This time away reminded me of me

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Screenshot 2023 05 22 at 7.07.40 PM
If Keith Howard were a Mandelbrot fractal he’d always be discovering himself anew.

Tiny White Box newIn the company of others, I often can’t shut up. I mainly ask questions, listen to the response, then ask more questions. My first real job was as a newspaper reporter – if one can call an Army position a real job. I wish I could say the act of questioning was drilled into me by my military training, but I’ve been this way since I first spoke. Being inquisitive, I get to learn a lot, some of it even useful, but it makes people think I’m an extrovert. After all, if a man talks all the time, even if it’s to question everything, extroversion seems like an explanation.

In this case, it’s not.

Extroverts draw energy from others, losing energy when alone. Introverts, contrariwise, charge our batteries when alone and steadily use them up with others.  As a boy, I envied Superman his Fortress of Solitude, and regularly escaped to a crawl space or basement room or tree house or spot in the woods. I liked people, or at least most of them, but I needed to be alone.

This solo trip to Morocco has met my need for occasional solitude. It’s also given me the 2027th reason why I am the luckiest man on the planet to have married Maria Elena Letona. Elena is much smarter than I.  She’s also better educated, more professionally accomplished and more physically attractive than I. I’m funnier, I think, but maybe just to me. Elena also understands my need to be alone—not to be away from her, but to pull the blanket of Keith around me. When I spoke with her today, she said she understands I may be jet-lagged and tired when I get back, so she’ll be there for me, but not asking anything of me for a day or two. Since she is so lovable and sweet, I don’t think I’ll take her up on that, but the offer is just further evidence of how far out of my league I have married. She is a gem.

I am not an old man quite yet, but I’m far from young. Inside, I picture myself as 35 or so. Imagine the disappointed shock I face when I shave in the morning and see the wrinkles and lines and bags. Still, my core remains young—not my physical core, but that part inside me some call a soul. 

Six years ago, I faced a fork in the road. I’d had a job I’d loved and been successful at for the previous five years, but knew I needed something different. I could have ignored that feeling and stayed. I could have looked for another job. Instead, I hightailed it into the bushes and moved to the Canadian border, living in a converted motorcycle trailer with 20 square feet of living space. (You read that right. After installing a bed and closets, the Tiny White Box had a depth of six feet and a width of two-and-a-half.) I spent 10 months there, wintering over alone in the forest. I learned, or relearned, five things about myself:

    1. Although I like stuff, I don’t need much
    2. I get joy from getting by with less
    3. I like myself.
    4. Audiobooks have the same benefits as reading.
    5. Sitting, not meditating but just pondering, is powerful.

I ran away from life and lived in that Tiny White Box in Pittsburg. In escaping, I found myself—and liked what I found. This trip reminds me of that time—and who could imagine the Sahara Desert would harken back to five feet of snow and sub-zero temperatures? I’m not a doctor, so I’m not going to prescribe life choices for anyone. I can just say this time away has reminded me of me—and made me excited to get back to Elena and life.


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About this Author

Keith Howard

Keith Howard is former Executive Director of Hope for NH Recovery and author of Tiny White Box