Thursday, May 15, 2008

Breaking Away

The other night my roommates, a few friends and I watched Into the Wild, the film based on Jon Krakauer’s bestselling novel of the same name, about Christopher McCandless, a young man who wandered into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 and died of starvation. The film, like the novel, portrays McCandless as a visionary tragic hero, to be mourned as a great wanderer of our age. In reality, he was an untrained, ill-prepared, inexperienced outdoorsman for whom luck, being that which you get away with until the universe takes notice, finally ran out. In the words of one Alaskan bush guide, "We're hard up for heroes if that's what it takes -- some guy who starved to death in a bus."
In the end, McCandless was just a human being, victim to the arrogance of dreams, not smart enough to avoid being blinded by the spectacle of his own fantasy. He was not one of the few, he was not one of the chosen, or the special – He was a fool.
With that said, to make it clear that I have no reverence or particular softness in my heart for Chris McCandless, I’ve got to admit there is some pretty cool stuff in the movie. The idea of breaking free and living on your own terms is powerful, and pervasive. And right now, I find it quite enviable.
I recently started work at what is, basically, my first real job. Although I started my own business at 15, and have done odd things here and there, I’ve never previously had a really real job. And really, I intended to never have one. Some would probably tell me to grow up and get with the program, but I didn’t intend to be a freeloader either. I just never wanted to work to survive, at something I wasn’t passionate about. Essentially, I had been spoiled by my past experience; my own business as a blacksmith and knifemaker, working as a cowboy, working in emergency medicine, even volunteer work at a library were all things I did because I enjoy them, find them stimulating and have a strong passion for them. Something that most people spend years, even their entire working life, trying to find, I found from the get go. I made it for myself because I didn’t know any better. And now, life has made me have to know better. I need the money to live; tuition, groceries, rent, gas, utilities, and all the other things that demand money.
I feel very much like I have sold out. The irrationality of that occurs to me, and slows me down, but I cant shake the feeling. I am not writing for a living, I am not blacksmithing for a living, I am not saddling a horse and chasing the wild bovine – I am going to a job at the proscribed hour, punching a time card, leaving the job at the proscribed hour and punching the card again to get a check at the end of the week. If I don’t do that, I don’t get a check. If I don’t do what I am told, if I exercise my creative, bull-headed, do it my way, self, I don’t get that check. And if I don’t get that check, I don’t eat, don’t have a roof, can’t pay tuition. I have succumbed to the existence of everyone else – every wage slave, everyone who can’t find themselves, because they are locked into this existence where the job is the all, so that everything else can be taken care of. It’s not someplace I ever really wanted to be. I’ve never had a lot of money, it’s not about that – getting by on very damn little has never been a problem for me, it’s how I was raised – the problem is the dependence upon this job. It’s not a bad one, I even kind of enjoy it some days, but it’s still just a job, it is not an impassioned, creative, stimulating endeavor – and if I don’t do it, then everything else is lost. And some small part of me is screaming that the ends do not justify the means, and that this is the antithesis of everything I am. That I should be writing, smithing, medic’ing, cowboying or something else, something for which I have passion. That having to do this means my life has sunk to some kind of low, some unforeseen, untold, inhumanity of failure and desperation must have driven me to this point. And from that perspective, the idea of breaking away, running away and being free, living for yourself, by impassioned works and endeavors, is incredibly persuasive. But the reality is, where am I going to go? And how much would I be losing? I know the answer to the second one – Damn near everything. Everything I have built for myself, or am attempting to build, would be the price to pay for not going in to work in the morning, the cost of packing a bag and turning my face into the sun.

I wrote the above awhile back – Earlier in the now finished semester. Before my father had cancer. Before I quit school. Before I started hunting Buddha that I might kill him. Funny how things work. I have still not cut away entirely, nor do I plan to. Instead I plan to cut away what I need, to have the life I desire. I hope it works - I hope it is the freedom I need, without much of the loss I fear. But I know enough to expect a high price for my freedom. Nothing worth anything comes cheaply. We must simply decide that which is valuable to us, and what we are willing to spend.

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