I’m proud to have a diverse and erudite collection of fans and regular commenters. This essay (and the discussion it spawned) was originally posted in the Talk forum. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the life and thoughts of someone who’s lived a foraging existence in the modern urban world.
Shedding And Rejecting Material In A Material(istic) World
A strong point of commonality between my way of thinking and the way of the Gnoll is outlined flawlessly by “If you can’t eat it, wear it, wield it or carry it, leave it behind.” This phrase caught my eye upon reading the teaser online. The idea strongly resonated with me. It echoed the way I had lived my life, and continue to live it even to this day.
From my sixteenth year well into my thirties, I lived out of a bag.
I toured the world incessantly. My tongue has tried to speak every language. I gazed with awe at Mt. Fuji, marveled at the summertime thunderstorms in northern Italy, held clumps of black volcanic ash sand in my young hands in New Zealand, stared into the eyes of a white rhino in South Africa, felt Moscow’s snow chill my face, walked the streets of São Paulo during Carnaval, spent hours playing speed chess in Germany, hugged drowsy koala in Australia, got snowed in on the Swiss Alps, watched countless desert sunrises and mountain sunsets and swam in the waters of almost every ocean. The winds from every direction pressed against my body on every continent…
I found peace in freedom from material concerns, and also developed a very clear idea of what a person “needs” versus what a person wants. Nothing was a worry because I owned nothing and thus didn’t fear for its loss. My focus was on finding food and shelter, making connections with others of like mind and like pack, and recording the lessons I learned along the way. I punched no clock. I answered to no man. I was lean, often hungry, sometimes miserable but always, always my own person and free to do as I would at any time. If I was tired, I slept. If I was hungry, I “hunted.” I found mates where they were to be found. I thought freely, wrote consistently, collected nothing, held on to nothing and gave just about everything that my hands could hold away to others. What was worth hanging on to was already in my head anyway.
I can honestly say that I lived “in freedom” and “in beauty.” How rare. Not a day goes by where I don’t appreciate my good fortune to be bold enough to reject what all others around me were quick to digest and become—common life for common thinkers. I compare my life now with the life of my “peers” who elected the way of comfort and certainty and I haven’t seen one person who I’d rather be than myself. What contrast! I’m still lean, still sharp, still hungry. I stand proud with fire in my eyes, strength in my spine and springs in my legs. Most everyone else who chose the submissive life are now weak, fattened, gray, miserable, without desire, without drive and absolutely devoid of the spirit of the hunt. They’ve submitted.
They’ve laden themselves with countless items of useless trash in a “home” too big for their budget but far too small for their ego and their want of appearances. They collect keepsakes for the memories they trigger because they’ve forgotten how to remember things on their own—or their experiences are so shallow and insignificant that they’re hardly worth remembering at all. They pack their refrigerator and cupboard with colorful, odd-colored boxes full of what can only be called food in the academic sense—material that poisons their heavy bodies rather than nourishing them. They buy things they can’t afford on a whim because they’ve been fooled into believing they’ll will make them happy, fill the void in their lives. They buy books not for the love of the printed word, but because they think they’re buying the time to read them. The keepsakes crowd the dusty surfaces, the boxes of poison pack the shelves, books cramp each other in the study, yet their owners are none the richer for having collected them and remain lonely, frustrated and confused as they persistently stare at a computer screen for hours on end, oblivious to the beautiful daylight burning away outside.
They’ve fallen prey to their own materialism, imprisoned by their possessions—slow, easy targets.
Better them than me.
Sounds callous and harsh, but from a simplistic perspective, so is nature itself. Are we, bipedal animals, really that divorced from it? Perhaps some more so than others.
Nowadays I’m slightly more settled, outposted in one city or the next in the Northeast United States, working for myself in an instructional capacity. I still punch no clock. I make my own hours. I still travel often, and when I do it’s light and fast. For me, it’s the only way. Have I tried doing the standard 9 to 5 “normal” routine? Sure. I’m open to all things. Was it for me? Decidedly not.
I suppose I owe J.S. a debt of gratitude for translating into succinct text the lessons Gryka* and her pack have to teach us—even the ones who live a lot like Gnolls to begin with.
Do I keep anything at all? Sure. The memory of those I love, the places I’ve been, the feelings I got from the lessons I’ve learned along the way so far…I keep them in the head and in the heart where they belong. To try to trap these moments with photography and frame them for display betrays their beauty.
Some of the greatest moments of my life cannot be proven to have existed.
Does it matter? Decidedly not.
*: Gryka is the protagonist of The Gnoll Credo.
**: “Hazrah nachti” is a Gnollish phrase which is difficult to translate succinctly. I’ve done my best in the book.
As these are not my words, I hope Rob will choose to answer your questions about them!
Yes, I’m still on hiatus. I’m working on other projects and enjoying the time off. Meanwhile, I tip my hat to Asclepius (of Natural Messiah) for his excellent review of The Gnoll Credo. (Many more reviews here.)
Live in freedom, live in beauty.