Thursday, July 16, 2015

that the joy of life comes principally from human relationships

Maybe Chris McCandless is insane. I mean, despite everything I said yesterday. Maybe we need to label it "insane" when someone can see the cracks in the veneer and the cracks in the facade of the world he or she has been born into and raised up through and in which he or she is expected to find a career and work and procreate and pop out another generation to do the same thing... ad infinitum. We've got to label that "insane" because what else are we going to do? Listen? See what he or she has got to say and risk seeing the faultlines ourselves? No. Fuck that. Watch your television, binge watch your Netflix and your Hulu and Amazon Prime, glue yourself to Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, check out of the real world except for (or maybe even during) those hours you are expected at your desk or the checkout counter or the garage or wherever the fuck it is that you work. If it gets to be too much, there's alcohol and medication and more of that television and internet to keep you just docile enough, and just enough interested in conspicuous spending, that you will return to work again the next day and the next and the next.

(Two things:

1. I will admit that movies were in that rant at first, and then I took them out. Not because I'm partial to movies. Hell, I spend time on the internet, I binge watch TV shows, more than some, less than others. And, obviously, I watch movies, lots of movies. But, because there is a separate point to be made about movies... and me.

The second year of this blog is coming to an end. Yesterday, I was figuring out the schedule for a third year, formatting it much the same as year two. But, I did this... just in case. I think I'm leaning toward being done. Hell, I came up with this crazy notion of doing the opposite. Continue the blog but don't watch any movies. And, I mean any. Three Hundred Sixty-Five days, no movies.

Thing is, I could never do it. Not as long as there are movies to watch. End of the world, zombie apocalypse, or whatever, I'm fine without movies. I love the downtime when I'm not staring at one screen or another (or two at a time). But, I start hearing about the movies that will be nominated for awards in a few months and I would be drawn to the theater to see them, see them all, and do my usual Oscars thing. I don't think that I could stick with that plan.

So, I considered no movies at home, only theaters. But, it's a slippery slope for me.

I think about why I'm here, why I'm writing. I mean, it's the meat of my Master's Thesis--why I'm doing this, why I've done this. I recall how, during the first year of this thing, when it was the same movie every day, people would ask me why, and I couldn't answer clearly. I know what this has done for me, but a great deal of it is internal, immeasurable. Enter autoethnography and subjectivity and really getting started on that part of my thesis is a daunting task. Parts of it are easy--research on psychological (and, the argument is, constitutive communication-al) benefits of diary and journal writing, the benefits of being able to create a self on the internet in order to become that self, the mere presentation of self, the creation of self, how words become blog entries become reality and I, for one, feel steadier and more sane than I probably have in a long time.

This blog offers me a voice.

But, it is a restricted voice.

But, it is also a disciplined voice.

Doing this each day creates an order that is sometimes hard to keep up. But, if I didn't make myself follow the rules, then there's another slippery slope to I can't be bothered.

I need the discipline to have the voice.

But...

2. I'm tired. At least, I've gotten tired. Grad school plus coaching plus blogging plus parenting--and, I can be glad that my kids are all old enough to (mostly) take care of themselves most of the time--and there are so few hours in each day. In the next couple months, though, I intend to have a draft of (at least most of) my thesis, and I will not be taking any classes in the fall quarter, just teaching and (re)writing. There will be more time. So, I imagine what will I do with the time? If I stop making myself watch a movie every night (mostly, it's at night), what will I do with all the time? I said before that my impulse was to watch movies in that time, which seemed to defeat the purpose.

I've considered the idea of writing in a less structured but just as regular fashion, putting my words to fiction again. Rewrite old novels and stories or compose brand new ones... probably both. I fear that I may once again lose the momentum on that one.

The question is, am I a blogger? Or have I just been blogging for the past 714 days only to abandon it. I mean, I could quit this blog and still blog. Go back to occasionally writing in my other movie blog or my political one. I could even try to schedule those, turn them into a habit.

That right there is the problem here. This has become a habit. Seven hundred fourteen days (and a couple more weeks to go, at the least), this is something that I do. This is who I am.

If only I could make money off of it. You know, be part of the world while doing something I love. (This is where alternative ideas come up--a YouTube thing or a podcast.)

I love teaching. I want to keep doing it. But, there are restrictions on what I can say in the classroom (based on subject matter and schedules more than anything else). Here--or in my less focused blogs--I can say whatever I want. The restrictions are my own.

So I gotta wonder what else is there to do? When my kids are back in school in the fall, I would hope they're in bed (if not asleep) at the time I often end up watching all these movies.

I've got a couple weeks to decide just how crazy I am, I suppose.

Or how much I need this voice because I haven't much else.)

Of course it's crazy to do something out of the ordinary, to give away your savings and disappear on the highways and byways and live off the land and the kindness of strangers. (Or to watch movies every day and blog about it.) It has to be. Or more people would do it. Gotta label as a perversion of what's normal, what's right, or the temptation to be free would be too great.

But, McCandless' real insanity is not in his need to be free of society, but his need to be free of people. In the film, at least, when he says good bye to people and implies that he'll see them again--like with Ron--it sounds disingenuous. When he tells Wayne that he might write a book when he gets back, it's hard to take seriously. Maybe it's just the way Emile Hirsch plays it, maybe it's the script, or the direction, but Chris here seems incapable of doing anything longterm. Except for Alaska. He has set his sights on going there, visiting that Last Frontier and being alone there. Everything else is distraction. I've seen images from the film online with long quotations on them, like inspirational posters. One passage in particular that has been on a few--like this one:

--is what he says to Ron. At least that image didn't include this line: "But, you're wrong if you think that the joy of life comes principally from human relationships." That speech in the image above, and much of what Chris has to say to Ron just seems... wrong to me. Ron may have turned inward (and to alcohol) after his wife and son were killed. But, he's got a hobby (actually he makes money off it), he gets out of the house (he goes to church). And, he's in his 80s. Give the guy a fucking break. If we assume that being on the road works for Chris, that is no reason to ever think it would work for everyone. And, I can't help but think he is wrong--and maybe a little crazy--in thinking that the "joy of life" doesn't come "principally from human relationships." Those words do ring true from a character who had abusive and overbearing parents, who had his own identity come into question on a previous roadtrip. He is befriended by Jan and Rainey, by Tracy, by Ron, by Mads and Sonja (as briefly as he's near them), and by Wayne. Hell, he knows Wayne for less than a month, yet as he keeps on traveling, he kept in touch with Wayne. He couldn't contact his own sister but he could send postcards to this guy he worked for in South Dakota...

I don't think that Chris' need to be on the road, or his urge to spend time in the wild are signs that he is insane. But, his inability to form real attachments to people that are available for such (keep in mind, Wayne goes to jail, prompting Chris to leave Carthage after mere weeks there) is the kind of thing that should really be classified as a mental illness, or at least a mental deficiency. Go out into the wild all you want. Live off the land. Get away from society. Be free. But, why the hell would you ever want to do it alone? Only in the end does Chris realize:

HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED

Jan and Rainey get it. They travel together.

Still, the call of the wild is loud, especially for the young. My sister, who works as a cataloger at the Huntington Library sent me a couple poems she found today. The first--"Retired" by Florence Becker Lennon--has this nice sense of weariness about it, but also a clear sense of nature. The opening line: "Come now, my too-much travelled soul, be still." On the other hand, the other poem--"The Swamp" by Ingeborg Kayko--is more a beginning than an ending... The opening lines:

Why must a man go into the swamp
without his dog at heel?
To meet the stranger inside him
and lay him low and still.

An adventure like Chris' needn't be into the wild. It needn't be out on the road. It can be a trip to a tiny village in western Pennsylvania, for example. It can be at home, at your engraving bench, at your computer (blogging, perhaps). It can be anywhere you can be introspective, anywhere you can venture inside and "meet the stranger" there. Figure out who you are, what you want.

In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr has this bit about teenagers online. "Today's teenagers typically send or receive a message [online] every few minutes throughout their waking hours," he writes.

As the psychotherapist Michael Hausauer notes, teens and other young adults have a "terrific interest in knowing what's going on in the lives of their peers coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop." If they stop sending messages, they risk becoming invisible. (Carr, 2011, p. 118)

For me, right now, the question is this: do I risk being invisible in order to be free of the everyday discipline? Or, do I keep doing what I'm doing and risk having no "endlessly changing horizon."

You know what Phil Connors should have done after the time loop was over? He should have left Punxsutawney and ventured to other small towns, start doing some Willard Scott-style local stories from around the country, and gradually turn it into something like This American Life with profiles of people the rest of us would never know otherwise. Chris McCandless, had he survived, should have written that book he tells Wayne about, tell people how to get away from society. It's a valid prescription for many a problem, even if it probably shouldn't be permanent.

And, just in case I've only got a couple weeks of voice left, I suppose I should just keep writing.

2 comments:

  1. I sometimes wonder if routine is the problem! I can see that having a format, having a discipline, can anchor you, but sometimes when you are writing about a movie you're not really very enthusiastic about for the third day, you do seem a bit stultified. Maybe, if you continue the blog, allow yourself to be more freewheeling in your approach, to write about what interests you and let it proceed more spontaneously from the Groundhog Day and movies theme?

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    1. one idea i already had for a third year was different movies each day, take away the specific repetition but retain the daily bit. i'm thinking of making it even more "freewheeling" than that, now, though, if i continue--different movies every day but if i feel like repeating, i can do that too

      of course, groundhog day will still get its monthly repeat. that's just good form

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