or in a studio alone.  Although I meet lots of people on my travels, it's rare to find people with time to engage in social ways, and when I'm in a situation like my LA show, I don't try anymore.  Yesterday I met to give some money I owed to a nice lady who lives here, has worked for me for 4 years, and it would never in a million years occur to her to invite me to her family's home for dinner.  Her daughter, who also worked for me, came with her, and in the course of our meeting she was texting somebody, which left no doubt in my mind about how uninteresting I was to her.    My former apprentice has had a mask business, thanks to me, for 7 years, and she's never found time to have a visit with me for longer than an hour, although she comes to Arizona every year.   I just lent some masks to a former colleague for a ritual event up north - she found time to write me an email thank you.  Would she find time to call me personally?  Nope, and I wouldn't expect it.   

I don't blame people, they don't have the lens that I have. I think if you asked the people I mention above what they think of me, at least two of them would say they love me.   They don't feel themselves becoming invisible, perhaps, not yet.   I wonder if I'm the only person who feels this way, sometimes?  Is it a failure on my part?  Probably. 


I once had a Facebook account, but I closed it.  The idea of having 500 "friends" I couldn't talk to or touch in any personal way, with whom I could only have the most trivial exchanges of superficial information..............got to me.  There were people there I once slept with, or gave birth to, or ate meals with, or they stayed in my house, or they own art I made.  Now our exchanges are limited to 6 words, with an "LOL" on the end.  We've already done away with the use of paragraphs (except, thankfully, in the eloquent world of blogs!).

And I still don't know what "LOL" means anyway.  I'm a complete anachronism.   I'm probably one of only maybe 5 people in the entire world who think Facebook is scary.  For some it's spiders, for me, Facebook.

 I know, I know, this is indulgent.  I should meditate, workout, take a long walk,  look up "meetup.com". You're a Lightworker, Lauren, buck up here, think Positive and Manifest, etc.

Meanwhile,  sometimes, the mask slips off, and I wonder.  Am I really any different than that lady in the Post Office? We're all in this together.        

I should have asked her  to have lunch with me.  But, I suspect, if I had, she would have looked at me with something akin to terror or suspician, and refused. Maybe I should have tried anyway.

10 comments:

Valerianna said...

Dear Lauren - thank you for this! Alone, in the woods, going through an intense continual spiral of deepening, I am soooo with this. I was out in the forest praying this morning, speaking to the ancestors about how everything is being stripped away - including the shifting of relationships so that I feel I only have one or two that I can share the intensity with. I mean, how CAN i talk with folks at work about transformation and deeper initiation into my medicine?

I spoke to the forest about feeling isolated - deeply loved by the land, there is a flow there - but what about my heart? What about the human me who loves my cat, but could use some real intimacy? Its sparse these days. My closest friend in the valley - or who I THOUGHT was my closest friend - moved less than a mile up the road, now I hardly see her. I saw her more when she lived in town and needed my land to fill her. Now, where is she? I have avoided facebook, too. Blogs at least have soul and visual interest and no one expects me to tell them what I had for breakfast.

OK, novel comment here! The forest heard my complaints, maybe there's a shift happening, if we both (and many more I imagine) are feeling this so deeply now. I might feel vulnerable about leaving this comment, but, going for it as you modeled vulnerability in your post..

Alyson said...

Dear Lauren,
I have been reading your blog since last September (I think). It is very inspiring to me. Your decision to share some of your personal story and perspective today was the thing that prompted me to take the time to comment. I am 46 and not quite invisible yet (sometimes I long for it knowing it will break my heart), and I think the people who act so busy are ruled by fear more than lack of time. They are not generally open to social interactions, so, currently, I am heeding the wisdom of Emily Dickinson and telling the Truth with a slant--one which let's people hear Truth gradually. It takes more patience than I think I have.

Thank you again for sharing your insights, wisdom, and stories.

Von said...

Very sad for many, although crones like me relish the state of being alone and absence of meaningless chatter and twitter.There are many advantages to being invisible and it makes so much time for creativity!
I personallly despite that, have a FB account and find it invaluable for keeping in touch with the adoptee community, a source of support and necessary activity which hopefully will change things.
Nice blog!

Lauren said...

Thanks for your comments greatly. I really do appreciate, and seek, perspective on this - as you can see, it's an emotional post. But I feel it's a real problem in our world, another one of those things "unseen", yet underneath, weakening everything. We're called to community, spiritually, environmentally, in every way.....and yet the drift of our culture is in exactly the opposite direction, and many of us, at various times, feel adrift.

For myself, I've just about reached my limit, and need to change some things, beginning with the work I do, and how I live. I am returning to my interest in intentional communities, and will seek that kind of living situation in the future - I believe it's an ideal circumstance for many elders. Many but not all - as you point out, Von, some are more than glad to be finally left alone!

I am also seeking teaching opportunities, be it art or ESL - the isolated life of an artist is not satisfying or rewarding to me any longer. If I make art at all in the future, be it with masks or any other media, it will be with others.

Valerianna, thank you so much for your moving honesty. I am so weary of living in a big city, which I have had to do for many years because of wanting to be available to my mother. Every time you post on your blog, I remember poignantly conversations I have had with the land, most especially when I lived in the East. In "Avatar", I really was stunned to see a movie expressing that "sense of Gaia", the community of each ecosystem, visible and invisible. I know what you mean, and wonder myself about the collective, and planetary "voice" right now.

So much is changing.......thank you for your kind words all.

And maybe being a "Saga" does mean letting it come out, the story of the hour. Each truth has many sides to it, like a faceted diamond. I am not ashamed to share one facet of my truth.

I remember Sedonia Cahill, who wrote a book in the late '80's about talking stick circles and community, saying "the truth is held by all the voices in the Circle". This is something I feel so important for our time, Circular Logic, Circular Truth.

The circle has no end......

Margaret said...

Lauren: I have just posted once but have been reading of course. I have wanted to comment on a few things, but every time you post something new before I get round to it!

Just a few things, but first read this about Bolivia
http://www.gardeninggonewild.com/
a small country, small comfort, but a relief to see that a government can see beyond its own political preservation.

I find your bog one of the most personal that I read read, always. Perhaps you mean the emotion in your last post was more personal.
(I don't have a blog at all, let alone facebook, but I figure bloggers need readers as well)

One thing that struck me - until now - is that you always talked about masks as revealing things through the archetypes chosen by the wearer.

Only now in this last post do you talk of the (ab)use
of the mask being used to hide behind, though I like to think that Shadow reveals itself in the choice of mask when someone wants to hide behind one.

I hope you find a community and a focus for your considerable talent and that you will continue to voice your own Truth. It is, after all, all you can do.

That is also a dichotomy to me - you are so pure in your expression in confronting Truth and doing this by using the medium of the Mask!

Natalie said...

The trick with detachment is not to fully detach, I think. I see it as an ebb and flow movement.

Lauren, you have a community who are there for you, who would try their utmost to respond to your essence with grace and compassion if you were to speak aloud.

Lauren said...

I'm really grateful to you all, again - I genuinely am seeking to understand what's going on, and how to re-invent myself these days, and the wisdom of others, especially in this time of feeling so isolated, is much appreciated and considered, truly.

I feel like this difficult week has been a real gift, in that these "explosions" or dark times we can have are ultimately "wake up calls".

Thanks again....

T said...

Your post is so relevant, Lauren, and so beautifully written. My father used to be one of those people in a wheelchair and used to say he felt invisible. He has since passed on.

Your description of the woman in the post office brought back my memory of him saying that and really addresses a particular kind of loneliness that many people feel.

Lauren said...

Thanks Trish,

I feel rather exposed with this article, but perhaps i found myself feeling that the distance between the lady in the post office and me is not very far, just a few years, or dollars. There have to be ways to not end up like that, not just for her or me, but all of us.

T said...

I think it's a different generation, Lauren. Those of use who came of age in the 60s have gone in many different directions, but I like to think that in our heart of hearts, we remain true to our ideals. Although, honestly, the evidence says otherwise (I don't talk politics to people very much anymore!)

But on a human level, we know we're connected. My father's generation never had that luxury of belief.