It started like this:
“Today I’m thinking about community and isolation. I know which I prefer. Do you?”
Less that 140 characters innocently clicked into the vast continuum of time and space that is the internet. Within minutes, I had received several replies, a few follow up questions and a rather fun debate ensued.
What I had been thinking is that when I’m actively connecting and connected to a community, whether of a spiritual sort or otherwise, I find that I make better decisions, communicate more openly and avoid the worse bouts of depression. Of course, that was my personal subtext to that tiny little statement that issued from my fingers and onto Twitter. Those reading my tweet could not know that, even those who know me personally.
My friend Shawn responded that he prefers solitude for writing and thinking, even though he desperately loves his family. My friend Kristin responded the she needs amounts of each, but that as an extrovert, she is energized by being with others. Our fingers flew over our keyboards (or so I imagine. I have no idea…they may by hunt and peck typists) and our conversation evolved to a discussion about art and its creation. I made the mistake of writing that “one can’t create in a void.” Whereupon Shawn picked up the gauntlet I’d so carelessly cast down and we agreed we’d each tackle this idea of community over isolation (to use my original term) in the first three days of this week. Krisin at Halfway to Normal and Shawn Smucker will take their own tracks on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Community. According to the dictionary a community is a group of people living together in one place, sometimes practicing common ownership. I’ve been a member, officially or by default, of different communities since the day I was born. My dad being a pastor afforded my family with instant hoards of aunts and uncles. A church is just one example, though. I also belonged to teams, the marching band, an intentional group of college students who practiced community one summer, families, and even schools. We belong to these when we choose to join, share something in common and work together for that common purpose, whether it’s military marching or winning a game. All together. On purpose. For a purpose. Not perfect. Just together.
Isolation by contrast is a stark separation. The process or act of isolating or being isolated (um, thanks, dictionary). To be in isolation is to live without relation to other people or things. Isolation differs widely from solitude. I have periodically chosen to live in isolation, as much as I chose at other times to live in community. During these times, which I think began unintentionally, grew to vast walls between others and me. Not coincidentally, these are the times I experienced my most significant depressions, bad decisions, and inner tumult.
Indeed there must be a balance, one that can be difficult to strike. As Kristin said, people tend to need both. When I am around others, involved in their lives and they in mine, a tapestry of intricate human bonds can weave itself organically, adding a richness to my own personal experience that I’d not have access to otherwise. But to sift through the diversity of otherness requires a sort of quiet isolation for reflection.
Thus the idea that artists “can’t create in a void.” I’m not married to that idea and I could be convinced otherwise. But I tend to think that in order to create, we need to engage in the world and then to retreat to create. Or maybe it’s just me. To maintain a constant communal presence deprives one of reflection, whereas to isolate oneself continually prevents lasting connections from forming. Both are severe extremes.
I am convinced we could write about this idea for weeks. Just in this short exercise, several threads emerge. I want to pick at each of them, tease them out and unravel them.
What about you? What do you prefer? Community or isolation? How is solitude different? Can an artist create outside of community?