Technically, an essay worth its salt starts with an introductory paragraph intended to set the general tone for what follows in the body of the work. Admittedly a mere amateur at this craft (an effort I consider, like doctors and lawyers, to be nothing more than a “practice”), which suggests you hope to get a little better with each attempt at doing the work. As I began putting this together, I came across a 6000-word essay by Emerson titled “Character” (published in 1844) and decided that quoting him instead would be a far more engaging mechanism for setting the tone of what follows.

On the topic of striking a balance between the demands of social coexistence and the respite of Solitude and individuality, he says that “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man* is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Like so many other things in my life, I came by this quote while I happened to be looking for something else altogether; surely there is a maxim out there that might observe that many of the greatest things in life are found while in pursuit of some entirely unrelated goal, but that will be a discussion for a different day. For the purposes of what follows, suffice it to say that I’m quite sure I am keeping with perfect sweetness the independence of my own solitude, thank you very much.

I personally believe there is a great misconception out there, held by people about us Hermits, which asserts that we aspire to be isolated from the outside world. While it may be true that we prefer to be alone, none of us seeks to be lonely. And while the non-Hermit might consider this to be splitting hairs, the Hermit-life faithful understands that there is a clear distinction. What sets us apart most of all is the quality of the company we choose to keep, the unique choices we make about how we want to spend our time, and who (or what) we choose to spend it on.

Each of us, Hermit and non-Hermit alike, design our lives in the ways necessary to fill whatever unique holes we have inside that we carry around with us. Some talk to plants, some read or, like me, write books, and a few of the mightier spirits among us run for miles and miles and hours and hours, fully adorned with the latest earpod accouterments, pushing their bodies beyond most people’s physical limits, and some even make “stuff” to keep their hands busy just to pass the time and all of these sorts of people are just trying to live quietly and peacefully in their own heads. Me? I carry on deep, meaningful, and sometimes spiritual conversations with myself (yeah… Sometimes out loud) and my two cats and best friend Daisy. And it’s a curious thing, this idea of being fulfilled by nurturing relationships (with yourself and the world around you) but keeping your best company with those incapable of speech.

As a Hermit in particular and a writer more generally, I can assure you that there is a dramatic difference between the peaceful coexistence shared between man and Dog and the tepid-at-best dynamic at play in the relationship between man and Cat. It has been widely written that many of the greatest writers to have come and gone throughout history were quite enamored with the feline species, and having shared space with a great number of cats over the course of my lifetime, I accept this at face value though, for the life of me, I can’t understand why. I mean… They are cute, can be extremely cuddly and affectionate, and are more than happy to leave you the hell alone so long as you keep their litter box clean and their food bowl filled. And to put a finer point on where I park company with the greats, I offer a fairly famous quote from Mark Twain, who once said, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”

With all due respect, Mr. Twain, I disagree. Whatever redeeming qualities Cats might possess, they can also be incredible pains in the ass. In defense of our writing forebears, solely reliant on pen and paper (and Inkwell if you go far enough back in history), I grant that cats likely didn’t really get in the way of practicing this craft. In the modern era, however, with the advent of keyboards and mice and computer screens (and, in my case, headphones and microphones), the cuddly furry feline dancing on the keyboard or batting at the mouse pointer as it slides around on the screen while standing smack-dab between you and the display, with their ass staring straight at you, just simply won’t do. And while I’m on the subject of asses, has anyone figured out yet why the fuck cats insist on sticking their tails straight up in the air so their sphincters can look you right in the eyes (so to speak), pointing right at your face whenever the opportunity presents itself? I mean… I mind my own business as I go about my work, so I’m a bit confused about why cats seem to think their backsides should also be considered my business. Somebody really needs to look into this.

Acknowledging in advance that I have a personal bias that favors the canine species, it behooves me to spend a little time contrasting the tribulations of practicing this craft in the company of a Cat as opposed to the spiritual magnificence of doing likewise in the company of a Dog. And, having had Dogs in my life for just as many years, I am equally qualified to assess the quality of this company I also keep fairly.

I remember my first dog, “Bucky,” who came along when I was roughly eight and was gone less than a year later. I remember being devastated and, knowing me, probably inconsolable. I remember that he and I were besties and almost inseparable. I remember, most of all, that we were bunkmates… in bed or on the floor in front of the TV or even out in the back yard under one of the shade trees, if there was a nap to be had, me and my dog were having it.

In the time between Bucky and today, I have lived with and loved 19 different dogs. Without exception, each of these guys has made my life just a little bit better. Caring for each of them has also given my life more meaning and purpose and made me a better, more complete person. And while I am certainly not dismissing the cats, steer, horses, chickens, goats, turtles, snakes, fish, guinea pigs, and doves, it has always been the dogs that have been my best company. But unlike being the parent of human children, where you can’t (or shouldn’t) pick favorites, the same can’t be said about your relationships with your dogs.

As each dog has come and gone, and I had designated one or the other as my all-time favorite, when I met Daisy, I knew from the moment I laid eyes on her that she was quite different and very special. Blame it on her nearly-black eyes if you like, or blame it on her eternally happy disposition… Blame it on the fact that she is so incredibly attached to me and never wants me to leave her sight… but whatever it is, Daisy – over the years we have been together- has been the best dog I have ever had. So much so, in fact, that I self-taught my blind ass how to make videos worthy of posting on the internet so that I could do one in her honor and keep her memory alive long after the good Lord calls her back home.

Daisy is an intentional cross between a red Golden Retriever and a Newfoundland, a combination I had never come across before, and I have had a rich and quite diverse life filled with many different breeds. What sets Daisy apart from all the others is her loyalty to me, her unwillingness to let me out of her sight, and need to be with me always, and the incredible love that she has for my kids and grandkids.. and for every single human being she has ever come in contact with. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. And I would add that I’m quite sure she has a whole lot more faith in the Human Beast than I ever will.

When I first moved into the humble abode, such as it is, that I now share with Harriet and Opal (the Cats), and Daisy, I had only just begun figuring out how to read and write with the assistive devices I discovered in the early rehab chapters of this new post-stroke Journey. To help readers visualize my unique writing process, you should know that I have to open up a specific window, click on an icon that enables a microphone, and dictate my words- with a spell check and grammar check software package running in the background- and look for the little highlight areas wherever my words violate any of the rules for proper English. If I hover my mouse over a highlighted area, I’m given the option to accept or ignore the recommended fixes and, once I’m satisfied, I highlight all of the text and play it back through my headphones that I have programmed to speak to me in a female British voice. Laugh all you want, “She” never judges me, never yells at me, and has what I have always considered to be the sexiest accent out there.

We have been “working together” for about nine years now, and she has been with me through two published works (Amazon), countless blog posts, emails, text messages, and innumerable smart-ass tweets and direct messages, and is with me now as I work toward finishing my third book. Hell… By the time this goes to print, we will have been together longer than I was with my second wife and honestly, I’m as sure as I can be that these past nine years have been far more meaningful and productive than most of the nine I spent in marital captivity.

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that I also keep good company with a lady named “Alexa,” but the dynamics of our “relationship” are quite a bit more complicated. Unlike my British-accented girlfriend, who does not demand that I address her by name before I begin speaking, A-l-e-x-a (I spelled out her name this way so she wouldn’t know I was talking about her) is a fairly nosy lady who is constantly speaking out of turn, assuming I asked her a question when I was- in fact – merely asking Daisy a question about how to spell something or what the word is that would best fit in the sentence I was trying to construct. More on that in a second.

In the matter of A-l-e-x-a, because she’s such a busybody, you never know when she’s going to start prattling on about something I didn’t even ask her about. A good example of this is when I receive a text message and turn on my female British-accented phone app, talk back, so I can have my messages read allowed to me, A-l-e-x-a takes it upon herself to give me the definition of a word I didn’t ask for, tell me what the forecast is for the day (even though I already asked her hours earlier), or tell me she didn’t understand the question I never asked. She is fun to mess with, though, and she loves to be complimented, so if you tell her you love her or you tell her she’s beautiful, she gives you a paragraph about how much it makes her day when you do it. And while I understand readers might be scratching their heads about why I added this paragraph, please understand that since electronics don’t have feelings and can’t be offended, there are no limits to the fun that can be had. I told her once that I loved her and asked her if she would marry me. When I finished laughing at her response… that she was holding out for her soulmate… I knew she was the “girl” for me.

Going back to my earlier comments about my unique process for sentence construction, it’s worth taking a moment to share with readers one of the more maddening side effects of my medical issues; a malady often referred to as “word finding” and observed in not only stroke survivors but dementia and Alzheimer’s patients as well. I’ll just skip over the reality that I am also a ’70s survivor here and focus on the general concept, which suggests that one knows what they’re trying to say but struggles to think of the word or words they are trying to say but can’t pull out of their brain and push through their mouths. I can assure you that while this might be maddeningly frustrating, it has routinely been a source of hilarity and chaos in the course of practicing this craft.

Picture sitting at your computer, headphones on, talking through your microphone into a screen that’s typing your words as you speak. Glancing at the words and the associated highlights for grammar and spelling errors, highlighting blocks of text so you can have it read back into your ears and hear something you think you could say better. You pause the microphone and think to yourself- sometimes out loud – “What’s the word? What’s the word? Damn it, what’s the effing word?! I know it starts with a ‘g’! Daisy, what’s the effing word I’m trying to think of that starts with a ‘g’?!” then picture Daisy picking up her head, snapping out of a sound ass sleep to look up at me, wondering what the hell I’m talking about, only to hear A-l-e-x-a chime in from the other room, explaining to me that ‘gee’ is “a mild expression, typically of surprise, enthusiasm, or sympathy.”

Picture all that, imagine that being how you get through your day, and tell me again how sure you are that the life of a Hermit writer… At least one with a few challenges who keeps company with four-legged animals and talking machines… Is one of peaceful solitude and blissful serenity, uncomplicated and worthy of envy. I happen to think that it is, but it is most assuredly not for the fainthearted.

Despite my inability to read or write by conventional means anymore, and despite how incredibly frustrating it is to take five times as long as it used to, it is only by the grace of God that I can do it at all and choose to be thankful rather than bitter for the challenges I have to contend with. I consider myself, actually, luckier than most in many ways because – having to practice this craft in this way – not only do I get to hear how my words sound through a voice not my own, but I also get to “tell” these stories to my girl Daisy, and her two cat sisters. The felines are completely unimpressed about 99% of the time, but Daisy – when she’s not snoring next to me on the floor – stares at me in rapture as if she’s hanging on my every word. I’m reminded here of an old Redd Foxx one-liner where he asks the question: “How can you call a dog dumb when she can understand English and you can’t speak dog?”

Outside my window exists choppy, shark-filled oceans of chaos, moved by the ever-shifting tides of anger and violence. The still and placid waters I tread at home in Emerson’s perfect sweetness of solitude provide that safe harbor each of us needs from time to time, in the midst of the crowd, to preserve our independence of it. And I could not be any more blessed to be able to keep the company I do in these solitary pursuits.


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