Q. Is the old man in the Hermit Spirit blog masthead a picture of Wardolfski?
A. Nope, it’s just an awesome image I hunted down on Pixabay: see here for the full image. I assume it started out as a photograph of someone. But it’s obviously been artistically altered in Photoshop or some other image-editing application — though to what degree isn’t clear — at least in terms of the added texturing and grunge effects.
Q. Are you actually a real hermit?
A. Not by the traditional definition of the term. I’m also not a bachelor. But how I live is probably much closer to a hermit-type lifestyle than other people in today’s world who live a halfway normal existence with a spouse, as I do. “Halfway normal,” because my reclusive tendencies and introvert personality type mean I socialize very little — with a few close friends and that’s about it, aside from the rare social function I get dragged into once in a blue moon. I support myself with real work and don’t depend on some religious order or patron footing the bill.
It’s interesting to note that the root of the word hermit comes from the Greek words eremia (desert) and eremos (desolate). The desert is where some of the earliest hermits spent their time — but if a completely solitary existence like this is what one means by a “real” hermit, then few of them exist today.
A fairly wide range of lifestyles is followed by people who call themselves hermits these days. Most of them, though, are affiliated with or at least would prefer to be connected with a religious order (but may or may not be granted such recognition). That doesn’t describe me — I have no desire to be connected with any tradition, religious or otherwise.
You can get a quick sense of the changing lifestyle of hermits today in this interesting summary article — Hermits in the 1990s and 2000s: Surveys.
Q. What makes you say you’re a hermit, then?
A. Opting out of commonly accepted activities: TV and most news for starters. Part of the dictionary definition of a hermit is someone who shuns society. For me that’s a strong element: I watch almost no television — perhaps society’s major shared ritual today. An hour or two a week a few months out of the year when there’s a decent dramatic series or two my wife picks out for us. But for most of the year, none.
The vast majority of television I find either infuriating, nauseating, or inane (heck, insane too), pandering to the worst of human emotion to hook viewers, and completely misfocused on inconsequential issues or trivia in terms of what it chooses to cover. Other than the occasional well-written series, I find almost everything about it insulting to one’s intelligence.
Radio I listen to even less than TV, perhaps a bit of news/talk radio for a few minutes a few times a month while out in the car just to check up on what’s occupying the top headlines targeted to the conventional American mind. I don’t follow traditional news online either, except the rare article to get a feel for what the “conventional wisdom” might be on some subject that’s happened to pique my interest. I do delve into reports and research on issues I feel are fundamental (more on this further below), but these rarely agree with what TV, radio, or the more mainstream online news sources deem fit to cover.
An exception. As a runner and track fan, I do watch online streaming video of the best track meets during the summer season, a few marathons a year, and, a couple of times per year, iRunFar.com’s Twitter feed with play-by-play of a major ultra/trail-running race. And sometimes I may well decide to stream video along these lines to our large-screen television rather than watch on a computer.
Anything relating to the usual newscasts that most Americans feel is necessary to follow, though, I really don’t care about, because I consider it “surface fluff.” Anything truly monumental I know I’ll hear about from my wife, or a friend will ask if I’ve heard about such-and-such.
Seclusion to wall off noise. I should also mention that the level of noise in the city is a real problem for me and has contributed to my being more of a hermit than I otherwise might. The extreme proliferation of the internal combustion engine and the use of power tools for anything and everything these days have become so all-pervasive that they dominate the urban soundscape from 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning till 11:00 or 12:00 at night in our area.
Particularly once I hit my 40s and 50s, I began finding the constant racket of commercial leaf-blowers, mowers, chainsaws, “crotch rocket” motorcycles, hot-rodding cars, helicopters overhead, etc., so exasperating that I began staying inside more to avoid it all. My nervous system is wired in such a way that I’m not someone who can just “tune it out.”
In part because of the urge to avoid not just the constant distress of this noise, but the continual rush and bother of the city all around too, I prefer to just hang out at home and not leave if I don’t have to, other than going on errands or to and from job sites, and getting out for runs and walks. I therefore drive a lot less than most people, perhaps one-third the usual car miles.
Q. Don’t you do anything to stay in touch?
A. I do get a good sense of what’s going on with fundamental issues that affect the planet and the economy, by keeping up with selected blogs or other sources that delve into what I consider to be truly pivotal issues affecting where humanity is headed. To me, these are such things as energy and resources, the environment and state of the natural world, what science can tell us, the underlying direction of technological development, trade or military issues between global powers that are ignored by mainstream media, and so forth. I consider such forces the real core drivers of the economy and politics and related human phenomena, which I see more as surface events reflecting these structural determinants undergirding human activities that depend on them.
Any issue that grabs my interest along those lines, I will spend a lot of time researching to learn what I can. I consider myself well-informed on such issues, but on the other hand am completely out of the loop on all the TV and social-media-driven foofaraw that seems to consume the attention of so much of this country. For most Americans, I would guess it’s exactly the opposite, which is why I tend to avoid society to the degree I can.
Q. So what do you do with your time?
A. Aside from work, there are a number of things I love doing that most Americans either can’t, don’t, or won’t do because they are so consumed by the combined television and social-media juggernaut, or other things that take so much time out of their day that’s freed up in my own.
Exercise: running and working out. I exercise much more than the average American: three to four runs a week of at least an hour each, sometimes an hour and a half to nearly two hours. I do an intense bodyweight training workout once a week too.
Leisurely walks to stay in touch with nature or meditate. I walk for 25 to 30 minutes several times a week also. Not for any aerobic benefit, which is negligible compared to what one gets from running, but as a form of stress relief (yes, I get stressed by work and finances in today’s economy), as a form of meditation, and also as a way to maintain at least some connection with the natural world around me that we have done our best to destroy: The trees, the birds, and whatever somewhat-wild animals manage to survive in an urban environment in our neighborhood. Squirrels, rabbits, possums, ducks, geese, and the occasional fox or even skunk. And the sounds of the insects. I love the sounds of the grasshoppers, crickets, and cicadas, not to mention frogs croaking, ducks softly quacking, or geese honking overhead.
Sleep, slowing down, reading, writing, blogging. Most nights I sleep 8 to 9 hours. I have tried to slow down my life as much as possible — I hate having to rush around like most people seem compelled to. I’m easily fitter than 95% of the population (19 out of 20? Certainly so), and probably 97% or 98%, even into my 60s, and get tremendous joy and satisfaction from athletic exertion. I read a lot, I ponder and contemplate and meditate, and I do this blog.
Living this way is how I have to live to be happy and feel fulfilled. All of it is possible because of the decisions I’ve made to prioritize what I experience as most important to a well-lived life, and to avoid the majority of what society considers necessary but which to me is mostly a waste. In the words of Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Having experienced and examined this society’s way of life over many years, and later going down a different road in contrast, to me there is no doubt the former is unhealthy and very, very far out of balance. Also, as a serious introvert, I am living life in the only way I can tolerate to retrieve a healthier, saner balance more in tune with my own needs and, hopefully, those of this planet we live on that, ultimately, supports us all.
In a different world more in tune with the natural world, where society upheld and supported a way of life in harmony with that instead of denigrating and ostracizing it, I doubt I would feel such a strong need to opt out. But this is the current world we live in — one that will likely be seen as an historical aberration after our society goes the way of all civilizations and one day returns to dust.