What do we make of relationships that are built on a shared understanding of heartache? How long can we be sustained by the encouragement of others, that our words are comforting because we are bleeding unfiltered pain all over the page for others to wring out and compare to their own?
It is an ironic torture to be reminded constantly that your words are a salve, that your emotions are entertaining. To stop bleeding is to stop being compelling, to sell your blood is to whore out your sacred life force. We could hock generic positivity, spew platitudes which sound upbeat yet crumble when the next hardship undermines the false peace of saying it’s fine because someone else has it worse. At times, we can write moving love letters to the mountains and valleys, the animals that remind us of our roots and the plants which demonstrate how to grow them.
There is an inarguable soothing quality to pursuing mountain goats across hardscrabble terrain, to flushing the ptarmigan from the scrub without blasting it to pieces after honoring its beauty. For a moment, we are singularly focused on what is ahead of us, forgetting to look down at how far we might fall, ignoring the burning shin skin that was scrubbed off by volcanic rock. It is strangely soothing to feel the adrenaline surging towards the wound and to see the inner workings bubbling up to the surface.
Perhaps this is the epitome of the conscious living experience, to have a few fleeting moments of heightened awareness where what’s before us is razor-sharp and what’s behind us is gone. It is the reckless hardwired instinct of the hunter, the few moments when a food source is more important than avoiding a predator or a steep ledge. And maybe being in touch with this is what separates some of us from the cocooned masses who lap up comfort like lotus eaters.
It is also what leaves us open to falling all the way down from where we are perched, or to realizing that a few bites of sweet subsistence only sustains us long enough to feel hungry again tomorrow. Some of us find hunger to be a refining fire that motivates us onward. Others find it an inconvenience that must be beaten into submission in a post-industrial food coma. The mixed blessing of self-reflective consciousness is that we can think about the fact that perhaps we are really only motivated by hunger and a primordial drive for a mating partner, that everything we do is really an elaborate dance that could be replaced by colorful feathers and a nest full of juicy bugs to eat.
How long could I be sustained by the backwoods pursuit of game I do not wish to eat, how simple could I make my life before even the simplicity of it all becomes a certain sort of ascetic aesthetic to those who see simplicity as its own commodity to fantasize about. I laugh when I watch an ex try to replace me with superficial details that are similar and a career path that is somehow more ‘authentic’ by the meaningless standards of the 21st Century. I cry when I recognize that my own mind built up a bottomless reserve of love and desire for validation from someone who saw me as a stepping stone. And I wonder, beyond the fleeting intoxication of knowing a new person, if romance is anything more than a chemical trick that compels us towards necessary but frustrating teamwork, divvying up duties between hunting and gathering, cooking and building, only for it to crumble when we realize that Walmart has taken care of most of these needs for us and the internet has covered the rest.
And of course, questioning these things aloud pushes us further to the margins of a society that relies upon everyone buying into the illusion. People can read these musings in the privacy of their phones and computers, feel a twinge of relatability, then close the tab and return to a life which rewards those who ask little and give much. They want to lap up your mind in theory and stay far away from you in practice. The world runs on this type of morbid curiosity, which deals in the taboo behind closed doors and maintains a certain civilized veneer in public.
In the endless juggling act between performed likeability and earning a stable support system, it is the most honest who suffer the most. People will always migrate towards the Wagyu steak and shy their eyes away from roadkill or factual reportage about slaughterhouses. The mania of genius is celebrated when it has commercial appeal and punished in the close quarters of daily life.
The concept of reputation is a stifling thing. It suppresses honesty and pushes parents to side against their own children when their ascendency is at stake. The ultimate healing force of nature is that reputation doesn’t get you up the mountain, money doesn’t get you down the river, and the effects of your choices are straightforward enough. For an hour you can stand at an alpine lake and match wits with the cagey trout that survive up there year after year, but you could never survive there through all four seasons. Instead of following fair weather and edible plants across the continent, we get in the cars we have financed and drive back to the apartments we pay rent for every month. Our stressors are not fangs and floods, they are the bills that pile up and the excessive difficulty of trying to believe that striving for someone else’s dream year after year actually matters. I laugh at the scoffing rebuttal to statements like these, because it is only subconscious delusion that pushes the unfeeling bulldozer towards the trees, only some sort of nightmarish emptiness that glosses over traumas as long as there are happy pictures to post on the internet.
When it comes to the mountain goat, he is a bit more honest about his motives and intentions. He will let you get close, knowing confidently that he can escape you on his home turf. He is curious about your presence, but perfectly happy to scramble back up to a full fourteen thousand feet, perched on a boulder during a violent thunderstorm. He is wise to not fear the rain and he is at-ease because he has never heard the one-in-a-trillion headline news about lightning strikes. Besides, if the lightning kills him, he’d never know it.
When the TV is blasting while I am trying to process another day of existing, I notice something about the way so many people feel alone even as every place gets more crowded every day. We drown out our deepest desires with noise and bright lights, and we numb our needs with entertainment. The world gets so loud that nobody can even hear what the other is truly saying. Every time I am stuck in firing range of a television, I am stunned by the sound. The less distracted we are, the less tolerant we become of distractions.