Here in Cordova, we live in a bubble. Though we live two blocks up from “main street,” when I look out my kitchen window I see a forested mountain, more or less undisturbed. Even Anchorage, where I grew up, is surrounded by true wilderness. It’s hard for me to understand the reality of endless people sprawl, and the havoc we wreak on the world. Flying into Seattle, or any other metro sprawl is extremely spooky for me, especially at night when the endless lights prove the endless humans.
But even more stark, here in Cordova consumer culture is seriously lacking. We have two grocery stores, a health food store/gift shop and an art/bookstore. That’s about it. People here, I daresay, never go shopping as a pastime. Nobody’s wearing the latest fashions, there’s no event in which you would look out of place in ratty old jeans and a tee-shirt. Oh, for shopping possibilities, I forgot the Salvation Army, and fairly frequent rummage sales. Cordovan’s have a now antiquated ethic of thrift, and a love of scavenging.
That’s one of the ways I get inspired by trips down south. A feeling of pride for my people, a cozy glow of Home. “Cordova’s so great” I sigh to myself.
But the real world is just not laid out like a storybook plot—happy, conflict, happy, end.
The other way I get inspired is a backwards way, a guilt way, a kick in the pants way.
Because of course, Cordova’s not all milk and honey. There is, in fact, no milk. Or honey. We live a minimum of 3,000 miles from anything we do buy. There’s a lot of great foods right here—salmon, deer, berries. If one wanted to live really indigenously, here would be a good spot. But I don’t. I want to walk that line between the culture I was raised in, and the lifestyle of self sufficiency. I love my fish and deer for dinner, but I want potatoes alongside, not to mention oatmeal with butter for breakfast, bread and noodles, beans, half and half in my coffee, home-made organic brownies! I want milk and honey. I want it all.
So does everyone else in Cordova. We may not go shopping on Saturday at the mall, but we still buy groceries, and collectively surf the internet plenty, entering our credit card numbers for books, clothes, tools, toys, music, and whatever else people buy at malls.
And all of those everythings that we buy go twice as far as what Saturday mall shoppers are buying. We don’t drive as much, but anytime we want to go see family, attend meetings, see a concert, we hop on a jet to do so. Lots of people heat with wood, but those who don’t are buying diesel shipped up from refineries down south, originally from God-could-guess-where. Petroleum products moved with the power of petroleum products. Weird.
More than ten years ago, my old girlfriend and I stood on an island off the Icelandic coast and came to the verbal conclusion that it’s impossible to live without fucking up. All you can do, what you’ve got to do, is try to fuck up less.
I guess I sort of live my life by this motto. The loophole is in the word try.
When I travel down south, I am reminded by how much crap people buy! And how ridiculously hard they work, and how many hours they drive, just to buy that crap. Part of me can get complacent thinking I’m doing a pretty great job, by comparison. But how hard am I trying. Could I try harder? The answer is always yes, of course. And that’s where the guilt comes in, guilt driven motivation. An inspiration of sorts.
I think guilt’s gotten a bad rep. Too much of it is debilitating, to be sure. I’ve wasted days of my life (oh god, could it be weeks?) sucked down by the Bog of Eternal Guilt. Paralyzed by the desolation of the world, the wreckage of humanity.
But a spoonful of the stuff keeps us humble. Reminds us to keep trying, keep pushing ourselves. Keep checking in to see if we’re really doing our best, or just gliding along hoping nobody’s watching.
I’m supposed to end on a high note. Happy? Check. Conflict? Check. Happy ending? Oh.
Just keep on keepin’ on.