Sunday, November 4, 2007

Bless the ones who don't do as they "ought"



I've read a few of the reviews for the movie, "Into the Wild," which I saw last night. So far I've found only one that highlighted something that was, for me, a really important theme of the movie--and a familiar theme in our most important literature and other arts. That is, how tough our society is for outcasts, outsiders, and people who just plain don't buy into the premises and goals of that society.


Of my boyfriends, my favorite was a man I dated for maybe four years who lived way off the grid. He was the smartest of anybody I ever dated, both in terms of book larnin' and sheer brain power, and he had a college education. But he had no interest--ever--in climbing any kind of ladder except the one he used as a house painter. He was a fascinating fellow--an adventurer who liked to climb glaciers in Canada and go kayaking in Baja, a great conversationalist, a poet, a good friend to his friends, and a, ahem, hell of a lover. But he had no home, no apartment, mostly lived off the kindness of women, lost a couple of modest inheritances by being a fool about money, and was truly paranoid about the U.S. government. A few more inches to the edge and he'd have fallen off of it.

It was hard for him to survive between lovers, because if you can't quite afford a house or apartment, but you're not "homeless" in your own mind, and you don't want to live in your car, or sponge constantly off people, then what do you do for habitat? He needed girlfriends, partly because he loved women, but also so he'd have a place to stay. Even with that kind of help, life was a constant battle of figuring out how to eat, where to live, how to keep his old car running, how to keep clean and dress decently, etc. without getting picked up by the cops, or running into other unfriendly authorities whose job it is to "protect" the rest of us from the likes of him.

I always figured I got a fair shake in my relationship with him, because he was tremendous fun to be with, incredibly attentive, thoughtful, and sensitive, and he urged me into adventures with him. There's a photo of me on a glacier, for instance. . .

As I have from all the men in my life, I learned a lot from him, and I'm grateful. Eventually, he drove me crazy and the trade-off became less attractive, but while it lasted, it was interesting and painful to watch an off-the-grid kinda guy try to survive in this country.

I wish we, as a society, were less judgmental. I wish we were more tolerant of lifestyles that don't do anybody any harm. I wish we cared less about degrees and jobs and salaries and houses in the suburbs.

I wish there were easier places in this country for young men like the one portrayed in the movie, and for ones like the middle-aged man I once loved. But then if there were, we wouldn't have a lot of our most important American mythos, or some of our most important American art, would we? The lives of those men are a pretty high price to pay for it, though.

I guess I want to say. . .send a good thought today to somebody who doesn't do what "everybody" thinks he ought to do. Wish for him today a hot meal, good health, friendly people along his way, and a safe, soft place to rest his head tonight. And if it's a woman you're thinking of, double those kind wishes, because she's going to need them even more than he does.

26 comments:

Nancy P said...

Here in Central Standard Time, it's only two minutes before Monday.

Bye, bye, weekend, and a big hello to whatever is coming our way. Could be bears, could be angels, and just think--by this time next week, we'll know.

The suspense is killing me. :)

AndiF said...

I admit that I'm more jealous than worrying about people like your old lover but I do wish our world could be a lot more forgiving and desiring of them. And then once we'd learned to accept them, maybe that would make people think and act differently toward the homeless.

On a cheerier note, the fun thing about not knowing what's coming next is finding out that it isn't what you thought -- which leads me to the Monday picture post:

This photo was taken just 6 minutes after the "boids" photo.

Family Man said...

Morning Nancy.

I've known people like that, but I actually believe most people are too afraid to try and live like that. There are a lot of people that have no choice in the matter though.

My brother took FMom to a ball game in Atlanta one time and she saw the homeless living under the overpasses. She never knew it was like that, and to this day still talks about it.

I guess I'm one of the people that have to have stability and routine in my life. Plus before I retired I really did enjoy my job.

olivia said...

Morning Nancy, Andi, FM ... (weeee, I'm up w/ the early crowd ... must be the time change ... ;)

I'm thinking something along the lines of we learn at an early age how to handle those who are different -- think about how utterly retched kids are towards those who are different from them.

I don't know what the answers are, but this is one of the reasons for my low opinion of humans in general.

Beautiful photo Andi.

katiebird said...

Hi Nancy, That friend of your sounds fascinating. I used to know a couple of guys who lived according to their own ways. I don't know HOW they lived. It might have been girlfriends, too.

I think people would have a lot more choices if we had affordable national health care. And maybe one of the reasons we DON'T have it is the American Fear that it will allow people to Do Whatever They Want.

Andi, your photos are lovely.

FamilyMan, I don't think it's just fear. I think there is disapproval too. And resentment. Something like, "If I can't/won't do it -- neither should you."

FARfetched said...

I agree with KB about the disapproval. I also believe that society validates itself by marginalizing and even demonizing those who don't fit (by choice or not) — so society needs those counter-examples even while trying to ignore them.

I've met a couple of people who lived outside society. "Goat Steve" got creamed in divorce court, so he didn’t stay in one place much & worked as little as possible to minimize what he had to send to his ex. He preferred to work for farmers and others who would pay in cash. Another guy made himself homeless so he can minister to the homeless — the squatter camps are suspicious of those who aren't one of them.

The contrasts and conflicts make for some good story fodder, though. Who murdered the Drifting Lothario?

Nancy P said...

Andi, I like your point about forgiving and desiring them, and how an attitude like that might help the homeless. We do want these guys when they're in the pages of bestselling books, because they make great romantic heroes who let people lead Walter Mitty lives, which is to say--stay home. But in the flesh--they're a thorn to the Rules People who make things sooo hard--from requiring I.D., to getting health care (as katiebird points out), to finding a legal place to put a tent or a trailer, etc.

Nancy P said...

Andi, thanks for the photo! Bye, bye boidy.

GhostFolk.com said...

Nancy, kind of a wandering heart thing that was twice acceptable in America, at the end of the War Between the States and then again in the 1930s.

P.S. John Prine:

There was a time
when lonely men would wander
thru this land
rolling aimlessly along
so many times
I've heard of their sad story
written in the words
of dead men's songs.

Down through the years
many men have yearned
for freedom
some found it
only on the open road
so many tears of blood
have fell around us
'cause you can't always do what you are told.

Please tell me where
have all the hobos gone to
I see no fire burning down
by the rusty railroad track
could it be that time
has gone and left them
tied up in life's eternal traveling sack.

...
there was a time
when my heart was free to wander
and I remember as I sing
this hobo song.

Nancy P said...

Hi, Fam Man. Seems like there's a big diff between people who might like to "make it" in our society, but who can't and end up homeless, and those who reject society and step out of it on purpose. One is a personal tragedy, the other is an individualist's adventure.

The book Into the Wild and this movie make some people REALLY mad, because when they look at the kid, they see a spoiled brat. That anger is interesting. My friend--who came from a ruined rich family--was in no way spoiled (two alcoholic,mentally ill parents, for one thing), but he inspired similar anger in some people who loathed him for not doing the professional/marriage/family thing as they were killing themselves in doing.

More later.

I love your thoughts on this, everybody, and good morning to you.

Jen said...

I think people would have a lot more choices if we had affordable national health care. And maybe one of the reasons we DON'T have it is the American Fear that it will allow people to Do Whatever They Want.

I think this is so right on target. I've been reading a lot of discussions between those for/against on universal healthcare lately, and the biggest collective message I've taken away from the Against side is exactly this -- a lot of folks very deeply and firmly believe that you get to have EITHER what you want OR what you need AND that if by some miracle you wind up with both in your lap, you dare not be happy about it unless you can maintain the illusion that you "earned" every little bit of it all by your lonesome.

I've seen reasons given for opposing universal healthcare and basic guaranteed minimum income programs where the folks arguing have come right out and said, "But then people will be able to do whatever they want!" Which of course isn't true, but it is true that with these programs people would be able to do more of what they want even when they aren't born rich, and would be happier, and as a society, it would actually cost us less than the way we are doing things now.

That thing about people being happy, though, when those Against don't think "those people" deserve happiness, that's a gigantic problem.

FARfetched said...

Jen, if you want to see some world-class sputtering when someone says "But then people will be able to do whatever they want!" then: tilt your head ever so slightly, give them your sweetest smile, and ask, "So what's the problem with that?" (Freekin' gender assumptions, they let women pull off stuff like that sooo much easier. :-)

Nancy P said...

One big problem with my ex-boyfriend was that his need for women was corrupting to both parties. It was probably impossible to pick apart the threads of love and manipulation. He only lived with women he fell for, but did he fall for us at least in part because we had roofs? I'd say, sure. Did he stay with us longer because he needed a roof? No doubt, though I'd say it with understanding. And the corrupting part for us, the women, was that we used our "roofs" and all that stands for, to keep him. I'm not so sure that's all that different from the majority of, say, marriages, though. We gives to get.

Jen said...

Far, so funny you should say that -- I recently saw a man use that exact response and get the exact same effect. :)

AndiF said...

Yeah, Nancy, I don't see how you can question that unless you are willing to question traditional marriages (which is okay by me). It's good to remember too that until the Industrial Revolution was well underway almost every marriage was based on economic/family needs. The notion that love has to be the binding glue in a relationship is pretty modern. Not to mention that whatever makes up that binding glue is a lot more complex than just "love", whatever that is.

FARfetched said...

Dangit, I should have known not to tell myself I wouldn't give the story line any more thought — Olga started batting this around inside my skull on the commute.

The setting is toward the end of FAR Future; think of it as a cyberpunk/peak oil porn/detective fusion:

The Bank of SIngapore job was finished. I’d even tied up the last of the loose ends and my bank account was burping after swallowing a fat paycheck. I crossed off the last item on my personal to-do list this morning.

I hated boredom. It brought back the dreams.

Thankfully, the receptionware chimed as I was looking into that Lake Superior sailing cruise. “Sean O’Reilly of the GRWMPD wishes to speak to you,” the pleasant synthvoice said. “This is a business call.”

I paused from cleaning the breakfast leavings off my desk, and thumbed the console button. “Command reply,” I said. “C’mon up, Sean. The door’s unlocked.” Juggling dishes and containers, I swung by the office door and unlocked it on the way to the kitchen.

The place was presentable in ten seconds flat, and so was I in another thirty; a PDI’s skill set involves more than ferreting and correlating information. That gave me twenty seconds to open the laptop and settle into my desk chair as if I’d been working since sunrise. Sean knocked — he was polite to a fault — and poked his head around the door. “Good morning, Jason,” he said.

“You got a warrant, copper?” I grinned, motioning him in and standing. “You like cappuccino, right?”

“Yes, thanks. And one of those vending machine donuts, if you have any.” Of course I did: I learned long ago that a caffeine and sugar bomb was the best way to get clients and potential clients friendly and talking. I got busy pulling him a hot one while he unwrapped a donut.

“Business call,” I said, dropping the cup on his side and taking my seat. “Another wallyworld job?”

“No…” Sean hesitated, and I started wondering what Greater West Michigan was about to drop in my lap this time. “This one may be personal. For you.” He tossed a thumbnail chip across the desk. “Manny Velasquez ring a bell?”

It did, but I couldn’t place it until I slotted the thumbnail and his picture popped up — his military ID, of all things. “Manny was in my unit, all right, but I haven’t seen or heard from him since we came home. What happened?”

“It’s all there, but I can give you the important parts in ten seconds. Manny was a Rotter — I probably faced him during the Texas Reunion — then an optout, and Tuesday evening he was found murdered in Saugatuck.

“But I’m not here to swap war stories. If an optout is a crime victim, we tend not to pay attention unless it’s an open-and-shut case. But I pulled his record, and thought of you and what you’d do if you found out I just filed this and didn’t say anything.”

I nodded. “You’re right, Sean: I wouldn’t have taken that well. Thanks for bringing this by. I’m not sure if I’ll farm this one out or not…”

“Optout or not, the standard bounty for a murderer stands. So you probably won’t have much trouble finding a taker if you decide you’re too close to this one.” Sean slurped the cream and stood. “I can’t stay any longer — I was authorized to deliver the thumbnail, but not to spend any more time on the case. But if you have any questions, call me. Good luck with this one, Jason.”

I saw him out the door and sat down again. I stared at Manny’s mugshot, letting my thoughts run where they would… even to places where they should have avoided. Working or not, I’d be having the dreams tonight.

Nancy P said...

An "optout"!!!

What a perfect term, far. That's what they shall be, in my mind, from now on until your future comes true. (brrr) Your last line gave me chills.

Nancy P said...

kb, my old friend spend a LOT of time taking care of his health in the ways he could manage on his freelance house painter earnings--vitamins, exercise, etc.-- and fretting about how he couldn't afford the teensy bit of health insurance he did have. Finally, seeing me do without for so long, he went without, too. I guess I was further off the grid than he was in that regard. So far, so good, but you are sooo right about how the whole health insurance business, as it is now, imprisons people.

Last night in the movie, I kept thinking, "if this kid has an accident or gets sick, he's screwed." In fact, he did get beaten up at one point. They didn't show what he did about it, except to imply that he gritted through the pain and eventually healed.

Nancy P said...

And kb, good points--disapproval and resentment on top of the fear. Also contempt and condescension. All that helps account for the really amazing anger directed at guys like that sometimes. And the anger they have--or develop--in return, sometimes.

Rick Bylina said...

Well...I'm not far out, but I've often been swimming against the tide and have often swum with people who are doing it with their heads underwater. Something just not right about that.

Except for people who really do have emotionally or psychological problems, I've always told those who've questioned some of my odd choices that my choices are just that: MINE. As long as I'm not hurting anyone or being self-desctructive, I have a right to do almost anything.

Can't wait to see the movie, though I suspect it has been sanitized a bit from the real life story to emphasize the free spirit story line.

Write on!

-rick

Beth said...

Chiming in late, but I've been driving all day. I have very few friends who wear a tie, and climb the corporate ladder. For a time I hung out with whitewater rafters and ski bums - they lived in their vans and station wagons, and wandered from season to season, following the work. And loved every second of it. I lived off the grid myself for a while, and have friends who still don't have indoor plumbing, by choice. So I guess I'm more accustomed to folks doing things their own way - whatever that way happens to be. To me, the 9-5 routine is pretty alien, although I did it for too many years - but usually as a temp, so I could come and go as I pleased. Starting my working life as a ski bum in Aspen skewed my view of the working world forever!

Cathy C said...

Nancy, I read your post early this morning, then had to run out, but I kept thinking about it all day.

I have a sister who'd been living off the grid for some time. She had some emotional baggage, and a lot of anger. And then one day she walked away from her life here, furious at the world. She hasn't been in contact in a few years. (We're not sure where she is, but we have an idea.) It makes me sad, as we had once been very close.

Sometimes living off the grid sounds like an interesting idea, especially when I'm fed up with politics and the price of eggs. And, as you pointed out, guys who do that make great romantic heroes in novels. Then again, reality is a whole other ball game.

Of course, as a writer and freelance web designer, I don't know where I'd be without my husband's salary and health benefits. Good thing I really like the guy :-)

Thanks for the B'day wishes, Far.

Nancy P said...

Olivia, I had a nice conversation with you in my head, but failed to type it. Same with ghost. There's too much good stuff to read and digest in the comments today, thank you very much.

Hey, Beth and Conda, more thought-inducing stuff.

And, hi, boran! (Pre-emptive greeting.)

boran2 said...

I have to admire anyone who can live "off the grid". There's some great earthship houses in Taos, New Mexico that make for very stylish off the grid living. We passed by there but couldn't get the full tour. Some are even available for rent.

Nancy P said...

And Rick. . .with their heads under water. . .lol.

Beth said...

I did it for 5 years. It was $11,000 to hook up to the grid, and we were so far out in the woods, the power went out regularly. For the same cost we built a state-of-the-art solar system complete with an underground building for the generator, batteries, water pump, etc. We had a cistern, 376' deep well, on-demand hot water heater, propane clothes dryer, 12-volt refrigerator. We learned to manage our power usage to the nth degree. It felt good to be self-sufficient, but was a heck of a lot of work. I don't want to think before I turn on my hair dryer any more. My ex still lives there, as far as I know.