I moved 5 times between the ages of 8 and 16. While some transform this type of peripateticism into an ability to adapt into any situation, I transformed it into a means to feel isolated in any situation.
My first move was from Park Forest South to Flossmoor—2 generic, south-side-Chicago suburbs. The former was lower-middle class, mixed race; the latter middle-to-upper-middle-class, mostly white. This move went okay. I adapted to my 3rd grade class fairly well, making friends easily.
Things went to shit on the 2nd move when my mom couldn’t afford Flossmoor anymore and we returned to Park Forest South 2 years after leaving. There had been a white flight in our absence and I entered the 5th grade 1 of 2 white boys in the whole class. All the friends I had left in 2nd grade dissociated themselves from me. I was beat up daily, ostensibly because of the color of my skin, but surely abetted by my obvious sense of not belonging.
The 3 other moves—to the north side of Chicago for 3 years, then back to Flossmoor for 2 years, then to Boulder, Colorado for another 2—were the same situation in different locales. I would be the new kid. I might make a friend, usually some socially maladaptive kid. That friendship would run its course. And because I was never part of any clique, team or group, I would be isolated again.
Isolation became my default setting. For much of my life, I shirked the need for friends and girlfriends for long stretches, sure people would eventually reject me. It wasn’t until I was well into my 20’s that it occurred to me that I liked and wanted people in my life.
I met a game designer/religion journalist named Jason Anthony last week who gave me some insight as to why other people might be useful. Jason has fused his disparate professions to make something called “The Ten Year Game”; it’s essentially a DIY religion/game. I won’t (and can’t) detail the full breadth of his mission, but I can talk about one its central themes, which is the idea of “praxis.” He defines praxis this way:
Praxis is the flip side of logos, according to some. Logos is the meaning that you hold onto with your brain, and praxis is a kind of a meaningful event where you “think” with your hands and your ears and the experience of being with other people.
Whereas logos is the intellectual, “legal” construct of a reality—e.g. language, dogma, scripture, dharma—praxis, as the name suggests, is the practice whereby reality is experienced through doing.
Praxis predates logos. After all, you don’t need language to hunt, forage or have sex—all forms of praxes. Therefore, praxis, more so than logos, is one of our most ancient behaviors. We have had congregations and fellowship far longer than churches. Loving has existed far longer than the word “love.”
Just to remove an obvious hazard, there are good praxes like charity work and meditation (eupraxia), and bad praxes like Hitler Youth and Tea Party rallies (dyspraxia). Many people don’t seem to care which one they engage in, but that’s another story.
Lacking praxis is likely why I was such a miserable child. I wanted to do something with other people. But somewhere between moves 2 and 3, I lost the ability to connect. It’s tough to have shared experiences without friends.
While I’ve made great strides toward forging connections with others, I still find myself isolated at times. I also find myself going with a societal flow that overvalues web-based activity; what might be called “false praxes.” Most of the things done on the web create an illusion of shared experience, but leave the user feeling isolated. For example, connecting via email never has the same immediacy of an in-person conversation. This is not to say there’s no use for online activity. It’s just that one cannot replace the other, and I have to be honest about how much the web can really do for sating my praxis jones.
I also fall into the ghoulish class of people who spend all their time isolated in front of monitors. Sure, I make some phone calls, emails and texts, but for the most part, I am isolated. Something about it just seems unnatural. I don’t imagine there was this archetypal role in the caves of Lascaux.
I guess the reason I’m writing this is to call myself out. Since I’ve begun this blog, I have been writing almost exclusively about myself and by myself. While sharing it with people has been a transformative act, it’s not enough. Isolated praxis can only take us so far.
I won’t say that this is the end of writing about myself (I am my most reliable source of material). But I will start shifting away from wholesale self-reflection. I am going to seek out people and ideas like Jason’s to create these praxes in my life. While solitude has its place, I think I was onto something as a forlorn child. I knew that doing things with other people—particularly non-angry-mob-dyspraxia-things—is one of our most essential needs. Now that I’ve graduated the 5th grade, it might be time to satisfy that need.