Monday, July 25, 2011

the real world.

I have a great deal of respect for the people who go to their jobs every day and painstakingly crank the wheels of this powerful, invisible megolith called the economy. I admire the people who have the fortitude to function for an extended length of time in what gets called the real world. I am strong, but they have a strength that I lack.

Put me too long in front of a computer, in a line of traffic, and I begin to unravel. Even now, as I write this, I'm aware of the piles of paperwork in hidden caches in my room, envelopes I've avoided opening. Out of sight, out of mind; looking at those stacks of words and numbers is overwhelming. That's what I feel, most of the time I'm here: overwhelmed. Too many clothes in the closet – and yet I buy more! – too many worries swept under my bed as I fall sleep.

I hide it well. I pay my bills on time. I'm a competent consumer, I blend in in a city. But I always end up running away. I don't think you can camp outdoors in the fresh, open air for a month and a half at once and return the same person. And those seven week trips in Alaska represent only a fraction of this expanse of air – this raw, unfiltered, wet, dry, pungent, sweet, silent, roaring air – that has wormed its way into my brain holes and turned me into somebody unwilling to function too long in what I often think is a dysfunctional society.

I have my parents to thank for this. The other day, I was talking to my dad on the phone, probably babbling about some great adventure I saw online and want to pursue, when he interrupted me and said, “I don't know how much anything has to do with anything, but did you know you were conceived in a tent? I think that explains a lot.”

I grew up happiest outside. I was an only child with a fondness for Laura Ingalls Wilder and L.M. Montgomery, and I hid under the cloistering yellow canopy of the forsythia bush in our backyard for hours at a time reading and playing with bugs. I climbed the black walnut tree. I explored the shallow canals in bright summer sun and the scrubby forgotten woods between neighborhoods when the leaves turned gold and dusty. I jumped out of our canoe in the middle of north country lakes and lost myself in the shadowy depths. I soared above cliffs on the Maine coast.

Inside, at a bar or in the aisles of a store, I've been told that I'm awkward and clumsy. I get too excited too fast and my energy flies out all elbows and knees. Jerky. Flailing. I've been ridiculed for not having any rhythm, but there are rhythms I understand much better than those that come out of a speaker. I was told that I'm like a bull in a china shop by an ex-boyfriend, who then stood at the bottom of a cliff and watched me scramble up it. He watched as I dashed and jumped ahead of him, from one rock to the next, and he finally said, in awe, you're like a whole new person out here. You're like a goddamn mountain goat!

Years later, in the middle of the Tongass National Forest, I was standing on a seaweedy rock in the sunrise next to my friend Ben, who said to me, I feel like I've just now seen who you really are. You're yourself out here.

Inside, I worry about my hair, my clothes, what I'm saying, how I come across. Outside, my actions flow as uninterrupted as a waterfall; my words are always right. I rarely hesitate.

My favorite thing about the year I spent in the Marshall Islands was that not once, on the outer islands, did I have to go inside. Never. There were buildings, of course, and I slept in them, but always there was fresh air and open walls. I learned to watch the stars and the moon and the rise and fall of the ocean. It was absurd to me that there had been I time I'd gone to sleep without knowing what the moon was up to, or woken up without knowing which direction was east.

In Idaho, I remember camping in the high desert for the first time with no trees to shelter me, and being awake most of the night, feeling exposed and vulnerable. But that air got into me too. In an L.M. Montgomery book, a strict aunt says to an orphan, aghast: don't sleep with the window open! You'll get consumption from the night air!

Maybe that's it. I've been bit by a bug in the cool darkness of the nighttime air and it has warped my poor, pliable brain until I'm no longer fit to be closed in. Give me wildflowers that look like stars and a sky that looks like a painting. Give me my breath. Give me a rhythm that cannot be approximated.

I will always run away, I will always play hooky to go outside. I know there are people who are wondering when I'll grow up. But I've been grown up, and all I feel is stifled, overwhelmed. Maybe everyone feels that way, sometimes, and they either get used to it or they power through and find joy in doing what needs to be done. The world needs people like that. But I think I'll always be somewhere on the outskirts, drinking the pure air that has addled my head so. 

1 comment:

  1. We need more people in this world lie you... I feel people would be much more happy...


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