What can community mean to a lone wolf?

There is the story of a farmer who attended an auction where a painting of his farm was being sold. When the bidding was over and the painting had sold for a hefty price, the farmer exclaimed, “But he could have had the whole farm for half that price!”

But the purchaser hadn’t wanted the farm. He’d wanted a painting of the farm.

Many people on the International Bohemian Highway who crave community do not actually want the company of other human beings all that much. They want a certain feeling more than they want an actual room full of their fellow writers or painters.

In that actual room, there are just too many rivalries, too much game-playing, too much alcohol, too many resentments, too many former lovers, too much inner commotion about how John got such a big advance or why Mary seems not to like our latest work.

Isn’t it possible that we are constitutionally more lone wolves than social animals? There is a character known to every devotee of action movies, a character often played by Clint Eastwood, who not only has no friends but, as you can tell at a glance, could not and would not ever have any friends.

Oh, maybe sometimes these lone wolves band together for some reason, as seven do in The Magnificent Seven, but as soon as the reason to band together has passed—the instant they have cleaned out the town of the bad guys—they immediately go their own ways, maybe after one last shot of whiskey. Those seven were never a community, not by a longshot.

As with other aspects of original personality, we have no idea if a person can actually be born a lone wolf or a social animal or if those roles and attitudes are more learned than innate. By, darn it, they feel pretty innate. When I see a picture of a stadium full of, say, devout believers, I know in my bones that I am not them and they are not me. They are not sheep—they are meaner than sheep. But they have a herd mentality that folks who ply the International Bohemian Highway simply don’t possess. Deep in our bones, we can’t stand herds.

How can you have community if you can’t stand herds, if you don’t much trust rooms full of people, if the thought of making small talk makes you break out in hives, if your very profession is to be a social animal (think “networking event”) and you can’t stand to be around people for more than five or ten minutes, maybe fifteen minutes max?

This is a question that needs answers. An actual lone wolf may never get cold and lonely but human lone wolves do. They crave something and know that they are missing something, even as they want to maintain their distance. They need something more than and different from just reading about Paris in the Twenties or Greenwich Village in the Fifties. They need something which is a little absurd to say: they need the feeling of community without too much contact.

I think that one partial answer can be found in profound difference between the phrase “being together” and “being alone together.” In a café, twelve writers can be writing at their twelve different tables, not saying a word to one another, not acknowledging one another, not looking up from their laptops except maybe to flirt for a moment, and experience that great feeling of “being alone together.”

Were they then for some reason to have to meet in a back room of the café to have a meeting about something, all that good feeling would likely evaporate in a wash of egos, fault lines, and fantastically different opinions. While they were alone, they were together. Now together, what a mess!

We have much more to think about with regard to all this, including a wonder if “genuine community” might yet be possible. We see the ghostly outline of that possibility here and there, at this long-running AA meeting, during the making of a film that is a “good experience,” at a heart-felt protest, at a pride event, or when three writers gather to write and not critique. We are going to get to think much more about this, in connection with the new Eric Maisel Community that is forming, because we intend to be real about “what community means” and move the needle on community, moving it in the direction of what we deeply crave and also can tolerate.

Come join me on this adventure in search of—what, exactly? Well, let’s call it postmodern community. Come as the lone wolf you are—all lone wolves welcome. Let’s make some sense of this, because we really do need to.

[Here is the place to learn more about the Eric Maisel Community that launches at the beginning of October. Grab your low-cost annual membership and many bonuses now.]

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