Man goes to Mexico to blow all his money on cocaine and prostitutes before committing suicide–then decides to live.
A misleading headline that is a perfectly American parable. The truth is only slightly more nuanced–man goes to Tijuana to buy the assisted suicide drugs that are readily available in other parts of the world, then embarks on a bender to try and overcome the dreadful mix of survival instinct and existential dread, then realizes he enjoys life more than he realized once the fear of consequences is gone.
Once the fear of consequences is gone.
Between the capitalistic police state and the generational trauma and sense of “should” passed down from one to the next, we exist in a constant state of fear. We pray to god in order to avoid hell, not to earnestly seek heaven. We work jobs not out of joy but in order to prevent eviction–or worse, quiet time in our own minds. We avoid benders because we don’t want to wake up in jail, or with a hangover, or with less respect from our society. Perhaps because we don’t want to feel physically ill, in a life where physical wellbeing is perhaps the last thing we believe we can control. But time marches on, the gray hairs multiply on our favorite dog’s snoot and the wrinkles multiply around our eyes.
My favorite experiences don’t cost anything, but being in a position to experience them does. Living in the more desirable parts of the American West, filling my car’s gas tank, replacing my worn out hiking shoes, having enough money to go to the doctor to examine the alarming growth on an old scar on my knee, it all has a cost. Until we fully detach from the inherited expectations of healthcare, of retirement funds, of a good credit score, of a linear career, we feel the uneasy tension of consequences yanking us backwards from the simple joy that would free us to become our most fully actualized selves.
That is the ultimate appeal of clickbait headlines about hookers and blow, of Alexander Supertramp lighting his substantial inherited wealth on fire somewhere in the desert. We fantasize about being rockstars, firefighters, farmers, poets. We want to be who we were, before it all changed. We don’t want to owe anyone anything, to feel that uniquely human sensation of everything having a cost. Animals help one another because it is simply the only good thing to do. Humans cannot discern between altruism and fear of hell, between filial love and futile attempts to settle scores that they are still bitter about from different relationships decades prior. So we nervously receive gifts and struggle to feel free to simply “be,” because eventually we have to come down from the mountain, and when we get there, the one bill we forgot to pay two years ago will still find us, six mailing addresses later, three collections agencies exchanging bids for a debt they might yet collect.
This creates a hell of a riddle. Oftentimes the most depressing feeling in life is not a heartbreak or a defeat, it’s the moment when we turn around from the summit, when the concert ends and the house lights come on, when our immersive euphoria yields to our weighty and dutiful existence. It is this yo-yo, the endless rollercoaster ride, that renders our spines weary and leaves a soul punchdrunk and fearful. Beneath the surest worldview is a gripping terror, the fear that being wrong might mean we have wasted all our days. Might mean that we don’t matter. But we are impressionable, so one person’s need for certainty is another person’s unwanted trauma, another blank slate’s constraints and shame and confusion. Why should we demonize unadulterated enjoyment in the innately painful experience of being alive? Behind every controlling dogma is someone’s own wounds and fears, repackaged as wisdom and forced upon us in a way that robs us of the freedom to choose.
What can I offer the world, even with all the creativity and undying commitment to experiencing the fullness of life and reporting on it as honestly as I know how? The sad truth is that even the prettiest words rarely pay the rent, even the most liberating perspective is typically met with skepticism and prickled hairs, on guard for anything that threatens the fragile stasis we seek.
We crave to be set free. The details do not matter, it is the feeling that we are after. There are plenty of good reasons why freedom is often equated with outdoors pursuits, but the deeply embodied sense of healing and liberation transcends the details or the photo ops. We have the inspiring conversations and agree that we must deprogram our learned inhibitions, we nod and repeat that there need to be media outlets for profound creativity, unbridaled by the need to sell advertisements or compete with the attention span of the TikTok Era. We desire human connection, yet we are terrified of the naked vulnerability of being seen and judged for our dreams. Earnest enthusiasm and humble willingness to be wrong are two of the most threatening qualities to our culture’s nuclear arms race towards moral absolutism.
When I look down at Hank, happily wagging his tail and looking up at me for assurance before he romps off again in search of cool water and a squirrel to chase, I feel the overwhelming flood of presence. Just this. I desire to be exactly here, to soak up every fine detail of the moment we’re living. I don’t want to lose him, I don’t want to leave him at home while I go to an office. I don’t want to fall for the distractions and misplaced longings of the zero sum society down below, all of which pull me further from feeling in sync with the world and with my best friend. The most profound joy has this bittersweet ache. We know it is not forever.
And we must be brave enough to feel and to know this. To love with a loose grip and an ardent heart, so we allow the feeling to breathe without choking it to death. To acknowledge our fleeting nature and even to embrace it. The virtues of a bygone society will not save us from the ever-looming now. Neither chastity nor hard work will make our lives complete, but they will do a good job of distracting us in pious facsimile. It is only by abandoning the myth of what is sacred that we can give everything its sacred due.
I am stricken by the themes which echo through the conversations I have and I hear, a generation exhausted by the capitalism of our ancestors, exhausted by the unattainable riches which lord over us, begotten by pillaging this one beautiful planet. Peers who share the sense of agony and disappointment at a formative life dictated by religions we didn’t choose, at the lifelong homework assignment of healing wounds and wandering through the desert with a divining rod seeking some new truth. We are trying hard to not have to try so hard anymore. But the comedically disproportionate increase in housing costs versus wages leaves us gasping for air, gives the pundits ammo for cheapshots about cappuccinos and avocado toast being the real reason younger generations are damned. I think I’d be happy if I could hike to a different alpine lake every day, forever. To follow the seasons wherever they guide us, towards better weather and more bountiful forage. I’ll never understand why so many people insist work is the most virtuous thing we can do. It is exertion our bodies instinctively crave, not trading our precious time for capital. Each footstep uphill is a crunch, aromatic deprogramming, freeing mind and body from the guilt and shame that keeps us in bondage to a system that views us as expendable, like the trees that grow around us.
Beautifully convicting reflections here, John. One of your best and most honest sketches that really hit me. I’ve read this a few times now, the first was yesterday seated on a sidewalk propped up against a sunlit brick wall in downtown Denver, while people in the affluent neighborhood of City Park sauntered by on their Saturday morning excursions for brekkie and leisurely sunshine. Everyone exuded an energy and disposition of having “arrived”, of belonging. My wife was inside begrudgingly trying on passed down cocktail dresses on consignment for an upcoming wedding we’re obligated to celebrate. I felt so incredibly out of place, patiently waiting for her outside to call me in to affirm her dress decision before we started the drive back to Santa Fe, trying my damndest to appear like I had a reason to be in this space in that moment. I was fulfilling a role, doing everything within my power to not appear a fraud before strangers, and insecurely convincing myself of this same truth. I don’t know how this ramble of mine relates, but your words caught me at a time yesterday of reflection, absurdity, and robbed joy.