This passage from early on in Tamim Ansary's West of Kabul, East of New York has stayed with me a long time. Ansary is explaining how it felt to grow up in a traditional Afghan family:
"If I'm too much with other people, I need to balance it with some downtime. Most of the people I know are like this. We need solitude, because when we're alone, we're free from obligations, we don't need to put on a show, and we can hear our own thoughts."
"My Afghan relatives achieved this same state by being with one another. Being at home with the group gave them the satisfactions we associate with solitude – ease, comfort, and the freedom to let down one's guard. The reason for this is hard to convey, but I'm going to try. Namely, our group self was just as real as our individual selves, perhaps more so."
This seemed a radical idea to me when I first read the book -- that there could be people for whom the state of togetherness was the "same state" that solitary downtime was for me. I've made many attempts to imagine that state.
Cultures and individuals vary in how much need is felt for solitary versus communal/ familial downtime. A writer, clearly, is always going to be someone who needs a vast amount of solitary downtime: I feel most frustrated when mine is impinged upon, when it's been too long since I could last hear my thoughts. That's part of why a day performing data entry in a cubicle can sometimes be less stressful than a familial voyage to a place of recreation. And that's part of why I'm not at a demonstration right now -- although perhaps I would be if I believed that demonstrations in the Bay Area had any influence at all on events elsewhere.
Will those closest to me remember me as someone who was always fretting about needing more alone time?