I put this on facebook, but was actually pretty impressed with it. So here goes:
"When I was a younger kid than I am now, I always wondered why adults seemed content to walk all over the place. I wanted to run. Running was faster. Why not?
But then again, as a kid, there was a lot I didn't understand. There always seemed to be those secrets kept from me: drinking, sex, all those phrases and words I couldn't understand. Adults always seemed to be keeping almost everything from me. They were, and much of it for good reasons.
Yet the worst, the most tragic and horrible secret of all, I was never told, I've simply been left like almost everyone else to figure it out: life gets harder and harder and it's never again as fun as it is in childhood.
Obviously, there's a lot of upsides to getting older. Not least of which, of course, is those other secrets, drinking, sex, those dirty words I couldn't understand, etc.
Greatest of all, however, and sucking up all those others, is the sense of independence you start to achieve, when you're no longer totally dependent on your parents. Because that's probably the thing we never forgive our parents for: being there when we were weak and vulnerable.
Getting the first phone, the first license to drive, the first job, technically becoming an adult, then moving out. And you're well on your way to becoming your parents again.
But hey, about that FIRST JOB, so you make a piddle of money, what then? At my first job, sign shaking at Value Village, I got used to dreading my job every day. It'd be school, then straight off to work for 4, 5 hours, back home at 7 or 8, dinner, homework and bed. Several times a week.
I had to have inflicted upon my brain the horrifying logic buried in the human resources booklet: describing the rewards for employees who have been with Value Village 5, 10, and 20 years.
I was only there temporarily, and I knew that, and I knew what I was going to be doing afterwards. That wasn't the case for the majority of my coworkers.
Working at Garlic Jim's, like I do now, I find myself in a similar situation. The work is certainly much easier and much better, in its way, than sign shaking. But it's not exactly life-work.
Either way, however, the work must get done, and that means that certain people have to work 5, 6 days a week at it, again and again and again, into the future until something else awaits them.
Life is hard. It's a constant struggle with no end in sight. There's a reason people embrace such pathetic phrases as Thank God It's Friday.
What that phrase means is that you hate what you have done and continue to do with your life most of the time, so much, that the prospect of getting a break, any break, no matter what it is, from that horrible thing that is your LIFE, seems like an enticing idea.
That's everyone who gets that TGIF bumper sticker or shirt, or says it on a regular basis: people who have been crushed by how unexcited they are by their own life, but who don't have the courage to end it or remake it.
We find stories of great kindness inspiring, because life is so hard. Most of us are simply flattened and absorbed by it, so we admire those who have the strength not only to make their own difficult way through life but to help others as well.
There is a certain measure of relief to be found. The path I'm currently on is one long advocated for and, luckily, much smoothed by my parents: I'm going to college.
There, in theory, I'll learn some craft that interests me, and then if I'm lucky in the future I'll get some job in the sector of our economy that actually makes decisions rather than simply produce like a machine.
That doesn't change the fact that I'll still get tired of that job eventually, a career as it's called (because even when you have a job that's not rote, it's still the same over long periods of time), that I'll still breathe a sigh of relief when I leave on Friday afternoon. But the distractions, that distract me from how unsatisfying my life are, will be all the more sumptuous.
Even better, I have something to look forward to in the future: a retirement at a goodly age, where I'll be able enjoy those same distractions from my life, but without the work that long ago sapped the vitality out of it.
That's the dark side to the independence that seems so refreshing now: in the future, I'll really be independent. The novelty will have worn off, but the work never ends, because life never does. Until it does.
If that sounds depressing, I also wonder if it isn't over-simplified.
Long generations of struggling workers just as I've described have built a new society. We're capable now of wealth past societies couldn't even dream of. And yet, the struggle never stops, because the wealth keeps whizzing up and up.
Perhaps, if one is willing to go through the discomfort of diminished wealth, this cycle can be stopped.
Because that's the beautiful, dazzling glacier of POSSIBILITY, thrumming with life and infinite joy, sparking with divinity, that is also implied by coming of age, into independence:
I've begun to discover who I am, and what I love.
Who we are is subtle. We may like cake, but we don't LOVE cake, most of us, cake is not a part of who we are, no matter how much it might seem like it in youth.
Things I used to hate, it turns out I've come to love.
As I type this I listen to
As a kid, I hated the symphony! Who knew I'd come to love Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, when I'd started actually listening to my music. Because I've always loved them, I only recently discovered that part of me.
And one of these stands out above the others: adventure.
I've found I love adventure, especially of the outdoor sort, the mountain sort.
Again, as a kid, I hated hiking. First, it was hard, and second, the destinations we walked to honestly weren't that exciting, lakes and waterfalls.
But that didn't change that I do and always have loved the outdoors. When I turned 10, I had the courage to find that though hiking was difficult, it was easier than it had been now that I was stronger physically and mentally, and to savor the thinking time to be had while walking, and the peace to be had in the woods. And I saw the possibility for more.
It was 10 when I initiated that we should climb Mount Adams, a slogging, 2-day, 12 mile, 7000 vertical feet hike up through the snowfields of that great volcano.
We did, and I saw possibility in the distance.
Now, at 18, my skills, mental, physical and emotional, are much greater than they were at 10. And I no longer sit back and let my love find myself, I actively search it out.
But, surely, my love will be a side spout of my main life? It doesn't have to be. One of my favorite things about the outdoors and the mountains are the people these things attract. I can't find this online, so I'll have to retype it. But, here's a passage in the most recent issue of Mountaineer Magazine, by Craig Romano:
All my life I have struggled with restless soul syndrome. At a young age, I wasn't as interested in pursuing a career and acquiring material wealth as I was in seeing the world-- particularly the natural world; I sought to experience life, and find the true meaning in life. I knew I wouldn't find my answers in the urban world or by following a path I was expected to follow. I would have to blaze my own trail and appease my soul by exploring the world-- both the human and the natural-- by challenging my physical and psychological limits."
He went on to explain his multiple bike rides around the country for years after he graduated high school, and how he eventually discovered hiking and climbing as his true loves.
Here, similarly, is the same thought more glibly put, at the beginning of the thru-hikers'(spending 6 months to hike trails thousands of miles long) Bible, the Pacific Crest Trail Handbook:
"Non-trail people will never understand WHY we want to thru-hike. I think it's because the idea is so far removed from EVERYTHING we are taught as we're growing up: go to college, get a good job, get married, have kids, and then wait until you retire or die. You want to have fun? You can do that two weeks per year on your vacation. Don't be irresponsible and take six months off work to hike. Are you crazy?"
These are the people already in the business. People like elite woman climber Lynn Hill gave up everything, living off of other people's trash, to climb. Elite hiker Scott Williamson spends some months working odd jobs, then spends 6 months hiking, because he loves it. Badass insane man climber Alex Honnold lives in a van.
And simple college graduate Chris McCandless lived 2 years of adventure in the wilds of America before his grisly end, as immortalized in Into the Wild.
Yes, I know. I was talking to my brother about future life plans at the dinner table, before his graduation last Friday, when I said "I won't really care about having a lot of money".
"Well, you say that now..." my mom chimed in.
Yes, it's true. I say it now. And I totally expect my mom would say something like that. So we understand each other.
And I can see where she's coming from: I'm young, and young people are supposed to have these fuzzy ideas. As well, I've never put these fuzzy ideas into practice.
Here's where I take heart: World War 1 is perhaps one of the most fascinating historical events there has ever been, because it's the place where the young men of Europe, told of the glories of Europe's rationality, civility, and technology, were sent to irrationally kill the other young men of Europe in the name of civility with that selfsame technology.
"For us in old Europe, everything has died that was good and unique to us. Our admirable rationality has become madness, our gold is paper, our machines can only shoot and explode, our art is suicide; we are going under, friends.” - Thomas Mann, novelist
World War 1, and its extension into World War 2, were when it became plain for everyone to see, that this same culture, these same people who had conquered the world and all other peoples, couldn't help from using this newfound power for irrational, senseless, purposeless slaughter. Their culture was great. But it was sick. World War 1 put Old Europe, already sick, into its very public deathbed, and the throes of its final struggles would occupy the rest of the 20th century.
Here's the important bit: I've found that older people have an instinct to rag on any strong opinions the young might have. The older people, of course, understand everything, and the young simply haven't found the beauty in what the older people have to say yet.
But is growing older maybe not learning the "truth" but whatever mutant twin passes for the "truth" in that day and age? What youth then could doubt that his parents were full of shit! The same "morality" and "honor" and "rationality" and everything else that youth's Old Europe parents espoused led to the wholesale slaughter of 40 million of Europe's young, with no one gaining anything, and them all losing all the more in World War 2 later.
Those parents thought they knew truth, but all they knew was the ideology and culture of Old monarchical Europe, whose repugnant flaws threw those youth into the sausage machine.
Yes, perhaps young McCandless, who cruelly abandoned his parents, only revealing himself to them by dying 2 years later, who pushed everyone away and died alone, didn't have the truth. But that doesn't mean his consumerist parents did either.
So maybe I'm spinning shit now. But does that mean I should relent and become my parents and their society? The society where cute videos make it onto the "news"? Where the people in the same country who dominates the world can't be bothered to learn about it? Where people drink pure sugar and alcohol and watch visual sugar in an effort to distract themselves from the true horror of what they are and what their lives have become?
This society is sick, and me learning its "truth" would only set me up to join in its fall. Perhaps its fall will come with climate change, when despite the fact the science is clear cut, people still refuse to believe it because it means they have to stop consuming as much as they're used to.
No thank you.
Maybe I won't always hold the exact views on truth I hold now. Maybe I'll care about money a bit more than whatever gets me by to climb mountains. But I can feel fairly safe in saying that, though older people love to claim the advantage by virtue of being older, I've seen their creed and their society, and been disgusted by it.
This is as it says in my favorite book in this world, Independent People. Bjartur, the man who farms sheep in Iceland in the years before WW1, struggled for decades to buy his freedom and his farm from the man who's servitude he was born into.
But even after his frightening, and yet inspiring and heroic, inability to compromise on his creed of independence, he still finds after his many struggles, at the end of the long book, that his farm has been repossessed by the rich man who owned him in the beginning.
The book is an indictment of capitalism and its ability to deal with the problem we all face: that life sucks and it never ends.
Luckily, through the courage and hard work of men like Bjartur, the society I live in now is wealthy enough I could live off its scraps while I find my dreams in the mountains. Nevertheless, capitalism continues on as its productive self, its defenders not only defending it by saying that the productive must be rewarded richly, but seeming to take glee in this proposition not as a sad necessity but a noble pursuit.
Someday capitalism will stand able to let the poorest with the shittiest jobs stop working, and eventually everyone. Many will want to struggle on in the absurd struggle, getting a better phone next year.
Someday I hope people will give up that struggle and struggle for life instead.
As for me, I refuse to be the Last Man. The wold I live in, though still dominated by miserable rich people and built on the bones of miserable poor people, nonetheless gives me the capacity to cast off the absurd and horrible struggle of working for life, to cast off the cloaks and find the person I am and that I love, and to say