Friday, August 5, 2011

Hoagland part 2...a different kind of wonders of the world.

Yesterday I posted a quote from the essayist Edward Hoagland:

"Country people do not behave as if they think life is short; they live on the principle that it is long, and savor variations of the kind best appreciated if most days are the same. "

I thought today I would try to explain why I like Hoagland's notion that the things in life that we most savor are "variations" within the context of routine.

Take travel for example. It is possible to appreciate the majestic Galapagos Islands or the Rainbow Mountains of Pumamarca, Argentina or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or Shamu at Sea World in San Diego. But, (at least for me) appreciating large scale stuff has always required a certain effort that I just do not have in me. I get it - "Wow" - but it is more the back story of what got me there than the being there that gives the experience meaning - the place hardly matters in that sense. But if on the way back from the Galapagos you are driving around Ecuador in a beat up rental car and accidentally back into a tree cracking the brake light lens and then spend a day searching in the middle of nowhere for a brake light lens for a 1998 Datsun which miraculously you find in a box in the back of a store run by a woman who has worked behind the counter for 30 years who, to her own amazement, finds she actually does have a 1998 Datsun brake light lens (not to mention her amazement that you are looking for one) and she seems to get just how awesome the moment is and this woman, in the middle of nowhere who sells used car parts in Ecuador, somehow knows that this unlikely gringo feels an even more unlikely kinship to her in some way that she does not understand but senses and she gives you the brake light lens and along with it a kiss - that "small" moment is going to take up a seemingly disproportionately large amount of space in your brain relative to all the hoopla given to the seven wonders of the world.

I think Hoagland was talking about that kind of appreciation - that what is extraordinary about life may not be so much the extraordinary things you do or accomplish but something else. I have always been suspicious of (and a little mad at myself for) my own seduction by the "wow factor" (in people, places and things) whereas simply spending a day dealing with the grist of a beat up rental car (a day that could be described as going to the store to buy a car part) is a moment I can savor without suspicion or guilt.

David Foster Wallace got to a similar point as Hoagland (I think) in his Kenyon College Commencement speech entitled "This Is Water" when he said:

"... there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" - the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing."

My friend Tommy (who has a hard fought arsenal of insights that he deploys like a one man brigade on a mission) put it this way: " The secret to life is size. And that size is small. The smaller the better. If you can get to the point where you can open your entire life with the smallest Allen wrench they make you will finally reach the state of Nirvana."

Tommy's notion that size matters, like Wallace's conception of real freedom and Hoagland's description of savoring small variations in the mostly same days over a long life, all seem less rooted in living large than in the stuff we do every day and really caring (or trying to).

1 comment:

  1. I like your philosophical take on travel. I, too, find that the most meaningful travel experiences come through the unanticipated details - the little surprises and interactions along the way.

    Thanks again for adding this post to the Traveler's Show & Tell blog carnival over at Mental Mosaic: Even Home is a Travel Destination. Hope to see you there again! :)




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