The day after I finished Amy Snyder’s Hell On Two Wheels, I got on my bike and went out for my first long ride since 2010. The first 10 miles, or so, felt somewhat forced. I wasn’t sure if I was out there as a way to avoid my adult-hood responsibilities or to reacquaint with my long lost passion. Long rides take time and, in a world full of obligations and required “to dos”, time is of the essence. On top of this back-and-forth debate with myself, it was raining and the wind coming off of Lake Washington didn’t provide much inspiration. But a good friend of mine quickly met up with me and off we went.
Side by side, we paced each other up around the northern part of the Burke-Gilman trail that runs next to Lake Washington. On a typical day the water is calm and you can see Mt. Rainier and the Cascade Mountains looming in the background. This day was foggy and the rain reduced our visibility quite a bit. That didn’t matter, though, as we rode on.
The pace was a light tempo – perfect pace for a long ride in January weather. The plan was to also meet up with some other riders in the Redmond area for a quick 15-17 mile group ride. If I played my cards right, I could sit in a pace-line and draft off of the fresh legs of the other riders as I logged more miles. Of course, that’s what I did until the sprinting started and a few hills quickly spread us out. Aggressive riding is good, especially amongst each other, because it keeps you honest. There’s no hiding when the pace picks up into a large climb that you must get across. You either will yourself to keep the pedals turning or you just quit. There’s no faking it when there’s a hurdle to get over.
I think that’s when I realized that inspiration comes to those willing to take that first step and attack the obstacles that are in our way. Inspiration also occurs when we’re pushing each other in friendly sport and encouraging each other to be at our best. I stopped hiding and got out in front a few times and attacked some tough sections. I stopped holding back and went for it. We finished the Redmond segment with new memories and a feeling of expansion as we all knew that we were stronger than before.
The rest of the riders went back to work as my friend and I rode back toward the Burke-Gilman trail into Kenmore and Seattle. I started to think of Amy Snyder’s passage about the RAAM (Race Across America) riders and the mythic qualities of “those who get close it it.” She references the American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell’s description of a universal life-affirming myth shared historically amongst cultures. She writes, “It offers a way to understand the allegorical meaning of this race and racers’ motivations.”
First off, if you aren’t familiar with RAAM, it’s a very brutal test of the human spirit and capacity in enduring a self-induced hell for a race across the continental U.S. It’s a time trial by bicycle that starts in Oceanside, CA and ends in Annapolis, MD. There’s no money involved and racers show up annually to test their grit against the clock, and each other, as they race through deserts, mountains, and rolling plains. Many of these cyclists, men and women, go without hardly any sleep and complete the race in eight to twelve days. Why do they do this?
In Joseph Campbell’s myth, “an ordinary person receives a ‘call to adventure’ that compels him to leave an everyday world that he’s psychologically and spiritually outgrown. He journeys in a dreamlike arena – a dark forest, a desert, a foreboding place. Along the way he encounters a teacher who instructs him in skills he needs to successfully achieve a goal that is now revealed to him.
“The protagonist is challenged to his limit by a series of terrifying and demanding trials before finally reaching and overcoming one final ordeal. Through these struggles he experiences a euphoric transfiguration and is forever changed. Unencumbered by personal limitations, he discovers new powers and purpose. He then sets off to re-enter his normal world.
“His last task, Campbell says, is to share his discoveries, which promise a boon to his society that will somehow restore its vibrancy. He encounters many who are incapable of comprehending. Finally someone hears the message and arises as the next adventurer” (Snyder 203-204).
For those racers and their support crews, perhaps RAAM is their teacher throughout this spiritual journey. They’re all adults, most of whom are working class, and they’re taking to the road to expand their lives. For the rest of us, the outdoors and the bike trails are our teachers and inspiration. My 80 mile ride was my teacher and the other riders were my inspiration. For us, the roads are our sanctuary as we test our own limits and expand our capacities. As we return home to our lifestyles glued together by a string of “to dos”, we achieve a better balance as we walk forward. We push each other to be better than before.
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, an obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospital board. The hospitality was as cold as the ices.”
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden
In the spring of April 1992 a young man named Chris McCandless walked into the Alaskan wilderness to live off the wild. His decomposing body was found in September inside a bus by moose hunters.
Chris took to the road directly after graduating from Emory University in 1990. He traveled the continental U.S. and part of Mexico. His movements took him from Arizona, to California, to the Dakotas, to Washington state, and eventually Alaska. He donated his life savings to charity, burned his remaining cash, and simply migrated from place to place. He picked up work along the way to fuel his journey, but ultimately desired to take his odyssey into the Alaskan wilderness.
Chris changed his name to Alexander Supertramp and discontinued all contact with his family. He was driven by a need to explore the wilderness, externally as well as internally. Amongst many writers to pick up on the trail of Alexander Supertramp, Jon Krakauer captured this odyssey best. He initially wrote an article for Outside magazine, but became so obsessed that he wrote Into the Wild to elaborate on the heart and soul of this traveler. Men’s Journal went on to summarize this work as “Sensational… [Krakauer] is such a good reporter that we come as close as we probably ever can to another person’s heart and soul.”
Krakauer interviews family members, people whom Chris met on the road, and analyzes previous travelers cut from the same cloth to paint the entire landscape surrounding this tale. What’s interesting about this subject is how much it polarizes its readers. Some people think that Chris was a clueless idiot who ventured into the wild. I’ve met people who actually said that he deserved what he got. Others view the story from a more romantic perspective and appreciate the attempt, intellect, and will power to break away from modern society for that long.
Whichever side you may take, there’s no doubt that Mr. Supertramp left an impression on everyone he met. He wrote, “so many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun” (pg. 56-57). He believed this and encouraged others to do the same.
He was consumed with nature and nature ultimately consumed him, but his spirit lives on within Krakauer’s text. It’s a wonderful read for those who favor simplicity and minimalism.
I pass this off to you.
Two recent reads of mine have been Into Thin Air and Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer. His works are open, insightful, well-researched, humble, and easy to read.
Into Thin Air was his personal account of climbing Mt. Everest in 1996. His group and many others were caught in a freak storm on the upper slopes of the mountain. Two well-known and experienced team leaders lost their lives along with many others.
Krakauer recounts the disturbing details that led to this event. The main reason for being there was to write on the commercialization of climbing Mt. Everest and the daring risks many people are willing to take to make a summit. Climbers bent their own rules to make this happen and faced severe repercussions as a result.
Krakauer admits to his own initial mistakes on reporting the first time around. In retrospect, there’s not much one can control at such high altitudes. Climbers are dealing with lower oxygen levels that cause hypoxia and other ailments. Mistakes are bound to happen – especially when a large amount of climbers become traffic jammed on a single rope. This book sets the record straight while sharing a lot about the culture of mountaineering.
The second book was Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. I only knew fragmented details about this post 9/11 event. Krakauer’s research was inspiring and top-notch revealing what happened in its entirety. As one of my co-workers said, “It should be a must-read for all high schoolers [thinking of joining the military].”
Pat Tillman’s story was inspiring. He left a multi-million dollar contract to pursue a very noble cause in becoming a Ranger. He held true to his morals and ethics. He challenged everything and sought nothing but truth. His death, by result of fratricide (friendly fire) in Afghanistan , was covered up by the U.S.Army. Before, Tillman was used a high profile commercial product to promote military enlistment. His patriotism was marketed by the Bush Administration and recruiters everywhere. What impressed me the most, was how Tillman wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. He just wanted to do his job and fight for his country.
Upon his death, however, Tillman’s life was not honored by high ranking officials. Officers were promoted, the people responsible were slapped on the wrist, and the Tillman family was lied to on many levels. Krakauer bravely takes on these issues with compelling research and reporting. He exposes how political agendas by the military and politicians sweep their shit under the rug to keep up appearances and mislead the public with propoganda. One example was how Jessica Lynch was used as propaganda to hide a battle in Iraq, which U.S. A-10 Warthogs fired upon their own men.
An overall lesson from this research is to always question the institutions and policies that are in place. Many times, the truth is concealed by political agendas and poor leadership. This is a fine example of America’s right to accurate information, freedom of speech, and our necessity to fight for the truth. It is a fine recount of Pat Tillman’s life and real story of what happened in Afghanistan.
Down the stairs, back in time, until she came upon herself and Cal standing in front of Picasso’s Weeping Woman at the Tate in London. Claire could still visualize the portrait today – the blue in her hair, the red in her hat, that ghastly, skull-like area around the mouth – more clearly, in fact, than she could see the husband who had stood next to her.
“Kind of ruins it that Picasso was so horrible, doesn’t it,” Claire had said. “He probably made Dora Maar cry, then painted her crying.”
“So great art requires a morally pure artist?” Cal asked. “You look at the creation, not the creator.”
“So you ignore that he tormented poor Dora.”
“No, you judge the paintings as works of art, and Picasso as a man. There’s no inconsistency in loving one and reviling the other. And thankfully the converse is true as well: you love me even though I made some pretty lousy art. Maybe arrogance is necessary for greatness.”
-Amy Waldman, The Submission pg. 272
Two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a jury is voting on a memorial design to be built in remembrance. The choices are “The Garden” or “The Void”. The architects are anonymous in this vote. And after careful deliberations with the persistent voice of the 9/11 widow Claire, wanting to build a memorial for her late husband Cal, “The Garden” is selected.
The revealed architect: an American educated, and professional architect, Muslim named Mohammad Khan.
Amy Waldman’s novel The Submission takes us into the still healing New York City. It reveals the politics, fear, and never ending anger among its citizens. Waldman uses her journalistic perspective to reveal the larger picture beyond Claire and Mohammed. Using a multitude of other characters with sharp contrasts in personalities and ideologies of post-9/11 America, the readers wrestle with the quintessential idea of America’s post 9/11 identity and a Muslim’s persistence to let art speak for itself. Amy Waldman has wrote a novel that challenges its readers to see these varying perspectives and the often, less spoken divides of ethnicity and religion.
Networking Novels and Form
Networking novels such as Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome disrupt the norm of realistic novel boundaries through a networking system. These networking novels introduce readers to a world that has the potential to be full of chaos because of society’s interconnectivity. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms discusses realistic novels as:
“A type of novel that depicts characters, settings, and events in accordance with reality or, at least, in accordance with reality as most readers perceive it. Realistic novelists seek to write fictional narratives that present a plausible world. To achieve this goal, they typically include a variety of concrete details meant to ground their story lines in human experience… They typically present well-developed, rounded characters whose experiences and interactions with other characters could occur in real life and situate these characters in a specific cultural group, locale, and historical era.” (Murfin 399)
A realistic novel’s form may have a beginning, rise of plot, climax and resolution framing one main protagonist in first person narrative. This first point of view is also known as the Cartesian Self. Instead of sticking to tradition and the Cartesian Self in western thought, post-modern networking novels eliminate individualism in deterritorializing the self by melting many personas together. This creates a more fluid narrative between many points of views thus creating a larger picture. By exploring fluid scenes from Tropic of Orange and The Calcutta Chromosome, the networking novel will be appreciated as a post-modern text that reflects the whole of collective personas.
Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange introduces a novel from varying points of view. At first, this appears very cryptic and hard to follow, but as each character is broken down they can be appreciated as products of a networking society. Characters such as Bobby introduce the idea of mixing cultures together such as: Chinese-American, Thai-American, Japanese American, Afro.-American, etc. Because he’s Chinese from Singapore with a Vietnam name who speaks Spanish, he has more capacity of freedom without sacrificing the idea of sticking to one culture.
Yamashita also presents L.A. as a disjointed, yet unified location. Throughout the city there are many varying social groups that make up a larger metropolis. It’s also a city buzzing so fast that nobody notices their surroundings until traffic flow is stopped and everyone’s forced to view their surroundings. Here, each persona is no longer disjointed in their own personal agenda and is forced to embrace the layers of culture surrounding them. Each social group becomes blended as citizens are allowed to walk across the freeway and mingle with each other tearing down the personal borders and proximity and creating a more unified atmosphere.
The idea of deterritorialization is further explored when the character Arcangle relocates the Tropic of Cancer and merges the Mexican border into L.A. This creates a complexity of layers as each generation and culture is stacked on top of one another. This globalized event creates chaos compared to the realist novel because there is a loss of authentic identity. The “I” is now replaced by an influence of many cultures interacting in a non-plausible world.
Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome takes another fluid approach between different character viewpoints. Characters such as Antar are able to access information mainframes through the female A.I. named Ava. Ava gathers information on relatively anything creating layer on top of layer of knowledge. Through Ava’s vast knowledge, Antar is able to learn that the identity of the mysterious ID-Card is Murugan – a character who is literally networked into everyone’s life. In meeting with Murugan, Antar learns of a more omnipresent cult that has possible control over elite scientists such as early research on malaria.
Murugan draws connections between malaria research and various characters that he believed influenced it. He recognizes that the cult has stegonographic characteristics leaving various clues in different locales to be pieced together. He is in and out of the novel interacting with characters to unravel the mystery behind whom and why malaria research was influenced and not discovered. Another fluid character, such as Farley, travels to eastern labs for research, but instead stumbles across ritualistic medicine practices such as Mangala beheading a pigeon. This reveals the melting of two practices, empirical and ritualistic, as Farley takes the sacrificed pigeon’s blood for further study. This acts as the deterritorialization of two sciences melting together.
Another act of deterritorialization is the chromosomes acting as vessels to reincarnate and deterritorialize the body. There is no more authentic Cartesian Self because a soul could be layered on top of an already existing layer removing the authentic self. This is a direct reflection back to Ava because she is an immortal, ever evolving, A.I. mainframe who crosses boundaries at will to gather infinite amounts of information. She is constantly building herself upon a complexity of networking layers.
The networking narrative of the post-modern novel clashes with the realist theme because it builds layers upon layers to cipher through. This is what it means to “sift through the dirt” (Ghosh 7) because there is no such thing as one point of view. The networking point of view is fluid and viewed through a collective amount of viewpoints to see a larger whole. One story is just a piece of the larger puzzle that has been influenced by the rest. The networking novel may disrupt the realist novel, but it does so in style. It encourages readers to strip away any egocentricity and travel the fluid network witnessing the evolution of our post-modern society into the future.
Ghosh, Amitav. The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium and Discovery. First Perennial Edition, New York, 2001. Pg 7
Murfin, Ross. Ray, Supryia M. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Second Edition, Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2003. Pg 299
Yamashita, Karen Tei. Tropic of Orange. Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 1997.
Quiet Desperations of Becoming Self Made
Inspired from Michael S. Kimmel’s essay, “Born to Run”
By Kyle Lyman
The drive for success has been the cornerstone of ever evolving ideology throughout the history of mankind. Michael S. Kimmel’s essay, “Born to Run”, retraces the journey of America’s masculine drive to capture the self-made man. Historical cultures have all been governed by masculine models ranging from Ancient Greece-Macedonian expansion, Roman Hellenism and British Imperialism. It has always appeared that humanity, individually and culturally, pushes into the unknown wilderness to expand their ideology and test their limits. The birth of America was man’s attempt to create his own path from British rule – to break away and start over in a new way. Kimmel’s article begins within 18th century America moving into a maturing United States. The masculine test of worth in the working atmosphere is contrasted against domestic life. This essay will trace the journey in becoming self-made and the cyclical thirst for liberation from home.
From the East to West, self-made Americans desired to create a nation in their own image. It was a test of worth in the working force. This ambition was a highly held virtue amongst men living in the east. A man’s life was his job. Anything else such as: home, wives, children and anything domestic was a distraction softening the edge towards success in competing industries. This domestic phobia encouraged working men to run away from home life toward other industrious men. Thus became the doctrine of self-control, or ways to repress human instinct, to become more productive amongst business rivals.
The doctrine of self-control was rooted by religious leaders who sought to control order in a disordered world. Using business rivalry, they convinced society that any domestic sexual encounter, being self-stimulation or sexual union, would lead to a loss of job. This control spiraled into diets such as: avoiding meats because of temptation for flesh, inhibition of alcohol to keep a sense of failure at bay and child strait jackets to control sexual urges. Work was religion’s excuse to place a strangle hold on society keeping sin “in check”, encouraging men to work harder and to avoid domestication from female counterparts.
This separation of spheres kept wives at home while sons were encouraged to “grow up” faster to keep masculinity at the forefront. The workplace became harder while the home softer. The home was, indeed, a safe haven from work. However, religious “How To” publishing encouraged women to refrain from anything more than being a housekeeper. Stepping outdoors was highly discouraged. Reverend John Todd, a Calvinist Minister, went on to convince women that “the great danger of our day is forcing the intellect of woman beyond what her physical organization will possibly bear” (Kimmel 39). The term “father” or “husband” became nothing more than terms as men pushed farther away from their domestic relationships. The road westward was being paved.
The ideology of the mid 1800s kept society working. Even the slightest notion of settling down would be enough to atrophy man’s work ethic. But there was opposition to this doctrine. Transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau opposed the rigid Calvinists. Rather, these writers believed that “people can discover moral truths in nature with the guidance of their own conscience rather than dogmatic religious doctrine” (Murfin 488). Thoreau believed that men, indeed, needed to work their muscles and not whither way in homes full of materialized possession. Walt Whitman went on to chastise domesticated men as being too soft, but the “desperate haste to succeed in such desperate enterprises” led to vicarious men living through their jobs, desperate to prove their worth (Kimmel 42). With too many men and only little success in the east, men decided to break away during The Westward Rush.
Westward alluded to adventurism and a chance to recreate oneself. The 1849 California Gold Rush brought around 200,000 men, but hardly any women. Not everyone felt inspired to leave, though, such as Thoreau who went on to publish Walden later in 1854. Instead of leaving, men could find liberation in one’s own backyard. Thoreau’s transcendentalist approach encouraged men to simplify their lives which were now “frittered away by detail” and to separate themselves from working pressures. The challenge: Go into nature to rediscover the beauty of simplicity.
The desire to live freely continued on through fictional literature where writers such as Rip Van Winkle inspired men to take flight because they were fugitive outlaws “born to run”. This mode of freedom spilled into contemporary literature and movies such as Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club were “life just seems too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves” (Palahniuk Ch. 6) because “the things you own end up owning you… It’s only when we lose everything that we’re free to do anything” (Flight Club motion picture). Avoiding domestication by ethnomethodology, or the method of discovering reality by introducing entropy and throwing it into chaos, is one such quality of an outlaw.
But what is the self-made man? The self-made man has been an ever evolving autonomous being that can be traced form the beginning of time. This being could either find success in an area of expertise, live as a vigilante and or become the Tyler Durden Freudian “Id” who distorts life while creating mischief and mayhem – also known at the outlaw. It is the desire to follow one’s own system of beliefs in achieving a certain respect amongst fellow peers. The problem is that society has placed a heavy burden upon the masses to prove this worth. Not everyone fulfills their quiet desperations. The self-made man can, and will, place themselves into a situation where he achieves – at any cost.
The self-made man is rooted from the inner desire to liberate the human soul. The Westward Rush had 200,000 men seeking to remove the enterprise chains of competitive business. Men wanted to bond with each other in the wild because there were no rules to live by except their own. In the east, men would have to step into the shoes of another executive to achieve success. The west offered an equal opportunity to pave one’s own way – a Darwinist approach in survival of the fittest.
The difference between the 19th and 21st centuries is in the self-made woman liberating herself from the religious oppression previously discussed. This hegemony is the woman choosing not to settle and stripping herself of material possessions. Author Own Wister reflected this in his western novel The Virginian in creating an outlaw woman named Molly. It is revealed that women could display the same conviction as well. Perhaps nature would have it that woman no longer caused domestication, but the balance of equal companionship born to run as well. As society continues forward, religious order is still condemning, but not absolute. It can be shaken. Now humanity can pave its own way, without its quiet desperations, finding success in an infinite amount of expression as savage masculinity is balanced out by the feminist counterpart within the wild.
Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Jared Leto. DVD. Twentieth
Century Fox, 2002.
Murfin, Ross. Ray, Supryia M. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2003. 488.
Kimmel, Michael S. “Born to Run” Manhood in America: A Cultural History. 2nd ed. New
York: Oxford UP, 2006. 30-53.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1996.
Thoreau, Henry D. Walden. Stilwell: Digireads.com, 2005.
Wister, Owen. The Virginian. Mineola: Dover Publishing Inc., 2006.