About the Experiment

Friday, May 27, 2016

Out of the Wild - Part 2

(Continued from Part 1

In 2012 I moved into my own apartment in Los Angeles.  After subletting and staying in other people’s homes for years, I finally had a space I could make a home.  I got the keys to apartment 206 on my 26th birthday, and it felt like I was in the right place at the right time.  It took a while for me to really unpack my things, and I still kept my camping gear in my car for a while.  Whenever I saw coyotes on my street it felt comforting, like I wasn’t the only wild animal in the city. 

Next week I'll turn 30 and will have lived in the same apartment for four years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I was in elementary school.  I made a list of 30 things I wanted to do before I turned 30 and a few weeks ago I crossed off “Visit the Salton Sea/Salvation Mountain/Slab City.”  The Salton Sea is a man-made lake south-east of Los Angeles (near Coachella), Salvation Mountain is a surreal monument to Universal Love and Jesus made by a man named Leonard Knight.  Slab City is a makeshift community of snowbirds, hippies and squatters nicknamed “The Last Free Place.”  Salvation Mountain and Slab City are featured in the film Into the Wild, Chris really spent time there and met Leonard Knight.

I’d been trying to get to Slab City for years and thought I would really like it there, perhaps even feel at home.  I didn’t realize how strange it might seem that I expected to feel at home in a post-apocalyptic wasteland until I was there with a friend who well…didn’t know about that part of my life.  Slab City is like Burning Man (yes, I’ve been) all year round, except no one was friendly.  And I expected to feel at home there…?  We explored a sculpture garden in East Jesus (an artist community within Slab City) and dug the art, but after that we were pretty glad to leave.  We drove to Joshua Tree and thankfully found a spot to camp.

I tried to explain to my friend why I expected to feel a connection to Slab City, the Chris McCandless story and my post-apocalyptic past, but was struggling to understand all of it myself.  I had grown, I had changed.  I stayed in one place for four years, I’ve lived in a city for four years.  I am no longer that wild animal, I’ve been domesticated.  I’d often joked about my domestication, but now it was staring me in the face and I wasn’t laughing.  I love my apartment, I'm glad I've been able to stay in one place, but it’s strange to be able to see a chapter closing in your life.  I felt it at 25 in Montana, as I knew my Vagabond Years were coming to a close.  But now, turning 30 felt like turning a corner and I felt a bit afraid that I don’t know what is around that corner. 

When I got home I got out my copy of Into the Wild and was surprised the things that jumped out at me.  How many people cared about Chris, wanted to help him with money/gear/transportation/emotional support, how strongly he rejected all of it and how much that hurt the people who wanted to help.  The fact that I’m sort of sad I never hopped freight trains like Chris did (and Kerouac, and many others) but also that I’m probably very glad I never did.  And that after two months in the wild, Chris had decided to return to society but was unable to cross the Teklanika River and went back to the Magic Bus.  I realized that if Chris had been about to walk out of the wild at 24, at 29 he might have felt a lot of the same things I’m feeling now. 

I've sometimes worried that the adventures of my 20's made me less date-able.  Guys often say they want someone to go on adventures with, but they aren't necessarily excited about a woman who has had a many adventures of her own.  There's a long history of men vagabonding/adventuring to find themselves, far fewer stories of women doing the same (which is part of why I loved the movie Wild, about Cheryl Strayed's trek on the Pacific Crest Trail).  But especially as I'm getting into my 30's, I'm trying to own my stories.  If someone is going to take issue with adventures from my past, they're probably not someone I want in my future.  

During my Vagabond Years when I needed strength I would say to myself, I’m ten feet tall and made of steel, and would repeat it until I found the strength/calm/nerve I needed.  In 2010 I took a solo road trip around the Southern US, starting in Austin, TX where I was living at the time.  I was 24, my life had just imploded, and I was trying to figure out what direction to go in.  I spent a lot of that trip crying, driving through the tears, and chanting to myself: I’m ten feet tall and made of steel, I’m ten feet tall and made of steel. Some say that young people feel invincible, I don’t think I innately felt invincible but was trying to convince myself that I was.  Walking toward 30, I am no longer trying to be ten feet tall and made of steel.  I am human, imperfect, vulnerable, and wonderfully so. 

No comments:

Post a Comment