Monday, January 10, 2005

Random, Passing Thought: The Best Kind of Life

Been listening to William Shatner's Has Been, which is really pretty good. I'll admit right out loud that I'm a fan of Shatner, and not just because of the Capt. Kirk thang. No, he's always seemed to me to have both a fearlessness about his career, and an ability to realize who and what he is in relation to the culture. (His series of "Trek Memories" autobiographies are a hoot.) Yes, Has Been is funny, but intentionally so...or at least intentionally ironically so. Anyway, there's a song called "You'll Have Time" which offers a new twist on the old concept of "Carpe Diem" (which means "Seize the Dazed," as I've come to think of it). The refrain in the tune is, "Why did I waste it, why didn't I taste it?"

The implication, in both the tune and "Carpe Diem," is that you should be hang-gliding nekkid from atop the Opera House in Sydney, Australia while planning your next deep-sea voyage to spelunk in treacherous underwater caves that are home to exotic glowing jellyfish, which you'll photograph and put in your next best-selling coffee table book, which will inspire Pink Floyd to reform simply to produce an "inspired by" soundtrack, causing you to be credited with single-handedly saving the recording industry, meriting a Nobel Prize and a personally autographed picture from Britney Spears whereupon she has scrawled that "You Rock!"

This has always cramped my process because it values X-TREME! Mountain Dew adrenaline experiences over the quiet joys that most of us experience every day. If you have the desire or ability to leap from a snowy cliff with only a parachute, a snowboard, and a power drink clutched in your mutant little fist, somehow it's proffered that you're living a fuller life than the new mother who is taking her wobbly toddler around the block for her first time, or the man who is reading the blog of a kindred spirit, or the child who is watching an ant travel across the back yard.

I dunno. I think when we're lying there, ready to pass - assuming we get the rare experience of foreknowledge thereof, or a relatively painless passing - it might feel more full to have had the companionship of a loving spouse and good friends, happy children, the experience of a few great books, and yes maybe one experience jumping out of a perfectly good airplane just for the hell of it. But I think a chain of dim memories of vast travels, screaming adrenaline overdoses, a cascade of random fucks with nameless strangers just might seem a little thin and pale at the end of a life.

I still like the song, though.


Anonymous said...

True. A life with lots of adrenaline/extreme type experience is not fuller than a life wrapped up in family, scholarship, or whatever quiet pursuit. I would say that 1) the meaning hinges on what the individual in question was really made for; and 2) it shouldn't be either/or - scholars should skydive now and then, and family men should climb mountains once in a while.

I am a regular on rec.climbing, and it seem that every couple months we get a posting like this: "I just turned 40. I've never climbed a real mountain before, and I want to do it before I get too old. Any advice?" A lot of people out there are afraid that "when we're lying there, ready to pass - " that they won't have enough adrenaline overdoses to look back on. Everybody's got to have some of that, and like everything else the exact quantity varies per person.

Just some random comments from a mountaineer who still has a bone stuck in his craw over your review of "Touching the Void" . . . .

Anonymous said...

Yeah, my review of "Touching the Void" was rather snotty. Most humble apologies. Part of it - not that this is an excuse - has a little to do with my living in Colorado. During the warm season (a good 3/4 of our year, here), about every two weeks there's a report on the local news about a couple of people needing rescuing from a mountain climbing trip, or worse, their corpses have to be retrieved. This always makes me lament the ones they've left behind, the rescue workers who have to be put at risk, or the lifetime of disability they have to face (not to mention the expense - we charge rescuees for the service here in CO, as we should). Granted it's a free country and it's their choice, so I wouldn't dream of suggesting that we should somehow control mountain climbing, hangliding, skydiving, and the like. I put someone's choice to do such things way above my curmudgeonly view of their doing it. I'm just one of those oddballs who've never understood why someone would do something very dangerous just for a few kicks. Queue Robert Palmer's "Every Kinda People."

- Yahmdallah

Anonymous said...

For my most recent birthday I received a mix-CD filled with growing old songs, including Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dyin'," which advises us to live as if we were dying. According to Mr. McGraw, living in such a manner requires us, among other things, to go sky diving, rocky mountain climbing and 2.4 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu. I'd rather die.

-- Outer Life (