"In the circle where I was raised, I knew of no one knowledgeable in the visual arts, no one who regularly attended musical performances, and only two adults other than my teachers who spoke without embarrassment of poetry and literature — both of these being women. As far as I can recall, I never heard a man refer to a good or a great book. I knew no one who had mastered, or even studied, another language from choice. And our articulate, conscious life proceeded without acknowledgement of the preceding civilisations which had produced it."— Shirley Hazzard
My life wasn't as bad as this. My mother and Aunt Mabel read poetry and an occasional novel. Aunt Mabel (really my great-aunt) gave us the Reader's Digest Condensed Books for Children, which I adored, and I bet she was also responsible for giving us the Harvard Junior Classics, ditto. My father may have been an abusive bastard, but he read a lot of history. (I still wonder what happened to his set of Churchill's history of WWII.) My grandparents on my father's side had some books -- Reader's Digest Condensed Books, which may be easy to despise but which let me read. But nobody talked about it.
But high culture was distant as a star, and when we were living in Jackson, the people around me valued no other book than the Bible. More, they distrusted made-up stories. The pastor held that even the parables of Jesus were literally true. Revealed Truth was to be found only in the Bible, and it was a fact, solid as stone. Anything else was a lie. They hated the middle ground of myth, symbolism, even playful fiction as a dangerous lure away from the clean simple path of salvation. That ground was my home.
I sought other readers, passionate readers, and found a few. One became my best friend from high school (now a librarian and one of the two chief reasons I use Facebook). When she moved away during my senior year I was shattered.
The people around me were at best indifferent to what I loved. Most actively distrusted it. More, they distrusted *who I was*: solitary, bookish, geeky, passionate. Plenty of people tried to squash those traits in me. I felt a yearning passion for the landscape, the country, the life of peace and hard work and stability, but I also knew that staying home would mean betraying, even destroying who I really was.
So I left. Went away to college. Still didn't really fit in. Married someone who read sometimes, loved music, played piano brilliantly, and understood my passion for both the look and the science of landscape. The acceptance and joy I found with him were precious beyond words, but (as Lois Bujold says) the one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart. I gave up too many other things to keep that relationship going. In the end, I couldn't surrender what he demanded. The marriage was a closed system, just the two of us, and we ran out of air.
And now I come to my life now. I don't have a job, I'm still emotionally scarred, I have a lot of other problems. But in my social circle, being geeky and smart and passionate about books is normal. Being kinky and polyamorous is, too. I am at home.
The other day, I was discussing the problems of getting old with my big sister, an eldercare counselor. She mentioned that one of the three plagues of age was loneliness (the others are helplessness and boredom). I said loneliness wasn't likely to be an issue as I aged. I'd never felt lonely; I rarely wanted to be with people except for those I most loved, and even then I craved solitude and emotional space.
But what Lisa said floored me. "You have good support there: close and continuing contact with people who know you deeply, and animal companions!"
And I realized that the restless craving to find someone like me, the yearning for people to discuss books and geology and music with, the sense of exile, the terrible homesickness -- all that was actually loneliness. All those years and I hadn't realized.
So thank you for being here: for being people who read, think, do science, use computers, care about words. Thank you for not mocking my emotional intensity. Thank you for accepting my non-standard relationships even if you're straight and monogamous. Thank you for being my community, my family, my home.