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All the lonely people. (Entries).

From applications submitted in response to an ad in The Stage for a hermit-in-residence at Shugborough, an eighteenth-century English manor. The managers of the estate launched the contest to revive the tradition of having a hermit live in a cave on the estate grounds. The applicants were asked to explain "what original personal contribution [they] would make in the performance of this role."

My several years of service with her majesty's armed forces have instilled in me a passion for the great outdoors as well as invaluable survival training and physical fitness. Since leaving the army, sick to death of the constant presence of so much flatulent humanity, I have been living alone in my hermitage (okay, it's a flat) and working alone in blissful solitude, driving the length and breadth of England's lonely roads in my lorry.

I would honestly try to share my love of silence, encouraging people to seek quiet in their lives. I would share stories from the Desert Fathers and other Western traditions of seeking God in solitude. Yet I would also guard the idea of solitude and avoid frivolous speech. At times I'd run away from people or hide in the bushes, maybe pretend not to be the hermit. Given the opportunity, I'd scoff at would-be disciples and give them nearly impossible tasks to test their commitment.

In my various ways of earning a crust I have the honour of playing Santa. This involves listening to people as they tell you their wishes, and these are somewhat varied. Through the course of the long days when I dispense well-meaning platitudes, someone will ask me a question such as "all I want is my family to like each other." I then feel very real and reply with an answer that is appropriate and true. I sometimes work as a support artist in films--there is a great deal of hanging about. I do not find this at all tedious but relaxing.

In the past I have explored the quantum physics paradox of "Schrodinger's Cat" by living in a lightproof soundproof box in the middle of an art gallery for ten days with only drinking water and a mat to sleep on. In another piece I sat in a gallery for five days connected to an ECG monitor. I used changes in my physiological state to modulate a video image of myself projected onto the wall in front of me. A piece I am currently working on deals with radio telescopy and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence from the perspective of the mendicant. Twelve bowls will be placed in a circle of 4,000 mile radius centered on Challenger Deep, the deepest point on the planet.

I have humour and insights into the nature of things. I possess a Buddhist nature, if you will, insofar as I can think of nothing lovelier than sitting in the woods, listening to the wind in the trees, which gives me a sip of peace. I would like this opportunity to express my feelings to life and listen as ever with sensitivity and respond from my heart.

P.S. Do I have to use a twig for a toothbrush?

To be a hermit is to risk learning who you really are. I do not wish to reflect but to flect. In company we reflect; we derive our identity from the people around us, and we bounce it back to them. We reveal only pale images of each other. I intend to bring much skill to being a hermit. To engage with the solitude and to communicate its impact without disturbing the essence. I will happily leave all my books at home to see where the mind goes when free to roam, and I long to sit quietly amid the gentle weight of ancient nature.
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Publication:Harper's Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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