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#390: We’re No Good Alone
3 excellent articles on the detriments of isolation and the benefits of community
We have a neighbor who likes to ring our doorbell from time to time. She wants to say hi, chat a bit, maybe hang out. My introverted self urges me to pretend I’m not home. But my sense of obligation gets me to the door — and more often that not, I appreciate our neighbor’s invitation to connect.
The other day at work, I asked my younger colleagues about this phenomenon. First they looked at me funny. Then they said two things:
Really, this happens? I thought it happened only on old TV shows.
No way would I want this to happen.
We’ve all read about the trends: We’re spending more time alone. We’re lost in our phones. We have fewer friends now. As we get older, we grow lonelier.
Today’s issue challenges us to shun what feels natural (i.e., seeking solitude, putting ourselves first, maintaining boundaries, practicing self care) and to find ways to participate in community. The lead article, “No Good Alone,” sets the stage, offering a thoughtful perspective as to why “isolation is easy” and “living is hard.” Then come two outstanding pieces — the first about a mother who loves her gay son, the second about a self-identified redneck who runs a mutual aid auto shop — who buck the trend, choosing to do the right thing over the easy thing.
Hope you enjoy. If an article moved you, please leave a comment.
💬 ARTICLE CLUB: This month we’re discussing “The Sunset,” by Lisa Bubert. It’s about a young woman who works at a nursing home. We may love our grandparents, Ms. Bubert writes, but we as a society certainly do not love our old people. I invite you to join our conversation on Sunday, April 30, 2:00 - 3:30 pm PT. Ms. Bubert will be joining us! Here’s more information. Hope you sign up.
1️⃣ No Good Alone
You don’t owe anyone anything. Focus on yourself. Protect your peace. Set up a boundary. We’re hearing these messages everywhere — on our social media, from our friends and colleagues, and from our therapists. In this thoughtful essay, Rayne Fisher-Quann reflects on her own experience, acknowledging that she, too, ghosts friends and otherwise isolates herself. But she understands that this behavior is counterproductive. She writes:
The social standard this culture offers is one of controlled, placated solitude. Its narrative often insists that you’re surrounded by toxic people who are trying to hurt you, and the only way to ever become the person you’re meant to be is to cut them all off, retreat into a high-gloss cocoon of talk therapy and Notion templates, and emerge a non-emotive butterfly who will surely attract the relationships you’ve always deserved — relationships with other “healed” people, who don’t hurt you or depend on you or force you to feel difficult, taxing emotions.
Ms. Fisher-Quann is especially critical of therapy — not because she doesn’t believe in its benefits, but rather because of people’s tendency to consider therapy “as a kind of resume-builder for the self,” or a necessary requirement for personal wellness, and certainly as a prerequisite for dating and friendship. Sure, we don’t want to burden our friends with the emotional labor of our problems, she writes, but life is complex. We can either avoid life’s messiness all alone, or we can get out there and engage with actual real (flawed) people. She writes, “To grow beside a friend or lover, knowing that you will poke and prod at each other as you take shape but unafraid of the resulting scar tissue — this is the good stuff.”
➡️ Read the article | Internet Princess | 13 minutes
When her son came out to her in 1968, Jeanne Manford had never known anyone who was gay. At the time, same-sex attraction was a mental illness. Forty-nine states criminalized homosexuality. There were no openly gay politicians, actors, athletes, or musicians. Parents typically disowned their gay children or pretended their queerness didn’t exist. But not for a moment did Ms. Manford think anything was wrong with her son. Instead, she loved him and fought for him — at the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, and when he was arrested at a gay-rights rally, and when he found out he was HIV positive. Along the way, Ms. Manford also wanted other parents to accept their queer children, and so she founded PFLAG, now in its 50th year.
There was an undercurrent to this article that I appreciated. Here was a woman whose political power as a parent resulted from loving her son. She didn’t yell at school board meetings, hoping to ban other children’s books or censor other teacher’s lessons. She didn’t care what other parents thought of her. “She wouldn’t put up with this nonsense,” President Obama said. Simple as that.
➡️ Read the article | The New Yorker | 24 minutes
+ Another reason to read this article is that Kathryn Schulz wrote it. She’s the author of “When Things Go Missing,” one of my all-time favorites, plus “The Really Big One,” which won the Pulitzer Prize. Ms. Schulz generously participated in Article Club last year. Here’s her interview.
Zac Henson lives in Alabama, wears a trucker hat, plays the banjo, and sports a long Rasputin beard. But even though he says he’s a redneck, he’s not your stereotypical Trump-loving type. Instead he got his Ph.D. in sociology at UC Berkeley and has spent his life developing cooperative businesses, community farming projects, and community land trusts in Birmingham and Montgomery. His latest project is the Automotive Free Clinic, a mutual aid auto repair shop — where the technicians read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and you pay what you can.
“We’re living communism,” Mr. Henson says, emphasizing that he’s doing what he can to support his community, especially given that cars are essential in Alabama — and that the state (by design) has virtually no public transportation. “They gave us the bus seat,” one woman said, referring to the boycott long ago, “but they took the damn bus.” Mr. Henson sees his contribution as continuing the legacy of populism and communism in the South. In the year it’s been open, the AFC has fixed more than 100 cars. And though money doesn’t matter, they’re running a profit.
➡️ Read the article | Lux | 14 minutes
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