Under the Water

Photo Credit: Facundo Gastiazoro

Under the Water

👤Matt J. Simmons 🕔May 01, 2017

You know the sensation of submerging your head under water? The sudden change in pressure, the transformation of sounds. It’s not necessarily quieter—depends on where you’re dunking—but submersion is entering another world. A world where you exist in isolation.

I grew up on the ocean. My childhood was full of sand, salt water, and swimming. I have been called a fish. Memories of being tossed by waves, of holding my breath for what felt like an eternity, and of looking up from the dark to see light filtering through the gentle movement of the world’s largest body of water. The peacefulness of it, and the solitude.

I live in a mountain town now, away from the tides and the surf, and I get my underwater fix in lakes and rivers—and the bathtub. For a few weightless seconds, my thoughts float away and I’m alone with the moment. To this day, the submersion of my entire body into water feels better than taking a deep breath. Maybe it’s home. Or maybe I just like being alone.

Collaboration generally requires communication and, while I might carry a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to the written word, I spend most of my time in my own head. I plan by thinking, not by talking. I’m not totally useless when it comes to teamwork—and I do love a good brainstorming session—but I generally fly solo. And I’m okay with that. If I ever start to worry about it too much, I just need someone like Aldous Huxley to reassure me: “The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.” Thanks, Hux, I feel much better now.

But it makes me curious: what drives this craving for alone-ness? Is it the same thing that urges me to seek out interactions with like-minded humans from time to time? A need, in other words?

Or could it, in the context of collaboration on projects and such, be fear? Working with others often means giving up control and surrendering yourself to the end product. Collaboration is the dissolution of pride. The immersion of individuality into a sea of ideas.

It’s also hard work. Coordination of multiple individuals, as anyone who has had to wrangle busy folks together for a meeting knows, can be a pain in the ass. There’s a lot of freedom in isolation. But it’s, well, isolating. Honoré de Balzac put it best, when he wrote, “Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell solitude is fine.” [sic]

And collaboration, as Aristotle famously said, produces results: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” When people come together and share ideas, good things happen. Like this magazine, for one. Prior to publication, a group of proofreaders pores over every page, combing its contents for troublesome typos and errant commas. And each element of every issue—from a bite-sized review to a full-length feature, an illustration to the cover photo—is an act of collaboration by talented, creative contributors. Each one working in isolation.

Collaboration, then, doesn’t exclude a desire to be alone. In fact, we work together—while alone—all the time. Voting is a good example.

So let’s do it, let’s work together and make something bigger and better than I can do on my own. Give me a call and we can collaborate. Just don’t expect me to answer if I’m in the bath—my head will be under the water.