Tuesday, October 02, 2007

losing caution

We had the opportunity to see Into The Wild this weekend, Penn's latest film based on the book by Jon Krakauer. The movie does a pretty good job of following the book, and from what I understood back when I read it, the book does a pretty good job of following Chris McCandless' life.

And it's already proven controversial in some circles because when we arrived home raving about the movie my mother stopped me short, tsking and frowning over the waste of a life.

What I think she really meant was what an ungrateful little bastard shit who didn't call his parents and went off and acted like a crazy person and still didn't call his parents and what about a real job and a real life and he gave all of that up and then look what happened, what a waste, and he never called his parents. But as one who's become remarkably adept at reading between the tsks I simply left it at that because I knew he was a concept that challenged her belief system so strongly that it was incomprehensible. And besides, he could have called his parents.

Truly bucking the system without a safety net is a terrifying thing. It takes a rare person to destroy all of your possessions and leave off alone trusting the divine to pave the way. And an even rarer person to run screaming headlong into that unknown knowing only that they cannot for one second more try and live a life not meant for them.

I saw Chris full of bravery and truth, a societal madman who knew the secrets we all keep. A being who knew his life didn't fit, knew it was an illusion, and better, he knew what he wanted and decided to pursue it no matter what. While I might disagree with his course of action or the nature of what bound him I cannot disagree with his passion. His ability to go against conventionality allowed him to experience a life that most of us will never experience and consequences be damned, that counts for something.

And it made me wonder what I would do if nothing scared me, if I could put conventionality and fear aside and charge headlong into my passion. Because I know it would mean I was somewhere other than here. I know that for certain and yet I soldier on carrying responsibility and caution and the necessary order of things along with me. And at the same time life doesn't get any longer than it is right this second. It's only shorter tomorrow. It just got a bit shorter while you read this post. A bit shorter again, while I clickety click.

What would you do if nothing scared you?

47 comments:

kristen said...

I wish I could answer that question. I live with so much unfounded fear and worry about the what if's that the concept of being fearless, is something I work on every damn day of my life. I'm getting better, but I've got a long way to go. I will see this movie though, especially because of the fearlessness. I love people that live in this realm.

Lawyer Mama said...

I can honestly say I have no idea. My life, like so many others', is full of responsibility and burdens and fear. I'll think on it....

crazymumma said...

I love everything Sean Penn does so I am really looking forward to this one.

The only thing that scares me is losing my family.
So if the unthinkable happened then I would have no fear and I would go and join them where they had gone.

That sounds really morbid.

But if I had never had a family then if I had no fear, you would probably find me living somewhere hot in semi isolation surrounded by dogs and my artmaking.

or. you might find me in India or Africa.

I dunno. This is a good question. What if we had no fear...

Magpie said...

I don't know. Live more recklessly perhaps. I'm pretty buttoned up, and I could probably stand to have more fun.

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Beck said...

My dad and I read that together, and while I had some of the same thoughts you did - and thought it was a truly tragic book (his poor sister!), my dad shrugged and said "What a fucking asshole."

Mad Hatter said...

I cannot answer that question. My fears define me as much as my fearlessness does.

ewe are here said...

The moments I got married, got pregnant, had children . . . I will never live completely without fear. Losing any of them terrifies me.

QT said...

I loved this book, the New Yorker profile, the Outside magazine articel - you get the picture. So I can't wait for the movie.

I have had a lifelong dream to hike the Appalachian Trail. I should have done it after college, but didn't have the money or the support. Now, I am going to try and do it in sections, but I will be missing out on exactly what you describe.

Have you seen "Swimming to Cambodia" where Spalding Gray (RIP) talks about the "perfect moment" - something you can't plan or expect, an organic experience, where all the societal constructs fall away and there you are, just a person in nature.

I would do much, much more of that if the chains were a bit looser.

Kyla said...

Is it strange that I can't even think that way?

I don't have wanderlust or think too much about the paths not taken. I am here, on this road I've chosen more or less, and mostly I'm happy in it.

I admire it in others, though. So very much.

I do think if I could take a vacation in another life I'd like to be Kat Von D or Tonks from the Harry Potter novels. ;)

Janet said...

I would walk around free of this filter on my mouth that prevents me from sharing controversial opinions or stirring up conflict. I might come across as firm in my convictions and slightly opinionated in some of my blog posts, but when it comes to speaking up for myself in real life, when I have to look someone in the eyes, it's very, very uncomfortable for me.

thailandchani said...

I read that book a few weeks ago and found the whole thing interesting for a variety of reasons.

Being one of those who has ditched it all more than once, I remember the liberation in it.. but also remember how difficult it was to be "caged" again. It does something to a person, that kind of experience.

I wish everyone could experience it.. at least once.

After all, that's exactly what the Buddha did.. walked away from it all. Tenzin Palmo did it and spent a few years in a cave. But then.. there's a difference between being a seeker and an adventurer.

People must be doing this for a reason.

I believe it's inherent.. within us ~ the seeking.


Peace,

~Chani

jennifer said...

I would do what I'm doing... really. I've placed the road less travelled high on my list of priorities, and luckily my husband has to. It is so much harder and scarier with children in tow, but I like to think of my children growing up with horizons that stretch out before them. I like to think of them not feeling confined. My parents gave me the same endless possibilities and follow your dream way of thinking, and I am forever grateful.

Jenny said...

I'd talk to people. And listen.

By the way, I've read about Chris before and I always thought of him as a bit of a hero. Somewhat stupid at times, but a hero nonetheless.

Gwen said...

I am now scared to say that I agree with your Mom ... a little. I think what McCandless had that all of us who are commenting here lack is the freedom that comes with youth and with no responsibility. There's a beauty in freedom, but that wildness comes with a price, with a loneliness. I guess what I learned from McCandless is how much we really do need each other.

In his wildest dreams of how his life would turn out, I don't imagine he thought he'd fail at being free. It's not so much that I think of his life as a waste as I wonder, had he to do it over, if he would make the same choices.

What I'd like to believe is that there's a way to live fully while being responsible and committed to others, while being a part of a greater whole. But I'm a bit of an idealist, so .....

Wayfarer Scientista said...

Hmmm...interesting that they made a movie out of this book. It's interestingas a n Alaskan to hear other people's take on it. I think many Alaskans understand his rebellion from society but have a hard time grasping how woefully little he prepared himself for even the possibility of success. And there is a feeling the romance that has been created around his story will lead to more such deaths. He did indeed have passion. But he was woefully ignorant and unprepared. And that angered a lot of the people who found his body.

painted maypole said...

I don't know this story, I admit, but I think thatif you commit to the right things... there is freedom in that. To not have responsibility at all? I don't think I would like that. To not have responsibility to things that are extraneous and weigh me down... sure, I could be done with that. But to people? To a greater good. To my God? Commitment is a good thing.

jen said...

Gwen, Ewe, I know. Having children does make those restrictions not only necessary, but worthwhile.

Wayfara - i totally thought of you and wondered about that. he did make mistakes, didn't he. i didn't agree with his approach as much as honoring his focus and passion.

At the root of it, life can be long or short - but should be lived. he lived. and it came with consequences.

flutter said...

Well. Fifi wouldn't have to sing for me, that's for sure....

Ally said...

I don't know the answer as to what I'd do. But I will say, I'm starting to ask the same question, and I'm thinking about what it means for me and my life. Thanks for this post, Jen.

Persephone said...

Boy had balls. But you know, what amazed me about the book (I haven't seen the movie) was how it shows how fragile life is - how a few seemingly small choices can mean the difference between life and death. Most of us have more of a buffer than McCandless did. I guess he didn't like life with a buffer.

What would I do if I were completely fearless? Good question. I feel a blog post coming on...

Tabba said...

i've been asking myself that and the answers scare me (just a little)....because it is a life away from here....a life that is not conducive to being a parent or tied down to responsibility.

and that is something i fear to speak of.

i'm holding onto it for a rainy day.... and keeping my fingers crossed that the rainy day comes.

meno said...

What would i do if i were not afraid? Climb more mountains, drink more wine, smoke more cigarettes, drive faster, eat more desserts, have sex with more men, dance in public, tell people off, maybe even kill a few of them.

I think it's a good thing i am afraid.

I'm off to call my mother. But first, some ice cream.

mitzh said...

What would i do if i were not afraid?
Travel the world, live more recklessly and speak what's in my mind more freely.

I should find that book and watch that movie.

Just reading your views about it made me want it so bad... ;D

Jennifer said...

What would I do if I were not afraid? That question haunts me a bit, I must admit. I know that whatever I'd do, it would be with husband and children in tow. It would not mean not being responsible. But, for me, not living in fear is separate from not being responsible to and with those I love. And yes, the idea haunts me...

Amy York said...

I don't know.
I feel like I'm right where I want to be... right where I need to be. If kids and hubby weren't a part of my life, I'd probably join the Peace Corps and try to find a way to make a difference in the world... but honestly, my biggest fear is being alone. Doing what Chris did would be far scarier to me...

Christine said...

life scares the crap out of me.

but if i didn't have fear my hubby and i would take the kids and live oversees for a year or two. first scotland then maybe thailand.

but we are so frickin' cautious it is ridiculous.

sigh.

kaliroz said...

Pulling up roots and coming to grad school scared me, but I did that. Don't know how fruitful it will prove to be, but I did it.

I would drop everything to go volunteer in India or report from Iraq.

If only I didn't have a daughter. I didn't fear things until I had her. And now, more than anything, I fear not watching her grow up.

There are still things I want to do that seem crazy to some .... with her .... they're just not the kind of things that my mother would cluck over. I mean, she'll still cluck, but not quite as loudly I think.

Oh, The Joys said...

You know... mostly, I think I am where I should be doing what I should do.

carrie said...

I bought my brother that book for Christmas years ago and admittedly, I had to sneek read it before I gave it to him. I could not put it down, and since then I've read a lot about the work Sean Penn has been doing with the family to get the story told and all the other issues surrounding the production of Chris' story. I think it is in the right hands.

That being said, I think it's hard to compare my life to his. He didn't have any strings or responsibilities like a marriage and children to think of. He had just himself. But if I could put myself in his shoes . . . I don't know. I'd probably be a philanthropic nomad. That sounds good to me.

Jenn said...

What a great question.

If absolutely nothing scared me?

I'd be scared that I was that type of person. ;)

Then I'd put on my bikini and walk the beach, not concerned at all with my stretch marks and thighs.

Mrs. Chicky said...

I just got the book. I wanted to read it before I saw the movie.

Fear? Fear is what keeps me going. I don't even know what I would do without it. Hmmm...

Bon said...

love the question. and have struggled with it for years...in big ways and small. i've found that leaving it all behind isn't nearly so scary as facing the little fears that manifest as control issues, at least for me.

but then, freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose...and having not started with McCandless' privilege may have been an advantage. and traipsing around the world as an articulate white woman doesn't exactly "leave it all behind" no matter what you do, unless it really is going into the wilderness with a bag of rice, because privilege gets read onto you and hey, some things are easier than they would be if one were travelling in a different skin. or harder. but wherever you go, there you are.

i am now totally rambling...sorry. i guess, if nothing scared me, i'd stay in bed all day.

ephelba said...

Doing something new, maybe something few people would choose- I'm down with that. Deciding all you need to live in the wilderness of Alaska is a bus and a bag of rice is STOOPID. I can't get in on the hype. The man was dumb. (If this is the story I think it is....)

And even going off in the wilderness or deciding to go off the grid is not that earth shattering. It's been done already. Why not make a movie about the people who opt out and succeed? Couldn't we use a lesson in that? Wouldn't somebody who didn't have their head up their nethers when they walked into the woods make a better subject for all the attention?

Sorry to not be all sweetness and light on the subject, but stupid that results in death ticks me off.

The Chick said...

I'm too much of a fraidy cat to even entertain it. I'm intrigued by this film though.

BTW, when was the last time you heard the phrase "fraidy cat". I think I was 9....

FENICLE said...

I have a HUGE fear of heights. But the idea of free-falling sounds so liberating. I'd sky-dive.

Binky said...

If I had no fear I'd write a novel.

Lisa b said...

I try not to think about what if
I try to do the best I can everyday to make a difference.

great post

Sober Briquette said...

I think Painted Maypole has it right. There are things we'd all like to leave behind, but many that we can't or shouldn't. Not everyone's dream would be solitude.

And, like Meno said, if I didn't have restraints (societal, moral), my instincts would not be to the good.

What holds me back is not anything as powerful as fear (this is not easy to admit!), but rather a mixture of comfort, apathy, and the conceit of immortality.

urban-urchin said...

I don't know. Is it fear that stops me from doing certain things or a realization of the reprecussions that I or others would be left with from my actions.

Momish said...

I totally understand. If nothing scared me and I followed my passion, I would be living in the ivory tower of philosophy, pondering dilemmas that have no earthly business and never reach the average human.

And I would love it!

KC said...

I have no idea, really. I am too chock full of fear to separate it from who I am, as sad as that sounds.

I walked Joles home from school today, twitching everytime I heard a noise in the bushes, knowing that a wild dog has been seen in the neighborhood.

Fear lives with me. And I'm okay with that.

Susanne said...

What a question. I know that it is a kind of fear (and not the big existential kind but the many small ones) that holds me back from living my potential.

But on the other hand it might be, as De said, a mixture of apathy and the illusion of immortality.

Karen Forest said...

I never remember a time in my life without fear, therefore I have no idea as to how I would spend it without it.

The concept is too foreign. And unfortunately, my happiness is tied to others.

Karen Forest said...

Let me clarify that last sentence.

It is only unfortunate because it is out of my control.

(And that is scary...)

Vicious circle, huh?

mamacita said...

I am afraid of 1) poverty, and 2) loneliness.

If I were fearless, I would offer my professional services to children free of charge. And I would extend myself to other people, even though I'm almost afraid of rejection as I am of loneliness.

The Expatriate Chef said...

To be fearless, and I have been, I had to have nothing left to lose. Now, I have a beautiful child who is everything, and everything I do not want to lose. So, I have fears. I have love, tho, the greatest love, and it's worth it all.