I've read a few of the reviews for the movie, "Into the Wild," which I saw last night. So far I've found only one that highlighted something that was, for me, a really important theme of the movie--and a familiar theme in our most important literature and other arts. That is, how tough our society is for outcasts, outsiders, and people who just plain don't buy into the premises and goals of that society.
Of my boyfriends, my favorite was a man I dated for maybe four years who lived way off the grid. He was the smartest of anybody I ever dated, both in terms of book larnin' and sheer brain power, and he had a college education. But he had no interest--ever--in climbing any kind of ladder except the one he used as a house painter. He was a fascinating fellow--an adventurer who liked to climb glaciers in Canada and go kayaking in Baja, a great conversationalist, a poet, a good friend to his friends, and a, ahem, hell of a lover. But he had no home, no apartment, mostly lived off the kindness of women, lost a couple of modest inheritances by being a fool about money, and was truly paranoid about the U.S. government. A few more inches to the edge and he'd have fallen off of it.
It was hard for him to survive between lovers, because if you can't quite afford a house or apartment, but you're not "homeless" in your own mind, and you don't want to live in your car, or sponge constantly off people, then what do you do for habitat? He needed girlfriends, partly because he loved women, but also so he'd have a place to stay. Even with that kind of help, life was a constant battle of figuring out how to eat, where to live, how to keep his old car running, how to keep clean and dress decently, etc. without getting picked up by the cops, or running into other unfriendly authorities whose job it is to "protect" the rest of us from the likes of him.
I always figured I got a fair shake in my relationship with him, because he was tremendous fun to be with, incredibly attentive, thoughtful, and sensitive, and he urged me into adventures with him. There's a photo of me on a glacier, for instance. . .
As I have from all the men in my life, I learned a lot from him, and I'm grateful. Eventually, he drove me crazy and the trade-off became less attractive, but while it lasted, it was interesting and painful to watch an off-the-grid kinda guy try to survive in this country.
I wish we, as a society, were less judgmental. I wish we were more tolerant of lifestyles that don't do anybody any harm. I wish we cared less about degrees and jobs and salaries and houses in the suburbs.
I wish there were easier places in this country for young men like the one portrayed in the movie, and for ones like the middle-aged man I once loved. But then if there were, we wouldn't have a lot of our most important American mythos, or some of our most important American art, would we? The lives of those men are a pretty high price to pay for it, though.
I guess I want to say. . .send a good thought today to somebody who doesn't do what "everybody" thinks he ought to do. Wish for him today a hot meal, good health, friendly people along his way, and a safe, soft place to rest his head tonight. And if it's a woman you're thinking of, double those kind wishes, because she's going to need them even more than he does.