The Colors of Leaves, Pancakes, Social Engineering, Solitude, and More

Staying home during the pandemic is not terribly difficult for me. Though I have not confined myself to the house, I rarely venture out, at least not like I used to. Solitude is perfectly natural for me. Sure, I miss interacting with people, but I’m not a very sociable person, so restricting my contacts with others is not hard on me. In fact, I do maintain my interactions, just not face-to-face. I’m actively engaged via social media and, in fact, I think I’m more comfortable with electronic interactions than being in the physical presence of others.

At least that’s what I tell myself. Do I really prefer the solitude, or have I simply gotten used to it over the years? That’s a question a therapist may one day help me answer. If I ever visit a therapist. It’s not on my calendar at the moment. Actually, I’m a little fearful of what I might learn about myself. I already have plenty of doubts; I would rather not have them confirmed and multiplied.

How does a preference for solitude square with loneliness? I turn to the dictionary to explain lonely:

  1. affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone; lonesome.
  2. destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship, intercourse, support, etc.

How do those definitions mesh with the definition of solitude?

  1. the state of being or living alone; seclusion.
  2. remoteness from habitations, as of a place; absence of human activity.

Okay, I see. Loneliness combines seclusion or remoteness with depression or destitution from engagement. So, most of the time, I am fine with my seclusion/remoteness. But there’s always an underlying sense of loneliness that occasionally bubbles to the surface. The combination of preferring solitude but wanting or needing companionship is, in some ways, untenable. The emotional states simply are incompatible. But there they are, side by side.

I have written about this odd emotional mix many times over the years, a fact that suggests I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around it and it continues to bedevil me. I think it pairs with my everlasting question about who the real “me” is under all the layers and veneers and pretenses I’ve built up during a lifetime of reacting to what I’ve been taught and what I’ve experienced. Maybe I am a very sociable person who wants and needs to be in the presence of people who share with me certain personality characteristics. Or maybe I am an extreme introvert who has been trained, or who has trained himself, to respond well to periodic injections of social interaction. Or, perhaps, I’m just confused and batshit crazy. That’s a possibility.

This business of writing about my feelings and emotions and perceptions of the world is getting tiresome.


I should be writing about the way the early morning sunlight, before the sun rises above the horizon, has an otherworldly yellow glow about it. I should paint a picture, with words, of the leaves on the trees outside my window changing colors with the changing sunlight. They begin the day, with just a hint of light in the sky, as dark green blobs, their shapes indistinct. As light begins to fill the sky, the leaves brighten, dark green turning lighter and lighter until they reach the color halfway between green and yellow, chartreuse. Oddly enough, once they achieve that halfway point, they begin to darken again. I am describing the trees nearest to me as I look outside the window. Some of the ones farther away, the pine trees, have needles that appear even more yellow than green, but then quickly turn much darker than the broad-leaf deciduous trees closer to the window.

When I was a child, even into my teens (and frankly well beyond into my recent adulthood), I wondered whether all people see colors the same way I do. I wondered, for example, if other people might perceive the color green I see in the way I perceive red. If our perceptions were always in parallel, though utterly different, we would all agree on what constitutes a color, but our minds would process the color differently. I still wonder about that. And tastes. And odors. What if, I ask myself, we all experience the world differently from one another? Fascinating stuff, to me. Thoroughly pointless, I guess, but fun to imagine.


I’ve returned to this post after taking a break to consume a breakfast of pecan pancakes, the recipe for which came from a book about foods from Route 66. The recipe noted that Texas had been second to Georgia in terms of pecan harvests until 2010, when New Mexico took the spot from Texas. The recipe is from New Mexico. The pancakes were delightful.

Jane and Michael Stern, who divorced in 2008 but continue to write as a team, are the authors of Roadfood. I’ve always enjoyed reading their work and listening to them on The Splendid Table, which I haven’t heard in years.

I find it interesting, but completely understandable, that couples can live together for the majority of their lives and then get divorced. People evolve differently, sometimes. The ideal pairings can become prisons when people change in radically different ways. I suspect it is especially difficult, though, when people continue to love one another but individually cannot continue to grow and develop within the relationship. Perhaps it’s no longer romantic love, but still a deep affection and unbreakable caring bond. Breaking that bond must be hard but, in some cases, essential.

I sometimes think society should almost require married couples and longtime significant other pairings to uncouple for long periods, after years of togetherness. If, say, after twenty years couples were expected to go their separate ways for ten years and, then,were required to decide whether recoupling made sense, people might be happier. Granted, that might be a terribly difficult set of dislocations, but considering the number of divorces, it may not be a bad thing. The financial ramifications of this sort of thing, though, could be difficult. And children. Hmm. Perhaps every other generation should be required to skip having children. I would make a pretty ruthless ruler, I think. My subjects might not like my policies.

How the hell did I go from pancakes to forced marital interruptions? My mind must have somehow been broken in a fall when I was quite young, assuming I was ever quite young.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to The Colors of Leaves, Pancakes, Social Engineering, Solitude, and More

  1. Colleen, I’m glad I’m not the only person with unusual perspectives on marriage. I just passed the 40-year mark. As for a therapist, let me get back to you when I’m ready to risk learning who I really am. 😉 You have a good one, too. Pat, I will keep writing, regardless of my apparent mental instability. 😉

  2. Colleen Boardman says:

    I have also thought over the years that couples should uncouple/take breaks after every so many years. I divorced last year after 42 years. I also have the number of a good therapist if you ever decide to go. Have a good day!

  3. Pat Newcomb says:

    Oh – just keep writing anyway

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