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Time and the opportunity to learn about yourself [column]


By Richard Wagamese, Windspeaker Columnist








I turned 57 years old in October. There’s a lot of dust from a lot of roads on these boots and it sometimes feels as though I’ve been around an awful long time. I suppose when you’ve been around long enough to assemble a ton of recollections that it feels the same for everybody. But I’m always so busy that I seldom take the time to reflect on where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

Nineteen-fifty-five in Northern Ontario was a completely different world from now. When I consider the sheer amount of change that has occurred, its mind boggling. Rotary phones, dot matrix printers, telex machines, V8 engines in 20-ft cars, the Quebec Nordiques, all of these came and went in the time I’ve been here. But some things never seem to change and that’s what strikes me as I ponder adding another year to my resume.

I’ve never really been much of a guy’s guy, a man’s man or any of those buddy buddy things a man is supposed to be. I learned to be a loner when I was a kid and the lesson never really left me. I always felt better and safer on my own.

 It’s the same these days. As a writer I spend a lot of time alone and I feel wonderful during those productive work hours. But I enjoy the feel of solitude as a matter of course, really.

I was never drawn to most of the things a guy learns to do. I never learned how to tinker with an engine, never learned to use power tools, never really developed an appetite for the NFL or NASCAR. When I quit drinking beer,well, that was about all she wrote. My world was books and actually sitting and listening to music. My world was long solitary walks. My world was active observing of things and it has been since I can remember.

I found it hard being around men. I’m pensive. I give things a lot of thought. I consider my position on things. So it made it really hard to fall into banter, chat or good old boy small talk or the small lies and tall tales we tell each other. Even in the bad old days of being a lounge lizard, quaffing draft and shooting pool I wasn’t much for chatter. Words always seemed to feel better forming in my head than rolling off my tongue.

The funny thing about being a loner is that you always think that you’re the only one. Hence, the word loner, I suppose. But you never really think that there’s anyone else like you and so you never search out anybody who’s a loner too. The truth is that there are a lot of us out there. Loners seldom advertise. Others might not be as cozy as I am in my solitude but there are still a lot of guys who value their privacy and the comfort of their own thoughts at their own time.

I like walking. I like being able to set out on the land and just be, with only the dog and my thoughts for company. A lot of guys are like that. I like to do hard, sweat inducing solitary chores like cutting, bucking and stacking firewood. I used to like to fish. Hell, nowadays I even love watering the flowers in our yard because it gives me time to stand on the land and think.

There’s no one to miss then. There’s no one else’s thoughts to consider and no one else’s agenda to satisfy. Loners understand the sanctity of those moments, but the truth is that we’re not true loners. It’s just a label we learned to apply.

I cherish the moments I spend with my guy friends. I love the idea of working together at something or shooting the breeze about movies or books or music or the ideas that sometimes sit unexpressed in our heads. I love the fact that I live with a beautiful woman and that we have a host of great and wonderful people in our lives. I love that as much as I love the moments I am alone, happy with all of it.

One good buddy and I headed out to cut firewood. We chain hauled huge timbers from a slash pile the loggers left, bucked it up, hauled it back to where our wives were visiting and waiting at home. Then the four of us went out in the boat on a perfect early fall day and cruised and swam and chatted. I felt enormous and filled and elevated. When they left I felt curiously lonely.

A true loner wouldn’t feel that. So I guess the truth is that I love solitude but cherish company. As they say, older is wiser.