As a self-proclaimed loner, Anneli Rufus's Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto had me hootin', hollerin' and hallelujahin'. With every turn of the page, a smile spread across my face, punctuated by frequent belly chuckles and empathetic nods.
|An entertaining, feel-good read |
for anyone who considers themselves
to be a loner.
Society often views loners as losers. Psychopaths. It is true, loners prefer to be on their own. Small talk bores them. Social gatherings drain their batteries. But that does not mean that loners are pity cases or unabombers. What it means is that solitude is where loners are least alone.
I sometimes joke that I do not care for people. This catches some off-guard, especially those who only know the extroverted side of me. Franz Kafka said it best: "I have always had this fear of people, not actually of the people themselves, but of their intrusion." Allow me to make myself more clear: People are fine, but I do not care for their intrusions.
In her book, Rufus makes a compelling case for loners. She puts them on a pedestal. Even calls them heroes. Loners know how to contemplate, concentrate, and create. How to be mindful. How to be disciplined. How to find resources where others think none exist. How to stand alone and be brave. For these reasons and a multitude of others, I am grateful I am a loner.
In a chapter on eccentricity, Rufus discusses hermits:
During the eighteenth century, a fashion arose in which wealthy British landowners hired hermits to dwell on their grounds. It was felt that these hermits-for-hire lent the landscape an air of romance. "Nothing....could give such delight to the eye," [Edith] Sitwell [in her 1954 book "British Eccentrics"] writes, "as a bearded 'ornamental hermit' clad in 'a goatish rough robe, doddering about amongst the discomforts and pleasures of nature.'" Charles Hamilton set aside a quarter of his large Surry Garden for the purpose. A treehouse-style-hermitage was erected in Hamilton's garden, supported high above the ground on cunningly contorted stilts and gnarled roots. The hermit's sole possessions were to be a Bible, spectacles if necessary, a pillow, a floor mat, and an hourglass. He was to drink only water and subsist on whatever food was brought him from Hamilton's kitchen. He was to wear a loose robe at all times, and cutting his hair or nails or exchanging even a single word with any of Hamilton's servants was cause for dismissal. Hamilton's advertisement offered the hermit one hundred pounds a year, but payment would come only at the end of seven years. Another advertiser, this one in Lancashire, promised fifty pounds a year for life to a hermit who would occupy an underground cell equipped with as many books as he desired. Hermits also placed newspaper ads offering their services.
When I read this, my eyes lit up brightly, and my heart surely skipped a beat.
In the 18th century, a vogue in gardening developed amongst those who shunned the perfectly trimmed hedges and manicured geometric paths of formal gardens. These trendsetters were all about creating natural gardens -- green spaces with rambling paths, moss-covered trees, and rustic ponds.
For aesthetic purposes, gardeners often included quaint cottage or grottos in their gardens. Often known as "follies," these structures were fashioned of stone or gnarled tree branches and roots. The wealthy saw value in hiring resident hermits to inhabit these follies. The hermits' presence was intended to elevate the esteem of the wealthy, helping them feel better about their lavish lifestyles. As a job requirement, hermits were to "go without" in nearly all aspects of their lives. On some estates, hermits were asked to keep entirely to themselves; on others, hermits were expected to share their hermetic wisdom with garden guests.
There was, however, a problem: it was difficult to recruit real, live dedicated hermits. Many of the wealthy resorted to mannequins or automatons.
Seriously? A difficult time recruiting dedicated, reliable hermits? Being an Ornamental Hermit sounds like a dream job! Had I been alive in the 18th century, I would have jumped at the opportunity, confident that I would have been the best damn garden gnome ever.
|I'll be your Ornamental Hermit.|
And so it is that I am formally seeking a position as an Ornamental Hermit.
I will gladly live in a rustic treehouse-folly in your garden. Though a floor mat would be appreciated, you need not provide a pillow; I sleep without one. You need not bring me food -- simply supply me with a patch of land, seeds, and a trowel. I will grow my hair long, keep my legs unshaven, walk barefoot, and drink from and bathe in the crisp lake water in your garden. I will gladly comply with your orders to remain in solitude -- communing with nature while contemplating existence. I, however, request one right as a worker in your garden: freedom from having to share my hermetic wisdom. I am a loner. If you wish for me to be an authentic hermit, allow me to relish in my solitude.