I find questions much more interesting than answers. Questioning is like opening a book. You don’t know what’s in store. Answers are like closing the book. There’s nothing left to say. Even if you have more to say, there’s nothing left to say. The question has been answered.

My friends Martha and Carrot started a dialog today. I’m not sure they knew they were talking to each other. Martha was talking about how the pandemic has freed us from the need for “normal” socializing and how one writer pathologized this as “social anxiety”, while to Martha it is “introversion”. While she didn’t belittle the very real mental health issue, she noted that there are some things you just don’t do in a group. She mentioned her first novel. “I’d had this incredible experience that was impossible to share with anyone. I’d written a novel. I’d brought my story, my vision, for Martin (the character) into real life. I’d done the work, the immense research, all of it, the library time (back then). Because of my book, I KNEW people who’d lived in the 13th century. The experience catapulted me into a different Martha, but I couldn’t share that, either.” I will mention her rediscovery of herself as a painter and drawer this year. First the blog began to feature oil paintings. Lately, pen and ink drawings have graced its pages. Even the title of her blog changed (twice!) during this pandemic. Is she another “different Martha”?

Carrot posited a restaurant in which “the phrase ‘can I get you started on something saucy’ is as much about the dialogue as it is about the appetizer.  The table clothes will be covered in questions and hypotheticals.  Each bill will come with the quote du jour.” The food you are served would correspond with the table talk:
Customer: Excuse me waiter, I ordered the gnocchi and pesto.

Waiter: Right, I’m sorry, it’s just that I heard you talking about your Instagram followers, so enjoy your Cream of Wheat.

How do we ask the right questions? Ask the wrong question (one that cries out to be answered) and we get nowhere. “What’s your favorite color?” “Blue.” Now what?

Ask without questioning, and you only get an answer. “Who am I?” “George.” Done. Or “the guy who writes this blog.” Who was I before I wrote this blog? Same me, or someone else? Am I the things I do? the roles I play? the thoughts and feelings I hold? the sum of all of my experiences? my beliefs and opinions? my body? Or am I someone else, who “has” all of these, rather than “being” any or all of them? Am I the point of view from which I see the world? If I didn’t see literally, would my “point of view” change? Would I be someone else? Is my “self” additive? (The sum of everything I hold as “me”?) Is it subtractive? (If I take away everything in the world that I identify as “other”, is what’s left over “me”?)

Dalton Trumbo looks at the relationship between body and identity, and between how we see ourselves and how others see us in the novel and subsequent film “Johnny Got His Gun”. It is the story of a badly injured WWI soldier and his post-war life in a VA hospital. There is little left of his body and he cannot see, speak, or hear. Who is “in there” and does that matter if no one “out here” acknowledges his humanity?

I used to ride with friends every week and talk and then drink some beer and eat some dinner and talk some more. Before that, I would go sit in a hot tub with some other friends and talk. Before that, I worked in a neighborhood store that was the center of a community. In all of these cases, it was a community of people interacting face-to-face. For the past year I have seen my coworkers and patients, and my family. I’ve had little contact with most of the people I identified as “my community”.

But I found this other community (hey, I’m old…it took me a long time – my daughter has been in a number of world-wide online communities for years) that has grown as organically in its own way as the physical community. When I started this blog I got some tips from a music blogger I know. I found and read a couple of bike blogs and they led me to this world of climbers, painters, writers, musicians (and writers about music)…It was Carrot and The Dihedral who introduced me to Martha.

What is community and what is necessary for our mental health? Is an online community any less real than a physical one? Can you go out for a virtual beer or cup of coffee? When I return to in-person friends, how will I balance that with these online friends?

Are other people essential, or something you have to deal with to get through your day? If the ones you “have to deal with” were gone, would you miss them?

P.S. The day after posting this, I read Ask Amy, with someone concerned about returning to face-to-face interactions. The writer related a recent interaction and made the distinction “interacting with people from a place of compassion, treating people as human beings — not human-doings.

Author: halffastcyclingclub

We are a group of friends who ride bikes. Some of us are fast, some of us are slow, all of us are half-fast. In 2018, one of us rode coast to coast across the US. It was so much fun, he's doing it again in 2022! If we meet Sal Paradise, we'll let you know.

8 thoughts on “Questions”

  1. You’ve put words on all my questions. Some of them I have answers for. Online friends are as real as 3-D friends. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly a decade and some of the people who read it (and whose blogs I read) have gone through a lot of life in this version of together. Just as they moved with me to Colorado, I shared some important losses and life changes with them. I think the difference between online and 3-D friends is time and place. For me with 3-D friends (I don’t have a better term and that one sucks, but what’) there’s a time and place for things we do together. For m online friends, there’s no time and place requirement which also means no negotiation over those things. Here I also get to talk about things that interest me far more than I do with 3-D friends and my friends here can take them or leave them. Again, no negotiation. At the same time with the blogs I read I often have something to offer, a question to ask, something to learn or try — like a poetic form I’d never heard of.

    I feel real community with most of the blog writers whose work I read and follow. The “kids” of the Dihedral and I have things in common that don’t have anything to do with the age difference and by extension, anyone who’s found them would sooner or later find me — it creates a network. A blog I just found a little while ago is an art blog by a man who studied painting in China the same time I was there. It’s a juncture I don’t find every day. These kinds of things don’t happen often in 3-D life, especially in a small town in rural Colorado. For me THIS reality is a big net where I have a better chance of meeting like-minded people.

    In the case of you, I found you from The Dihedral and became interested in making a connection with you over your awareness of the kind of domination men (largely unwittingly) expert over women as I tried to expression that blog post so long ago that drew fire, that I deleted, but you had saved. Then there was plumbing. I also love bicycles though your exploits are way beyond my reach, I’ve had as much fun on a bicycle as almost any other thing in my life.

    So, are these connections real friendships? I think so. Some of my connections here have reached beyond WP into other dimensions of life. I once thought keeping a blog was absurd and writing to a daily prompt was for idiots. Thank god I don’t take my opinions all that seriously. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

      1. P.P.S. There’s the possibility of inspiration here, too. I would never have written the book about my year teaching in China if I hadn’t been following the blog of an Indian business man who happened to be in my Chinese hometown and wondered “aloud” on his blog what Guangzhou was like before modernization. This is the whole world.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The COVID epidemic did not affect me as much as many. I tend to stay solo in most of my activities. And no, it is NOT social anxiety. I recharge my batteries by being alone. People drain them. I do social activities but only at intervals and with a reason.

    For some people, frequently being in the presence of others is an essential part of their mental health. The epidemic is going to be very stressful for those people. For people who prefer to be alone in their thoughts most of the time, it is less stressful. Because each of us likes to think that we are “normal” the conclusion is that the other group is abnormal. We all need to accept that people may be very different from ourselves – polar opposites even – and still be “normal” and even “right” and no disabled. I do not “suffer from social anxiety” and do not appreciate other people assuming that I have a problem.

    I will, in turn, refrain from asserting that people who need lots of social contact are really needy, insecure, and afraid of being alone with themselves. Would they appreciate that kind of self-serving analysis? I would not dream of forcibly isolating them, so why would they insist I “need” to become physically social? (Yet it happens all the time!) As a person who communicates fairly well in text and fairly clumsily in a chaotic verbal environment, why should I not play to my strengths?

    Change… we change all the time yet remain who we are. Our existence is the sum of all our memories as mediated by the biological mechanism called life. (Your DNA does not really change, except as slow age-related deterioration, and can be used to positively identify “you” long after you are dead. It also helps dictate what life paths are available for you to take.) When one grows older, we create new memories as others are forgotten. One may hike a trail that crosses deserts and forests and mountain tops but you are still on the same trail. It is the unbroken string that connects all these memories together that is you. Even if some are so remote as to be forgotten, their impact stays with us forever.

    Because of that string, no matter how Fred evolves, he’s still Fred.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Writing my novel was a voyage of discover. Turns out, lots of people loved the characters as much as I did. So I’m honor-bound to put them through another adventure. Yeah sure, it’s about me doing it, but there are other people in my obligation to do it again.


  4. I came over from Martha’s blog to read more questions. There are many answers but not all are the “correct” answer for you… Every question can be interpreted in a multitude of ways and generate myriad answers. I think the answer is to never stop questioning – that which we perceive, think, and believe. We have to question what is real and what is true…

    Liked by 1 person

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