Humans are a remarkably adaptable species. We grow accustomed to our surroundings far faster than the pace of evolution. We move to colder climates and invent forced-air heating and synthetic down, and suddenly we do not need thousands of years of evolution or layers of blubber. We move to cities with different accents and social norms and within weeks we are wearing selvedge denim and saying y’all at the trendiest happy hour with only the slightest twinge of inauthenticity.
We accept the rules of the game and we start playing, and we become more addicted with each win. Stacks of social capital make us feel rich, and soon the line between what matters and what the collective delusion values becomes blurry. At this poker table, popularity trumps personality, and this blow is delivered with a straight face. The narrow spectrum of our surroundings becomes enveloping, and we settle for what is available because this is thought to be a better attitude than being motivated by what we lack. We choose to believe lies because it is more convenient than accepting the truth. If I made a list of the people I have seen duped by duplicitous men, seduced by the allure of money they were never guaranteed, married because they were in love with an idea— it would be a long and depressing list indeed. The path to wealth and acceptance is far smoother than the path to fulfillment, and so many of us hate bumpy roads. And by the time we realize bumps could jolt us back awake after the smoothness becomes dangerously hypnotizing, it is too late to turn around.
If meandering down empty roads and sitting on barstools in the corners of forgotten towns has taught me anything, it is that the world beyond our comfort zone is made up of a relentless refining fire. For every time I have stood in a nauseatingly buzzing room full of familiar faces and felt awfully alone, I have stood in a silent landscape and felt a strange peace. I have shared one too many beers with a perfect stranger in Seward, Alaska and stared the arbitrary nature of life in the eye and not felt like I had to look away. With no game to play, one can inch closer to the truth. With nothing left to lose, one doesn’t guard their chips so closely.
There is something reassuring about being devoted to a dream, against the odds or the pressures of your narrow surroundings. Setbacks sting with a piquancy that is rare in this world, progress feels far more edifying than rote checkmarks. Why do men dwell on “playing one more year of ball” or “giving the music thing a shot” their entire lives while they accrue savings for a day that is not guaranteed? Why does our society smirk at everyone who says they’re working as a bartender while they write, paint, sing, be? Because we have all been dealt in to the game, and the only way to win is to follow the rules and laugh at the losers as we double-down on our bets. Art is never a winning hand. Self-reflection is antithetical to progress. Chasing something with reckless abandon is a lousy alternative to methodical work. Suggesting that someone might be far happier with a slight shift in their perspective is viewed as heretical, and so you are kicked to the curb and replaced by a quantifiably superior replacement. It is easy to silence the heart when the bills are paid and comforts come easy.
One could call it madness to seek out the difficult and the lonesome in a world that has made everything so very easy. But there is one thing that no amount of ease or camaraderie can change, and that is the unfeeling passage of time. Every moment, gravity weights heavier on the wrinkles beneath our eyes; time forces our cells towards their inevitable decay and strains relationships that were once better, newer, happier. And how does one make an hour feel so infinite and effortless but to sit atop a hoodoo in a forgotten canyon or to sit at the precipice of a lonely bar and let what is before us and what is behind us all pass with an equal fluidity?