Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Into the Wild, Damn Him


I am very angry with Christopher Johnson McCandless. Very angry indeed.

You see, he pulled me into his life and made his cheerleader, his champion, his mother and his friend. He made me care about him. And then he died.

The official cause of death is listed as starvation, but if you ask me, the real culprit was stupidity. Well, perhaps I can more kindly attribute it to naivete and recklessness. After all...we were all 23 once, and who among us did not do incredibly foolhardy things at 23?

But still...he had so much going for him and he pissed it away. The waste is too much for a mother to bear, even if he wasn't my child. I can't imagine how his own mother must feel, knowing all that he could have been.

How do you make peace with that, as a parent?

I're asking yourself, Who is Christopher Johnson McCandless?

Christopher Johnson McCandless was a 23 year old Emory University Graduate whose life was the basis for the 2007 movie "Into the Wild." After graduation, he divested himself of all his worldy posessions, including $24,000 in cash that was earmarked for law school, and disappeared.

His parents mounted a search, of course...what parents wouldn't? They did not find McCandless, but they did find several very significant clues that led them to the realization that his vanishing act had been purposeful and well planned.

He was contemptuous of the materialism, consumerism, and all the other isms that contemporary society had imposed upon him and so, he decided to leave them all behind.

I can appreciate that. Who doesn't get weary of the rat race from time to time? Who can't appreciate the allure of being free of all the societal restraints and underpinnings that bog us down, drag us under and hold us hostage?

Sometimes, I think that Randy Weaver had the right idea when he absconded to Ruby Ridge. know...the dealing in illegal arms and killing and dying part, but the retreating from society part. The living off the land part. The communing and being one with nature part. The not consuming earth's precious resources part. The not being plugged in, turned on and tuned out, part.

I always felt kind of sorry for Randy Weaver for how all that turned out. I mean, I know he was a criminal and a racist, but the way that all went down was really reprehensible. His kids and his wife didn't have to die.

But I digress.

Christopher Johnson McCandless adopted the moniker "Alexander Supertramp" and traversed the country on a remarkable journey of self-discovery, existential realization, and emotional growth. He met amazing people, he saw amazing things.

What a story, man. What a an incredible, freaking experience. Most of us will never get the opportunity to do what he did, for various reasons.

Near the end of his journey, he decided to retreat from society completely rather than just living on the fringe. So he headed to Alaksa, toward some of the most wild and unforgiving terrain in the U.S. to try his hand at living off the land.

That's not the stupid part. That's really kind of cool, and you have to appreciate the sheer unmitigated testicular gigantism that it takes to do such a thing.

But the kid did not make even the most basic preparations, or equip himself with the most basic equipment necessary to undertake such a journey.

A man named John Gallien, who dropped McCandless off at the head of the Stampede Trail in April 1992, begged him to reconsider, or at least defer his trip until he could better prepare for such a grueling excursion. McCandless refused, but accepted the gift of a pair of rubber boots from Gallien.

Later, Gallien told investigators that all McCandless had with him was a 10 pound bag of rice, a .22 rifle, a book on local plant life, several other books, and some basic camping equipment.

He didn't have a compass or a detailed topographical map of the area, which would prove to be a fatal mistake.

He found an abandonded bus and set up camp. There he lived in Thoreau like solitude for several months. But it wasn't quite as idyllic or as easy as he had anticipated. In July, starving, ill, lonely and defeated, he decided his journey had come to an end, and tried to hike back to civilization.

What he hadn't considered, was that the spring thaw had caused the Teklanika River, which he had forded easily in April, to swell and swiften. His escape route was impassible. And I think that's when he began to realize he was doomed. He headed back to the "Magic Bus" and I think, gave up.

As I watched the movie, I was unaware of his fate, having never heard of Christopher Johnson McCandless before. And I kept hoping for his salvation, never, ever believing that the life of this brilliant, courageous, beautiful and stupid young man, would end in such ignoble inconsequence.

He died in that bus. Alone. And let me tell you something...I was really pissed off at him.

How would his parents ever know what happened to him? What about the people he touched along the way, who cared about him and whom expected their lives to intersect again someday? Who would tell his story? How would the world ever know that near the end, he had realized..."Happiness only real when shared".

SIGH. It really upset me. Especially after I later found out that there was a hand operated tram 1/4 mile upriver from where he attempted to cross. He would have known that, had he equipped himself with a detailed map, or done a thorough reconaissance of the area.

I don't often react that strongly to movies, but I suppose, it was just a glaring reminder that my own son is poised on the brink of manhood. And though perhaps becoming physically mature, will take a long time to grow into the man he is destined to be. And that along the way, he will make a lot of mistakes, any one of which, could result in him being taken from me.

One wrong move, one detour, one foolish decision..or...even just the whims of fate...could end his life.

My husband almost killed himself when he was 17 years old. He had a souped up Camaro with an engine far too powerful for a smug little 17 year old pissante. He wrapped it around a tree, airborne at 100 miles an hour.

I think when at last he was fully recovered, his mother was sorely tempted to end his life herself.

The stupidity, the invincibility, the sheer arrogance and ignorance and idealism and bravado....God. It's a wonder that ANY of us make it to adulthood.

And now I have to watch my boys do all the foolish things I did. Worse, I have to let them do it. Because if I don't, they will resent me and perhaps, as Christopher Johnson McCandless did to his parents, turn their backs on everything I have tried to give them.

So anyway...I was angry with Christopher McCandless. For dying, for wasting his life, his brilliance and all his gifts, but probably, most profoundly, for making me afraid.

I'm still angry with him. Maybe he was the one who could have found a cure for cancer, or invented a time machine, or brought peace to warring nations. Who knows?

The really disturbing thing is that he is being idolized and deified for his actions. How many young men, intrigued by the romance of McCandless' journey, will follow in his footsteps?

Alaskan Park Ranger Peter Christian has said "I am exposed continually to what I will call the ‘McCandless Phenomenon.’ People, nearly always young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are practically nonexistent. When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail without even a map of the area. If he [had] had a good map he could have walked out of his predicament. Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide."

Christopher Johnson McCandless's final written words were,

"I have had a happy life, and thank the Lord. Good Bye and may God bless all."

They were written on the backside of a page he had torn from a book. The page contained an excerpt from the poem "Wise Men In Their Bad Hours" by Robinson Jeffrers.

Death's a fierce meadowlark: but to die having made
Something more equal to centuries
Than muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness.
The mountains are dead stone, the people
Admire or hate their stature, their insolent quietness,
The mountains are not softened or troubled
And a few dead men's thoughts have the same temper

Damn. What a waste.


  • At 11:56 AM, Blogger Avalon said…

    I tend, very much to agree with the Park Ranger.It may seem heartless, but having a few family members as the ones responsible for rescuing these " cool" young people, or being responsible for breaking the devastating news to their tormented parents........I see not a single hint of "testicular gigantism" in what they do.

    They are young, obviously immature and foolish, but most of all.....they are selfish.

  • At 12:17 PM, Blogger Natalie said…

    I have many friends who have decided to up and move to Alaska but they educate themselves. Two work on the fishing boats (a la deadliest catch) and one of them also trains dogs (he came in 12th in the Iditarod one year) and the other went to train dogs at a ranch for a year. I have been planning to see this film but I knew what happened so it would have been no surprise.

  • At 1:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Not directly related, but have you read *The Solitude of Thomas Cage*?

  • At 2:40 PM, Blogger Lara said…

    yeah, when i taught american lit we actually read the book along with our study of transcendentalism, to debate whether mccandless was a modern-day thoreau or not. after studying the book, i definitely had to see the movie. i'm firmly in the camp of, "what a stupid kid." killed himself for no good reason whatsoever.

    besides, for all of thoreau's "solitude" in walden, he went to town once a week and regularly had friends over for tea. mccandless should have followed THAT example.

  • At 2:57 PM, Blogger Jill said…

    I felt the same way after watching that film... broke me up... and made me look at my son in a different light. The movie was brutally honest. And very hard to watch. And some day, when it isn't so close to my heart as it still is, 2 months after seeing the film, I will read the book.

  • At 7:14 PM, Blogger The Reluctant New Yorker said…

    I really loved this book, and was rooting for this kid all the way through. But in the end, he just broke my heart. What a stupid waste.

  • At 9:31 PM, Blogger All Things BD said…

    I read the book and tried with all my might to come to some kind of understanding of what McCandless was trying to do.

    All I felt was sorrow for his family and anger at his ill-preparedness.

    What a waste.

  • At 12:51 AM, Blogger Tracey said…

    I knew how it ended as I was watching it with my husband, who didn't know.

    We agreed that he was tempting death. Teasing it, daring it, trying to see how near he could bring it without actually succombing.

    Well. He lost. And it pissed me off, too.

    ALL he would have had to do were the basic preparations!! Just a bit of training, instead of reading in a book, on how to skin and cure an animal. Just the basic TRAINING on wild vegetation!! Bringing some freaking seeds, for cryin out loud!!

    Anyway. I'm getting all riled up...

  • At 6:29 AM, Blogger womaninawindow said…

    I don't know. I haven't read the book and I haven't watched the movie but I recognize that this kid is maybe just a hyper exagerated version of many of those years...I did some pretty stupid things. Like, REALLY stupid. I tempted fate in a lot of different countries alone and now look at a town of 500 with 2 kids and no rubber boots. Sometimes it might just be something we (stupid) kids have to go through. But as a mother, I agree, I'll fight the stupidity with early conditioning and then later with wide open arms (and the lure of home baking.) That is one beautiful man there beside the bus. I am sorry he's gone. I wonder if we ever would have been 'blessed' with his tale if he would have been ordinary. Thanks for interesting...My husband asked me if I ever learn anything from blogging/ers. I think maybe I do.

  • At 2:01 PM, Blogger jess said…

    Well said. Hindsight it always 20/20. If only he had been a little wiser. The book is also very good and (though I haven't seen the movie) I think it gives a better idea of his motivations.

  • At 5:19 PM, Blogger nina said…

    I felt very empty after seeing the movie. I couldn't decide whether i was sad or angry.

  • At 9:57 PM, Blogger Shelley said…

    I rented this movie a couple of weeks ago, and empty is a good way to describe how I felt after watching it. Empty and depressed. It's frustrating to know that so many, many things could have saved him (knowing how to preserve meat, using the fishing pole he had, knowing about the tram, etc) Had he done a better job of preparing/equiping himself, he'd most likely be alive today. But at 23, we were all invincible, weren't we?

  • At 11:27 PM, Blogger Major Bedhead said…

    I haven't seen the movie, but I read the book, and yeah, pissed off is a good description. I felt the same way about Timothy Treadwell, the bear guy, who was killed, along with his girlfriend, by a grizzly (or two).

    I have a son who's 20 and when I read things like Into The Wild, I'm glad he's a homebody who doesn't like to take too many chances.

  • At 7:26 AM, Blogger Bea said…

    I haven't read the book or seen the movie, so my only exposure to McCandless's story is this post. And I have to say, the film would have to be exceptionally well-made to make me feel admiration for someone whose idea of self-actualization is to fake his own death. That just seems like such a colossally selfish thing to do. (That said, I'm extremely suggestible, so I'm sure if I saw the movie I WOULD feel exactly as you did.)

  • At 9:58 PM, Blogger I`m Sassy, said…

    I watched this movie several months ago, indeed it was very sad, but it also made me angry that he was so unprepared. Such a determined spectacular adventure, with so little preparation.

    It seems the only thing he really thought out was how to get to alaska, very little thought about what he would do once he`d arrived.

    Such a waste of a young life.

  • At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What Sean Penn doesn't touch on in the film is McCandless' mental illness. A human being doesn't suffer the abuse McCandless suffered as a child in an abusive home and not come out undamaged. Instead Penn glorifies McCandless' reckless adventurous spirit as someone out to "find himself" in the wild. McCandless did not go on some search to find himself but rather he tried to run away from his problems as far as he could. He abandoned his parents, his sister, his education, his money, the strangers who befriended him along his way to Alaska because he thought he could silence his inner demons alone. What McCandless needed more than anything was help. Someone who could have helped him work through his psychological problems and come out whole. Hubris led McCandless to Alaska and ultimately death's doorstep in the magic bus. McCandless' story is more Shakespearian tragedy than anything else.

  • At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Veronica Mitchell said…

    I read the book but have not seen the movie. I could not admire him. McCandless treated his parents like shit. Who disappears for years without telling mom and dad?

  • At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Zuny said…

    I saw the movie and yea it was sad but that man should have lived and had a family there was ppl all around the world that LOVED him but yea he did need to get away but not to die he should have been prepared if he had he could have gone to the crossing and save his life

  • At 2:49 PM, Blogger ranj91d said…

    God, i ONLY wish he'd lived to Tell his tales, and explore more.
    The movie is Excellent UP tp the PART where he writes"Happiness only real when shared" and from then on, tears do the talking for me


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