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Greene: The Diogenes Option

My mother would put on lavish Thanksgiving feasts. Such was her idea of quality control that no one else was allowed to contribute so much as a lettuce leaf to the festivities.

Predictably, the effort to single-handedly entertain and feed more than twenty guests would leave her exhausted. So usually, as people were about tuck into their sublime steamed carrot puddings with hard sauce, my mother would stand and announce that it had been an absolutely lovely party but she was now going to bed. This could very well be at about 4 PM, and thus it was hard for me not to take it a bit personally as I guiltily watched her go upstairs. But when I went up to visit her, she was hopping happily into bed to read murder mysteries in utter contentment.

Of course the workload she took on would have decked lesser women outright. But I still think she’d have benefited from a lot more delegation, and perhaps from a bit of time at the Diogenes Club...

This was the fictional club for misanthropes and contrarians named after Diogenes of Sinope, founder of Cynic Philosophy, that Arthur Conan Doyle invented, where members go to not mingle. In fact, Sherlock Holmes often finds his elder brother, the brilliant and very private Mycroft, ensconced there. Here’s how Doyle described the Diogenes in The Greek Interpreter: "There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere."

After all the entertaining, mingling, cooking and performing that holidays require, it sounds perfectly wonderful to me. So, this year, we’re trying an experiment. After all the racing around - in some cases, across state lines - to attend multiple parties, people are coming over to sit and stare quietly into the fire.

They won’t be banished for talking, but neither will they be encouraged to engage in conversation. Companionable silence is the goal here.

Failing that, I suppose one can sequester oneself in the bathroom with magazines – or the bedroom with murder mysteries.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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