I suck at small talk.
It’s taken me a long time to reckon with that truth. But there it is.
I love people, though. I think they’re endlessly fascinating. But only if they’re telling me about things that mean something to them.
This made me ill-suited for office potlucks. But uniquely suited to own a bookstore.
Books delve into the heart of the things we wrestle with when we are alone. They draw out into the light the biggest questions in our existence. And they play them out in narrative form.
Hell yes, I want to talk about that stuff.
Yesterday, I stood in the bookstore with one of my oldest friends and one of my most adored customers talking about pandemic social awkwardness, fatigue and sorrow, and figuring out the difference between self-care & flakiness. It felt both intimate and safe. And 100% normal to talk about the things that are weighing most on our spirits right now, surrounded by hundreds of books that explore some of those very same questions: what is our place in the world? How do we impact the larger universe (even in the smallest ways)? How do we survive the shitty things and still find joy?
I’ve found myself reading a bizarre smattering of books lately and finding each of them shifting my world view a bit. As good books do.
The latest was Into the Wild. This isn’t a new book. But that’s kind of the joy of owning a (mostly) used bookstore. Sometimes you just grab what speaks to you–even if it was written over 20 years ago.
I don’t read a lot of nature/adventure books. Hell, I don’t even read a lot of nonfiction. But we ended up with a bunch of copies of Into the Wild before we opened & it caught my eye. I do love a good mystery (I always want the whys behind people’s stories). So it’d been on my TBR list (which only really exists as a figment of my imagination) for almost 2 years. The other day, I finally picked it up.
The deeper I delve into my spirituality, the more I’m drawn to being outside, to the cycles of nature, to appreciating the wild (which really means for me a well-worn hiking trail somewhere relatively close by). But, even though my experience tends toward the super safe dipping in and out of nature, its long been a dream to pick up and move into a shipping container in the middle of the woods.
This runs counter to everything about me: I like people. I thrive on the energetic thrum of Atlanta. I also like my cozy bed, flannel sheets, and fluffy duvet.
But there’s something romantic about leaving it all behind, paring down what I own into the barest minimum, and making a go of it in a place where the rhythms of the universe aren’t just apparent–they are everything.
So, Into the Wild spoke to that part of me. And it reminded me what my ego would prefer that I forget: I was once a 23 year old hell-bent on making decisions that could have cost me my life. I (like Chris McCandless aka Alex Supertramp) also saw the world in stark black and white. And I also had no use for folks who didn’t see things my way–still don’t sometimes. I’m working on it.
As I read, I swung wildly between horror at McCandless’s carelessness with the people who loved him (note: I’m in recovery & was equally careless with the people who loved me when I was in my 20s) and an ever-evolving understanding of what he might have been after. I got stuck right between wanting to believe we had nothing in common & knowing that was bullshit. Because I’ve been on a spiritual quest my whole life (except for the parts I stayed drunk primarily to fend off that same quest) and finding meaning has been the driving force in my life. Just like McCandless.
It’s a beautifully wrought book when the author can take you from contempt for a subject and wind you back around to understanding how very similar you are… and how one decision can separate the living from the dead.
It’s rare to come face to face with your own searching and longing–and then to be overwhelmed with gratitude for your own life. I made so many decisions along the way that could have cost me everything. But I emerged from the spiritual abyss of my 20s, got myself sober, and now get the immense privilege of owning a bookstore & connecting with other people (who are so often where I find the divine) every day.
McCandless never got that privilege, the ability to continue his journey and discover where he might end up.
I think, when it comes down to it, I loved Into the Wild for the same reasons I love owning a bookstore: we are all so wildly different. And yet, there are these gossamer threads of truth that hold us all together.
Into the Wild tugged one of those threads for me.
I really loved that book. I read it in my early 20s on a Jon Krakauer kick (Into Thin Air is also an incredible study of humans). He’s a wonderful writer and the subject was so fascinating to me. It’s so cool to read your perspective, taking away how he interacted with people. The main thing that stuck with me was making sure I had all the information if I ever set out into the wilderness (I am 100% a five) and shock at the hubris of mankind and all the young men who wandered off before and after McCandless. I’m fascinated by people who can push themselves to physical extremes.
Oh my goodness YES to knowing what to do if you ever set out into the wilderness. The idea that one misstep (that almost anyone could have made–and one I certainly would have) set a chain of events into motion that eventually ended his life is so humbling.