Magical Wal-Mart Reindeer On The Soul
Well, Cassidy didn’t really walk. She was riding in a shopping cart. And it wasn’t really a reindeer. It was, in fact, a middle-aged minimum-wage greeter wearing an enormous pair of foam antlers (with bells on the ends, no less.) And this particular reindeer didn’t seem to be overflowing with endless amounts of yuletide joy, either. She was plainly exhausted; most likely at the very end of a tedious shift of smiling at shoppers as they came in, and then checking their receipts as they went out. Not a job likely to fill anyone with Christmas spirit seven hours, one half-hour lunch break, and two fifteen-minute state-mandated breaks into their work day.
But Cassidy was convinced that what she was seeing was, in fact, a real reindeer. She oooohed. She pointed. She repeatedly made the sign for reindeer: thumbs pressed against her temples palmed outstretched, with fingers waving. When I seemed insufficiently impressed she repeated the entire process, as if to say “Look Dad! Can’t you see her? A real, live magical reindeer is right in front of us!”
Cassidy is one of those people. The kind that is capable of walking into Wal-Mart and seeing reindeer. I’m the other kind of person. The kind that is only capable of walking into Wal-Mart and seeing tired, minimum-wage employees. Or so I thought. Lately I have come to the conclusion that, like my daughter, I have a disturbing tendency to look at things that are self-evidently one thing, and see something entirely different. Or, to be more specific, to see things in ways that irrational and self-serving, rather than seeing them for what they are: namely, bleak.
Doubt. It’s a powerful emotion. It’s also why this blog hasn’t been updated in almost six months. I haven’t been writing at all, really. The tiny Wal-Mart reindeer weigh too heavily upon my soul.
X X X
Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been working a lot. And I actually wrote a couple of posts: long, rambling weird ones. But I ended up scrapping them instead of putting them up on the blog. They were all too angry, too depressing, or too crazy sounding for me to inflict upon my friends and family. A typical example was “The Redneck as Jew,” an angry 4,000 word tirade about how rural Americans are treated by urban Americans in the 21st Century, with historical references, footnoting, and quotes from Napoleon.
So, yeah: you’re not going to get to read those.
But I’m also not going to lie to you. I’ve been having serious misgivings about my life out here. Not that I have any desire – or even ability - to live anywhere else. The dust has been ground too deeply into my personality for that. Midian is who I am. For someone like me, the trip to the desert can only be a one-way trip. Every place else is now and forever someplace else: one that can never be home. That can never really ever be real, even. But the vision I had for my life out here has eroded from the noble down to the grubby. Midian Ranch is a dirty, difficult place to live. Simply put, it’s a huge amount of work to live off-grid in a desert. Nothing you do here is ever easy. Everything is always breaking, freezing, blowing down, or simply disintegrating under the twin pressures of wind and sun (like my greenhouse, thank-you-very-much Mother Nature.) You never really get clean – not in the sense that townies and city dwellers think of clean – and your home never really gets clean either. It’s a never-ending struggle to hold the line at “mildly dingy.”
For a long time this lifestyle felt principled to me. Moral. An adventure. The constant struggle to bend wind, sun, and water to my will. To create my own personal paradise, free from the influences and controls of the outside world. [Solar panels.] To take the meaning from words like Freedom, Self-Reliance, and Independence and craft those meanings into a physical reality. [Wind mills.] To work. To live differently. To let the desert heal me, challenge me, and inspire me. To be a 21s Century frontiersman. [Spring Water.] To be a living roleplaying game character. To be science fiction. To settle Mars, at least in a metaphorical sense.
Now I increasingly feel that I’m see things for the way they really are. Doubt stalks my days, and my dreams are minimum wage Wal-Mart employees with antlers. I’m no visionary, no frontiersman, and no romantic figure. I’m a middle-aged, failed misfit who lives in poverty and obscurity with his unhappy wife, handicapped daughter, and oddball friend in a bunch of old doublewides and shipping containers on worthless land that nobody else wanted. My work and life have had no meaning, nor shall they. My exercises in preparedness and independence are exactly what they appear to me: evidence of a paranoid, deteriorating mind.
Or at least that’s how I feel on some days. Others are better. Those are the days on which I pretend to see the reindeer.
X X X
At its heart, there are three problems for me: or, perhaps, for someone like me. (You know me. You know the type.) Each is unique and horrid in its own special way. Each is a treasured problem, to be polished unceasingly like the barrels of assault weapons in that imaginary, secret basement compartment each of us has constructed in our souls.
(Okay… maybe that’s just me. Though, thankfully, some days involve less obsessive metaphorical barrel cleaning than others.)
The first - and perhaps the most important - is the obvious truth that changing locale doesn’t automatically change who you are. (Not that I saw that.) I wasn’t able to leave Jason Walters Stressed Out Messenger Service Owner behind when I relocated to the Black Rock Desert. I should have. It was part of my goal to kill that bastard as dead as cordwood by moving out here. But he was much, much more a part of me than I had expected. Taking him out of his element didn’t kill him. It just made him stronger, and now I find myself mired in numerous complex business schemes that have little to do with writing, building Midian, being a father, or simply having a good time. It’s like that part of me is a hydra: I chopped off Flash Messenger, and out grew DOJ Logistics, IPR, Hero Games, and Blackwyrm to take its place. All with the best of intentions, of course. Economic independence and whatnot. Puritan work ethic and so forth. Pulling my weight and blah blah blah.
It’s all a bunch of obsessive-compulsive crap. Or fear. A subconscious fear of becoming something other than what I was, even as I consciously strove to do just the opposite. But what’s the point of abandoning a society if you just tie yourself right back to it? It’s like I’m Gulliver and his Lilliputians all at the same time, perpetually binding myself to the ground when I could be flying around on the city of Laputa, throwing rocks at rebellious cities… or something. I might not be remembering Gulliver’s Travels properly.
In any case, the second is that it’s almost impossible for me to be happy for very long. Or, at the very least, I don’t seem to be able to be happy to the same extent or in the same manner that other people are happy. I can only catch fleeting glimpses of a happiness that slips through my fingers like sand when I try to grasp them. (Or maybe I flatter myself in to thinking this unique. Is it like that for you too?) When I was young I tried to inspire those glimpses with drugs. It didn’t work. As I got older, I switched to looking for them with alcohol. No luck there either. Then I came out to the wilderness, still looking for them in the vastness. No luck here either… though I don’t feel the lack quite as much.
Maybe it’s the same thing. Maybe that’s what happiness is: a lack of unhappiness. Or maybe that’s just what most of us settle for. Or maybe that’s just another minimum wage worker in antlers too.
X X X
The first two problems are ones that you, gentle reader, may have already dealt with in your life. The third and final problem is perhaps peculiar just to me. (Or, again, I may be flattering myself). It is this: I’ve grown to distrust pleasure, comfort, and convenience. When I spend time at Casa Azul (my mother’s lovely house in Gerlach), Reno, or in the Bay Area, I feel somehow guilty. Uncomfortable deep within my center; modern society, it seems, has become almost physically repulsive to me. It’s like central heating, nearby grocery stores, good restaurants, unarmed neighbors (okay: that would just be the Bay Area), normal water pressure, “stick houses,” and homes that lack entire packs of animals that consume all possible organic table scraps are somehow sinful, unclean things. It feels like I’ve violated a religious prescription… which seems to suggest that living out here has become my religion.
Or maybe it means I’ve become a genuine desert rat: by definition a one-way trip to nowhere. Or at least to here. But where is that? Somewhere… or nowhere? I’m uncertain. I have doubts.
I have magical Wal-Mart reindeer on the soul.
Which reminds me: I didn’t finish my story, did I? You know: the one actually about magical Wal-Mart reindeer. The one that ended with “And then…?” That one.
And then the lady with the reindeer antlers noticed Cassidy. She smiled, waved back, and said “Aren’t you a little darling? Merry Christmas!” She even looked a little less tired.
Cass waved back a final time as we rolled away, and then turned to me with a smug look, as if to say “See? I told you she was a magical reindeer.”
And of course she wasn’t. She was a tired, middle-aged, vaguely humiliated woman making $8.25 an hour to make certain nobody steals Monster High Dolls from the Sparks Wal-Mart.
And yet maybe - just maybe - for an instant, if you squinted very, very hard, she was.