23 August, 2011

Cocoon - Solitude

Where two or three
Are gathered together, that
Is about enough

                                                              Les Murray

I recently read an opinion article in The Age newspaper (Monday 15 August 2011, p15) in which Brigid Delaney  was celebrating the virtual end of  some 20 years of “cocooning” in one’s home. Gabrielle Gwyther, a sociologist, told Good Weekend in 2003 that “...home owners love cocooning inside their McMansions, which are like castles, fun factories and mini-resorts in one”. By contrast Gabrielle Gwyther now observes that more people are going out more for their entertainment and socialising.

Trust me to go against this trend. I am more than happy to stay home within the security of my cocoon: a cocoon in which I actively enjoy gardening, maintaining the home, reading, listening to the radio and music (mostly classical), maintaining a stamp collection (UK and Australia), watching non-commercial TV (I regard SBS as non-commercial), and embracing a multitude of activities provided by my computer. My cocoon is nowhere the same as those who live in the entertainment milieu of a McMansion for I enjoy more simple, less expensive pastimes.

Winter is the time mainly for internal activities and minimal external activities; spring, summer and autumn are the time for a blend of internal and external activities. And of course the cocoon way of life has no significance for me when it comes to interacting with my wife and our loving family.

In the light of my lifestyle, I often refer to myself as being the Minister for Home Afairs, and Patsy, my wife, as being the Minister for External Affairs for she maintains constant and social contact with her many friends. It is perhaps more accurate to say that I live in “Cocoon Limited” for I do occasionally enjoy brief excursions into the "outside world". I take pleasure in riding my bike; dining-out with Patsy and friends (preferably in small groups, sometimes with one or two long-time male friends); going regularly to the cinema; travelling, mainly solo, on public transport in the metropolitan area and on V Line trains to regional centres ; and having short holidays of 4-5 days with Patsy. I share a passion of soccer with Patsy for we are foundation members of the Melbourne Victory soccer club which participates in the national A League. In addition to attending home games, we travel from time to time to watch our team play in Sydney and Adelaide.

Why the cocoon life style? How did it come about? The simple answer is that there were two distict periods of  time in my life when I have appreciated the privacy and peace of solitude, namely, as an adult student and as a bushwalker.

In the month of April 1964 I put down my tools as an electrician, and joined the education Department as a trainee Electrical Trades’ Instructor. A commitment to family life and teaching led to a sudden decline in what had been a very active social life. Thus, I sacrificed many friendships in order to concentrate on my young family and to pursue a satisfactory and rewarding career. Two years part-time study as a trainee technical teacher led to a further two years of study to gain entry as an arts student at Melbourne University, and from that point I added another two degrees to my curriculum vitae. The number of years of solitary study in the peace and quietness of libraries added up to a total of 13 years over a 21 year period. During the time of studying for my second degree I decided to participate in the outdoor activity of bush walking. Over a period of 8 years I undertook numerous solo walks along various well known tracks throughout Victoria and several in NSW: in 1989 I joined the Melbourne Bush Walking Club where I was an active member for 5 years. I should also add that my preference for solitude also encouraged me to adopt bike riding as a recreational sport in my first year of retirement. Over a period of 11 years I participated in 16 interstate Big Rides (average of  600 km over 8 days), and enjoyed socializing with friends before and after each days ride in which I preferred  to ride solo so as to appreciate and meditate on the changing beauty of the countryside.

Ode to Solitude

Happy man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night, study and ease
Together mix'd; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation. 

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me dye;
Steal from the world,and not a stone 
Tell where I lye.

Alexander Pope (1688-1774)

Loneliness is poverty of self: solitude is the richness of self 

May Sarton


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