Select Page

I see social isolation all around me.

Mainly, it’s among middle-class “nice people” who are very conscious of their possessions and adherence to social norms, and the risk of losing it all at the turn of a card.

Maybe not even their own card.

Sometimes the loneliness is palpable. I think the American fixation on killing everything in sight (for safety!) is a symptom of the disease of those horridly compressed souls you see backing their SUV’s out of driveways every morning in a typical suburb, stuck in their own worlds, feeling the constant pressure of some imaginary barbarian at some imaginary gate.

I grew up homeschooled, which at the time meant we basically lived like our family was on the lam from the FBI. This was back in the days when if anyone knew we were homeschooled, my sister and I could have been seized by CPS and put in a foster home. We had no legal status. So essentially, we grew up in secret. My parents’ odd marriage had separated and alienated us from most of my mother’s side. Most of my dad’s relatives were so old they were — actually — dead. We didn’t mingle with those living around us in the suburb. We had a dream to support — my father’s dream. Nothing would be allowed to get in the way. It wasn’t until college that I found people who supported each other in a way that didn’t seem like that parallel-universe episode of Star Trek — the one where Spock has a beard.

So now I’m 46 and have spent most of my life battling the feeling of isolation and alienation. I suppose it’s PTSD, or some variety of it. It makes me sensitive to those feelings of isolation when I sense them among the men (and women) who lead lives of quiet desperation — which is to say, most of them. Some say they can’t see this, but to me it’s like tinnitus. It’s like a phantom limb. I know it’s there.

However, I’ve been encouraged of late.

I’m encouraged because I find I live in an actual community. Now, at least. I’m in a walkable part of Phoenix (fifth largest city in US, donchaknow?) with zoning ordinances open enough to allow both single-family homes and multi-dwellings, as well as commercial space. Visiting the coffee shop or the bar or the grocery brings me into contact with a vast variety of people: From young strivers to retirees and from the near-homeless to the rather well-off.

And in this natural, unforced way, I’ve found people support each other. Neighbors offer me chickens, eggs, produce, and fresh-caught trout. If you get to know your neighbors there’s always someone to help with a ride or watching kids. In return, I feed whatever I can back into the system. As long one participates, no one counts the cost.

In still-modest ways, I’m seeing a post-consumerist, post-money, post-isolation-at-all-costs world starting to blossom in a town that barely existed before the FHA loan and private cars with air-conditioning. It’s encouraging to see values — though ever so slowly — shifting.