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To wander… is to live? Or: 2827.43 square miles 5 May 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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I started packing a week ago, eventually stripping my walls of posters: the collage of ski maps came down without any fanfare, no eulogy for A-Basin and Vail and Brighton and all the rest that hung there as I drifted off to sleep. Teenage girls doze to David Beckham, but for six months, I fantasized about fresh powder, the next untracked run, the opportunity of the West.

Friends, family and Vail Resorts guests had all heard that these months spent in the pursuit and attainment of happiness constituted my mental decompression after college. I’d spent 18 years in school fearing an A-, and when the Peace Corps fell through in October, the trajectory I’d plotted since high school left me hanging like Wile E. Coyote, 47 feet over the edge of the cliff. Cue the double-take. But the thousand-foot freefall never followed.

To be sure, I’d worried it would: six-months as a ski bum would render a WM degree useless. Prospective employers would read “squandered potential” not “vacation coordinator” as the first line on my resume. And then I arrived in Colorado. I began to meet people, to experience a life unmoored from expectation. The possibility of it. Adrift.

This morning turned up an article on the predictability of human behavior, that triangulation of cell phone signals indicated their users rarely ventured more than thirty miles from their houses. Work, food, home, rec center–sometimes. The patterns remained the same. The average cell phone user, we discovered, was not Carmen San Diego. Far from it. She lived in a 2827.43 square mile bubble. The Truman Show, creepy as it was, came closest to mapping the extent of our lives.

So what would it mean to press against the confines of our bubbly pen? To wander, as wayfarers in life. To watch the sunsets from one thousand different peaks and one thousand different beaches. The salty, piney air alive and for those last gleaming moments, ourselves as well… living well beyond the humdrum. These are the possibilities held just outside the reach of expectation. The study abroad semester? The European vacation? Forms and shells, already freighted with the anticipation of a “cultural experience,” narratives for the most part written before they begin. Like Mad Libs. Are we really the richer for that?

No, that’s bad form, to make a point with a question. I’ll restate it: we are the poorer for the eventual fulfillment of those narratives. At every turn, the student abroad wonders, “Is this it? Is this the authentic experience? Have I really achieved whatever I came here seeking?” And maybe at some point, rounding the corner the student will run across a local doing something peculiarly local, say putting out a tin of milk for the cats, and the student will have discovered… something. That is, until the window next door reveals a young man playing World of Warcraft. Such is the evanescence  of perfection.

But to wander, without expectation… I’m not sure. Can we ever again approach the world as a child might, in awe of even the most mundane? Wandering seems to offer that possibility because of its disjunction from seeking. The narrative of fulfillment disappears and life’s experience washes by. We are left free to roam and discover without the need to prove their worth through anecdote and observation.

We won’t find the end in the experience, since that entails events already assimilated, but in the ongoing process “getting experience.” I make a subtle distinction, to be sure, yet consider the difference between someone content to experience new things and a collector of experiences. The latter expresses a desire to talk about having done X. “I need to be able to say I climbed a fourteener” etc. The former, though, lives in the present. Lives. Right. Now.

Even after six months as a ski bum, I still can’t say I lived that way for more than the briefest of moments. But I’d like to try. I’d like to wander.

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