The lone wolf: familiarity, reason & cruets


“‘And you know,’ continued the young biodynamicist, ‘I have a curious feeling, Professor, that somehow or other the numerous sheep are prized less than the one lone wolf. I wonder what is going to happen next. I wonder, for instance, what would be your attitude if our whimsical government with apparent inconsistency ignored the sheep but offered the wolf the most munificent position imaginable.’” -from Bend Sinister, Vladimir Nabokov

(Not a totally appropriate quote for the rest of this content but struck me anyhow, especially for the times we live in: ‘our whimsical government with apparent inconsistency ignored the sheep but offered the wolf the most munificent position imaginable’.)

New properties in G4

Flowing, mellifluous correspondence does not happen any longer. Where once I bought envelopes and stamps in bulk (actually I still do but not because I have such florid letter exchanges on the go), now I have very few correspondents. I think only three of my pen pals remain as regular letter writers. Many remain in my address book as people to whom I mail cds and occasional notes. I don’t really miss it that much, but sometimes I have a moment when a sense of the lost joy of letter writing hits me.

It even occurred to me recently that I don’t receive real emails any more either. The few friends with whom I used email as a primary means of communication write rarely enough that I can’t even say that we’re regularly in contact. Who knew that even email would become too much of burden? I get a lot of automated emails about property in such-and-such a district in such-and-such a city (my whole real estate porn/fetish), but seeing something personal is exceedingly rare. And often only a “poke” to get me to call or text, so it is not a means of communication but a means for prompting another kind of communication. I have consciously in the last few months tried to return much communication to email, if possible. Back to a place where I have more freedom and choice – responses happen on my time, or your time, if at all. I don’t need or want phantoms from years ago to pop up suddenly in a chat window. Like a virtual way to put everyone at arm’s length and preserve my own space. Everyone who needs to get in touch with me, and with whom I want immediate contact, knows how to reach me. Anyone else: if they really have something to say, they can email. And if they don’t, well, then I guess they don’t really need to be in touch.

I don’t want the immediacy or demanding nature of things like texting or Whatsapp unless I have invited it. I realized too late that I had fallen into following people to embrace these immediate forms of communication even when I did not want immediacy with them.

Straddle the saddle

It isn’t that I think I have to be in control of every bit of communication. But I have realized that some of it can wait. Some of it can be anticipated. Some of it feels unnecessarily prying. The intimacy of being immediately too close and too accessible is too much in most cases. It makes sense to create barriers and filters in these cases, while selectively choosing openness and accessibility with only the very few, the very dear. I will once more straddle the saddle of controlling how, when and with whom I communicate, and ride on into the sunset. And into kitchen utensil stores. 🙂

Oh, please: the voice of reason

A case in point: after I had already started writing this post, keen to build some walls between almost-random-people and myself, someone popped up today in my Whatsapp conversations; someone I might talk to twice a year and whom I don’t really know. It is, as I told him, a tenuous link. We have a brief chat and then fall totally off each other’s radar. Apparently my baked goods and I appeared in his dreams and “talking to you is warm and meaningful”. And he claims he is… in love with my voice. Oh, please. Oh, please. Oh, please.

Actually, I scrubbed “oh, please” from my vocabulary in high school when a pen pal actually sent me a card that only contained those words: “Oh, please.” I didn’t take it personally; I had told him that he seemed awfully self-absorbed, if not a little OCD, not to mention a little presumptuous, writing to me about how he spent an entire summer hunting up and down the eastern seaboard for the perfect bed comforter/duvet… and then hid it from himself so he would really appreciate it when winter came. He also told me he had been searching for years for the perfect vinegar and oil cruets for his kitchen but had still come up short. I wondered, “How many cruets can there be?” Not long thereafter my question was serendipitously answered when I walked into an antique store and saw a book titled Cruets Cruets Cruets, volume III. The presumption came when he started writing about how he expected that I would apply to colleges in Boston (to be near him?), that nothing on the west coast was worth considering (?!). Yeah, exactly… oh, please.

Am I alone, a lone wolf, in thinking that all of this smacks of too much familiarity?

Keep your distance – don’t assume familiarity


I, decent with the seasons, move
Different or with a different love,
Nor question overmuch the nod,
The stone smile of this country god
That never was more reticent,
Always afraid to say more than it meant.

-WH Auden from “The Letter

For most of the last several years, vivid memories of an endless (well, it was endless for as long as it lasted anyway) correspondence, marked by a repeated violation of character and word limits, keep exceeding my capacity for endurance. A long correspondence, a brief, intense meeting and a cut-and-run final act – followed by years of agonizing, wondering and questioning ever since.

I could not handle the intensity of it – or the directness. It had been pointed out to me early on all the little “added things” I throw in at the end of various statements. Like when I said I would be inclined to meet “if we ever wanted to” — this is classic me. I have trouble making a definitive statement without any qualifiers: “I would like to meet you.” And leave it at that. I always add some caveat to the ends, non-committal, that leaves an open ending or an out for the other person because I don’t like the idea of imposing my will or wishes (even if they are individuals strong enough to just say they are not interested). There is something unsavory to me about assuming too much familiarity with anyone, ever, which extends sometimes to not expressing my own feelings and wishes because I don’t want to put any undue pressure on someone else. Unfortunately I can take this to extremes. It is so second nature for me now that I don’t even realize I am doing it. I always feel like I am being more polite this way, but a few people have pointed out that this just comes across as though I am just not interested. (It does not help that I apparently give people this harsh, serious, aloof impression in general.)

All my little addenda ending sentences, offering ways out or at least options, made it seem that I was not invested in the outcome, that I did not care what happened either way and that I had no real feelings. To me, it’s clear that this is ultimately a defense mechanism, as anyone with a history of shyness can certainly understand.

It is surprising, in any case, to have traveled through this correspondence. It could have been such a disaster – pen pals and online communications and trying to “meet” people in this fashion can be such a disaster. What is surprising to me in particular is that there are so many people out there trying to do this online thing but who are not at all good or expressive writers. I prefer people who can convey something real and substantial in writing and don’t think I would get along very well with people who are not at least trying to write coherently. I would in fact overlook people because of their bad writing or lack of effort in the same shallow way someone would discount another simply for how they look. This is probably informed by my whole life as a writer, my history as a pen pal and basing whole friendships solely on the written word. And yet even my obsession with precision in communication, I created a complete disaster in this story.

The way I handled the aftermath of the correspondence and meeting is nothing short of shameful. I ran (so far away). All this time I have contemplated whether I should do something about it – reach out, apologize, clear the air – but I have also grappled with whether I would be doing this just to assuage my own guilt and conscience. I never wanted to do it to make myself feel better – I was tempted to do it to have a clean slate – but if regret and apologetic explanation would only open a door best left closed, what would be the point of that? I have tried to learn in recent years to let go and let closed doors stay that way – one of life’s hardest lessons for ever-curious me. That said, not a day has gone by that this correspondence and the upheaval of its influence did not weigh on me.