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Sweetie and I watched the movie “Into the Wild” a little bit ago.  It got me thinking about a lot of things.  Then, someone commented on an old blog of mine, and it stirred up the thoughts even more.  I wrote this observation:

“I think some people want to be understood. In that case, they may need a good, non-judgmental ear. I have found, in my life, once I stopped focusing so hard on myself and feeling so isolated and incomprehensible, it was ok to let people understand who I really am.”

I felt I wanted to follow up my own thoughts on the movie and expound on these thoughts.  I’m trying to write without rambling for 26 pages.  Let’s see if I can do it.

Spoiler Alert:

If you want to see the movie and want no spoilers whatsoever, you should stop reading.  I don’t think I can write what I want to write without talking about important parts of the movie.  Consider this your spoiler alert.

Basically, this kid leaves home to wander the country for a couple of years with little to no money.  He lives off of odd jobs, the kindness of strangers, and (in the wilds of Alaska) off his own hunting and gathering skills.  This is what the IMDB summary says:

Based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life.

That sounded intriguing to me.  Of course, that is not the full story.  What you learn while watching the movie is – –  he was estranged from his family and never told them where he was during his travels. He lied to the people he met about his identity and his background.  And ultimately (end-of-movie spoiler here), he dies in the wilderness in Alaska.  Unknown and disputed is how exactly he died – did he eat a poisonous plant or just starve to death?  Also unknown were his motivations at the end – did he go to Alaska to die purposefully, or was he really ready to go back home/into civilization?  How bad was his upbringing?  Don’t know.

This is not a commentary on this kid’s life.  There has been a lot of comments made about his own motivations and behavior.  Was he selfish? Was he arrogant?  I don’t know.  I just watched a movie.  I didn’t know the kid.  What I am commenting on are very universal human behaviors that this movie made me think about. 

I started thinking about things like emotional pain, self-absorption, truth, alienation, and communication.  And I thought of a couple of universal behaviors:

People don’t see what they don’t want to see. 

And. 

Too often, people tragically become what they dislike.

This kid said he was looking for truth.  Truth was the highest ideal, the most important thing to him.  His parents had lied to him and that was bad.   But, apparently, truth is all relative.  He wanted truth because his father lied to him.  But what does he do?  He lies.  He lies about his name.  About his family.  About why he ran away from home.  He met people along the way who cared about him and felt somewhat responsible for him (by helping him out).  And he lied to them.  But he never seemed to realize that one particular truth about himself. Or maybe, he saw things in such degrees of gray that his lies were ok. 

His parents inflicted emotional harm on him.  The film never shows him being physically beaten, so let’s just stick with emotional harm.  Which, as most of us know can be as, or more damaging, than physical.  I had a friend who was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder as an adult due to the abuse she suffered from her mother as a child, and it wasn’t physical abuse.  The wounds of the psyche take a long time to heal.  You would think that the children of abusers would be the last people on earth who would abuse another.  But, sadly, human experience shows this is not true.  Some learn to equate abuse with love and, in some warped sense of logic, abuse their own children.  This kid inflicted all sorts of emotional pain on the people around him in the name of “truth.”  Was he being true to himself?  Yes.  But, did he even take the time to acknowledge other people’s pain?  No.  And that is what bugged me.  He didn’t have to stay in Slab City with Jan and Rainey.  He didn’t have to agree to be adopted by Franz  (especially since his parents were still quite alive).  But he didn’t even look hard enough to recognize the pain that his actions caused on these people.  To say “I’m sorry I have to do this for myself, but I do care for you.”  Maybe he did in real life.  But again, I think this behavior is universal.  I was thinking, after I watched, this is universal in young people who are so tuned into their own selves.

He didn’t listen well enough to recognize the pain that Jan was sharing with him about her own son.  I don’t think she was trying to use Chris as a surrogate for her own son.  But, as a young kid who was doing the same thing, would it have killed him to say one encouraging thing to her?  And would it have destroyed him if he had shared his own tale of pain and abuse with others?  Did he just like giving the impression that he was a Zen-like, totally together, relaxed dude to other people? I don’t think so.  I think he honestly felt like his pain was too great and too embarrassing to share.  Though I don’t understand how, in the year 1992, being an illegitimate offspring can be that devastating.  Hello?  Was it 1882?  No.  It was 1992.  Not a nice thing to find out, but not something that would destroy your future in this country.

And that leads to the other universal behavior this kid displayed:

Self-absorption is a black hole

Ultimately, self-absorption can lead to your own destruction, and that is one of the most selfish things a person can do (which is what self-absorption is all about…….I know…..duh).  Does every human have that right to destroy him/herself?  Notwithstanding the will of God, yes (But there is a reason that suicide is classified as a mortal sin. And if you think that isn’t a grave matter for Christians, consider the fact that I may not have survived my teenage years if the idea of that mortal sin didn’t scare the beejeebies out of me.  Which, yes,  goes a long way towards proving Umberto Eco’s point of the church exerting control over its parishioners, but that is a long discussion for another day).

I’m not saying people are not entitled to some self-pitying moments.  Of course that will happen.  I’m not even saying that most people don’t recognize this behavior in themselves.  Including me.  We see it.  We know it.  We are not stupid. 

So, what are some solutions to these problems??  I came up with four ideas (Just ideas.  As the saying goes in Dogma: “It’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier”): 

Experience.  Brain chemistry.  Discipline.  Communication. 

How am I qualified to share this with you? I’m not.  Too bad.  I’m writing anyway.  That’s what we writers do. 

#1. Experience:  I think, the more you experience life and learn about other people’s experiences, the more you can put your own troubles in perspective.  Unfortunately, the only way that can happen is if you live long enough to learn about other people, other places, other experiences.  Whether by choice or not, Chris didn’t have enough time to learn perspective.  And he wasn’t listening enough to the people around him who were trying to offer him some.  But I think most of us, if we look, will find there are people in our lives who can offer perspective.  My father was vital at this for me after I went away to college and learned to appreciate his long, often rambling lectures.

Because, #2.  I think brain chemistry plays a huge part.  Perhaps the biggest part.  My buddy years ago (oops – I moved that story to the end.  Sorry) went through a lot of shit, yes.  But it was shit that other people have been able to get through.  It was stuff he was already in counseling for and was trying to work through.  But, for all his self-discipline and attempts to help himself, I don’t think he could overcome some basic short-circuiting in his brain.  For that, he needed some medical help, and I don’t think it was a cop out for him to submit to it.  Sometimes, those misfires in our brain can overwhelm everything else.  Never underestimate that, or think that you know yourself well enough to know what all the neurons and chemicals in your body are telling each other.  I don’t see it as a weakness.  It is a simple physiological fact of life.

#s 3 and 4.  Discipline and communication. 

I think of the scene in “Moonlight and Valentino” when Sylvie yells at Rebecca”  “Your time of self-absorption is up!!”

Wow.  That was tough.  Did Rebecca have an incredibly tragic reason to be self-absorbed?  Yes.  Was Sylvie correct though?  Probably, yes.  This is not to say that people don’t have reasons to be tragic.  But what was the harsh truth that Sylvie was pointing out?

There comes a time when we need to stop being dominated by those little and big tragedies in our lives.  Not forget them all.  As I pointed out, Tears for Fears has one of the best lines ever in “I believe there are wounds time can’t heal”.  But, the way the movie showed it, this kid could not stop dwelling on the bad things in his family life.  Forget about the fact he said he loved his sister, but then left her alone with the parents he despised. 

I think there comes a point you have to learn how to make friends with your ghosts (I hate to point out another movie reference, but this reminds me of a powerful scene in Uncommon Valor).  It’s easier to deal with your own demons when you learn to recognize that your human existence is not unique in the world.  We have many wonderful things that make each of us special.  We don’t need our tragedies and foibles to define how others see us.  Because, as you also learn as you get older, most people have seen similar things, and it’s not really a big deal.  Not to them anyway.  Wow.  That was a tough one for me at first.  But after the shock, it was the best realization of my life.  I’ve said it before.  Initially, this is a harsh reality.  But once I finally got used to the idea, it offered a refreshing release from my own demons.  I’m not so damaged that anyone would be shocked to know about me!

Unfortunately, just like treatment for substance abuse, working to heal oneself doesn’t succeed until the person in pain recognizes the problems and……seeks help.  Vital point.  For me, it was as simple as learning some basic skills.  I was great for years at recognizing and self-analyzing my own problems.  Was I good at overcoming them?  No.  Not until I learned how to communicate with others.  Not until I learned to stop despising simple things like crying and talking honestly to other people.  Wow.  What a realization.  It was hard to come by.  It was hard to overcome them.  I had to – sometimes still have to – exert a lot of effort and discipline to overcome my old tendencies and to let myself cry (though my husband would be surprised to hear this).  To reach out to other people for help.  To offer up my own open ears and heart to other people.  You would think that would be easy.  Sometimes, it’s the hardest thing in the world.  But, if you are the kind of person who relies on others, as Rebecca relied on Sylvie’s friendship, you owe it to other people to sometimes be a giver instead of a taker. 

Using that logic (back to the movie), did Chris need to snap out of it since he made a decision for himself to be on his own and not rely on anyone else?  Of course he did.  He needed to snap out of it for the sake of his own life, which was promising and which he could have used for many things…..to promote wilderness issues, or to write a book to share the truths he worked so hard to learn.  The movie did make it seem like this is exactly what happened.  That he had an awakening moment.  He dried his tears and he set out to leave the wild.  He was stymied by a raging river and he didn’t know that he needed to walk just a little ways down the river to find a path out.  Then, it was too late. 

And maybe that is the point of the movie.  Figure it out before it is too late.  Or, figure it out in slightly less isolated surroundings. ??  With a telephone and food around.  I wish that kid had the opportunity to take what he learned in the wilderness and leave more than just a few scribblings in book margins and boards and old paper. 

Why do I get so worked up about it?  Maybe because of a bad experience I had years ago being smack dab in the middle of a good friend’s suicide attempt.  I can tell you that brought a lot of esoteric, philosophical, high-falutin’ concepts into stark harsh reality for me.  It was real.  It was scary.  It was something I was completely not qualified to deal with.  And it left me knowing that I never wanted to see someone fall that far over the edge again.  Maybe I get worked up because I have spent so much of my own time working my ass off to try and improve my own emotional outlook.  Or maybe because, cynical old cuss that I am, I just want people to be more happy.  I know I’ve probably set a record for rambling but, of course, writing things out helps me process my own thoughts.  And since I started sharing them a little, I thought I might as well finish the thought.  I can offer no other justification than that.  Thank you for indulging me.  And to paraphrase Saturn, you get a big cookie if you managed to read through this whole thing.

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Why is it that….

ok, explain this one to me – you have a fitted sheet for your bed. This is the one that goes on the bottom that is elasticy and it fits the mattress and doesn’t move around (for you guys who have never made a bed. ha! sorry).

Unless your bed is perfectly square, your mattress – and your fitted sheet – is longer on one side than the other.

So, there you stand….with fresh sheets….ready to make your bed….and you got a fitted sheet in your hand. And you have a mattress. Sheet. Mattress. Four sides. Four corners. You grab a corner of your fitted sheet, you aim for a corner of your mattress. You slip it on. You pull the side to the other corner.

Four corners. Four sides. Two sides lengthwise. Two sides widthwise. Statistically speaking (which I hate doing – having almost flunked upper level stats in college), you have a 50-50 chance of matching up the right corner of your sheet to the correct corner of the bed.

50-50. 50%. A one in two chance of success.

Why is it that, in all my days and years of making a bed – I NEVER MATCH THE RIGHT CORNERS?! Never. Not ever. Even when I stretch the sheet out to gage which is the long side. Even when I reach for the corner of the mattress and think “Uhh ohhh…you’ve made the wrong choice! Abort mission! Re-start! Re-do! Computer, end program!” and I switch corners…..only to be wrong AGAIN. I’m always wrong. Why is that?

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I think that, sometimes, I become too attached to things. Things, such as ideas that I have. And things, such as physical objects. How do I know the second is true?

 

I have a house-full of “stuff” in Maui, half a room-full of “stuff” at my mom’s, and an entire rented storage container of “stuff” waiting for me (plus one couch that my future MIL (mom-in-law) is holding for me). Yeah….it’s hard for me to let go of stuff.

 

The Dalai Lama, on his own website, says the following about attachment:

 

According to Buddhist psychology, most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities. The pursuit of the objects of our desire and attachment involves the use of aggression and competitiveness as supposedly efficacious instruments.

 The Dalai Lama talks about attachment quite a bit. I should think about it more myself. I think too much attachment to stuff, including my own brain-full of notions, is sometimes detrimental.

 

Why do I think about this now? My nephews were playing in my mom’s house tonight before dinner and broke one of Mom’s Hummels. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but my mom is not one of those people that has dozens of Hummels lined up on every inch of flat surface in her house. She only has a small handful, and two of them were from her mother. It was one of those moments where I could see it happening across the room and knew there was no way I could leap across a table, two chairs, and a piano bench in time to stop it.

 

It was a sad thing. But you know, I think I was more upset about it than Mom was. Maybe because of her typical low-key reaction to things. Maybe because, as she said later, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” And maybe because Mom just doesn’t get as attached to “stuff” as I do.

 

My nephews were upset also. But what happened was truly an accident, and they weren’t really playing in a manner that is not allowable in the house. It was just an accident. And here’s where a good example came in. My Big Sis handled it like a pro. Which, hey, I think she is. She’s been a mom long enough to know when something bad is an accident versus when she needs to really get to the bottom of what her kids are doing. Despite having something hot on the stove, and having me sitting on the floor lamenting the headless Hummel, she handled the situation calmly and finished making dinner. She knew the boys understood something wrong had happened – there was nothing she could add to that feeling. And she knew nothing had happened out of ill intent. She didn’t lash out at the boys, or even at me for sitting on the floor like a lump. Our mom didn’t lash out at anybody or even ask who was responsible or how it happened. She just said “Well, let’s glue it back together.” And I think both moms were very Dalai-Lama-like tonight by their patience, calm, and compassion. The moment of stunned silence around the broken figurine probably gave my sister enough time to say a prayer to help her. A few extra moments gave me enough time to try and re-engage my oldest nephew who still looked crestfallen about the whole thing. I wish I had been able to gather myself as quickly as my Big Sis did (although she did scald herself cooking, so maybe she wasn’t as composed as she looked). But, I’m trying.

Tonight, Mom and I watched the news about a big fire up near Lake Tahoe. By 11:00 p.m., over 150 homes had been destroyed in this fire. I thought how much worse that would feel than just losing one family keepsake. But then I thought about how miserable I would feel if my own home were completely destroyed. While I don’t think I’d be too off the mark to be sad about something like that, I still need to learn more about letting go of some of my attachments. I won’t even get into the problems that come about because I’ve become too attached to an idea in my head. It’s generated more arguments (many with my patient Sweetie) than I can count. And it often comes down to, I need to let things go sometimes. Hopefully, with more study, lots more prayer, and more good examples in my life, I can improve on that. Maybe. Someday?

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Are you surprised, sometimes, by the things that people *don’t*hear?

 

It’s why I hate it when people walk past you and say “How are you?” without slowing their gait or even looking at your face. It’s why I avoid asking people this question if I don’t have time to hear the answer. What’s the point really, if there is no real interest behind the question? I don’t need people to feign politeness for my behalf. If you’re busy or distracted, that doesn’t usually bother me. I’d rather know that up front.

 

Sometimes, in conversations with friends, we say things to each other that never really register with the other person. Oftentimes, it’s something that is less-than-positive with regards to ourselves. But do you ever walk away, or hang up a phone thinking that part of the conversation was inadvertently screened out by the other person? Like you had two completely different conversations?

 

There are several reasons. Sometimes, someone is genuinely distracted and just doesn’t hear. I’ve had that experience when even a good friend will ask “How are you?” and I express something negative. She told me that was great, until she caught herself and realized I didn’t say anything good, let alone great.

 

Other times, people are so caught up in their own negatives that they filter out everyone else’s bads because they have too much on their plate. Or they think they do. They listen to what you have to say, then wander off the subject and never return. Having spent years living with other women, I find this to be the case many, many times. We are very supportive of each other when our own plates are clear. But once we feel that our negatives outweigh someone else’s, we sometimes just tune out. Not that we don’t care. We just feel that our own problems are more pressing.

 

Other times, it seems that people have an opinion of your situation, and their outlook is much more rosy. I’ve said the same bad thing over and over to people and have had them say “Oh, but [the situation] is just fine.” They have determined that the situation *is* fine, and nothing I say about it will sway them. Or really, maybe they desperately want it to be fine because any alternative is much too complex to deal with. That’s a tough one. I’ve been in that situation, and sometimes I have helped a good friend face a hard problem head-on. Even if it meant literally weeks and months of working it out. Sometimes, I’ve tried to make myself scarce, thinking “I don’t know how to make this person feel better, and there may be someone better able to help.” Is that a little chicken-shit of me? Yes, I’ve had those moments. And sometimes I’ve been an idiot and completely missed that there was a problem at all. Ack!

 

What’s a good solution? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve had situations where I feel that my own plate is too full and I know I am less responsive to other people. Sometimes, I find it’s best to avoid everyone for a while to recharge my own batteries. I know my own fuse is short or my own attention is distracted. Because, when I am talking to someone I care about, I try my hardest to actually listen to what he or she is saying (unless, of course, I’m calling to tell them something really really bad). I admit all the time if I am helpless to offer much in the way of advice, but I still try and listen. It somewhat amuses me that some people sometimes do not hear what I say out loud.

 

Oh wait. That’s not amusement I was feeling…

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