There’s a mountain in Oregon where I learned how to think. That sounds like a pretentious statement but only if you remember we are now a culture who believes that thinking is not something you need to learn how to do (this is a modern perspective). The Chrissy who arrived there may have been a person who could grow up and do things like share fake news memes on Facebook (the liberal kind, you know, the ones we’re not really worried about). The Chrissy who left still can’t really believe anything.
I read the same things as the people around me and then went off in whatever direction my brain and my heart wanted to. I let people push against the core ideas I thought were immovable pillars in my life. I sat on a lot of floors and argued and listened. I made dinner parties and social events where no one looked at their phone. I did this impossible thing: I let people see me the way I really am.
I fell in love with poetry because it can express a dialectic better than prose can, because it evokes empathy — which intellectuals are typically afraid of doing.
I climbed a mountain and slept on a beach and one evening I went to town and snuck beers into the park with men who could only talk about The Hardy Boys. That night my roommate and I went back up the mountain alone. We were eating Whole Foods grassfed organic beef, and this was the McDonald’s dollar menu. Not because they weren’t smart or real or open to the talking about how flowers are made up of non-flower parts (a Sorites paradox, or a poem), but because they didn’t expect us to be those kind of people. We knew what William Stafford wrote was true, it is important that awake people be awake.
We had learned suddenly that life is too short not to talk about your existential crisis on the first date. And that the second you stop expecting (demanding) this of someone, you’re in a relationship where you talk about the weather, or what your favorite color is. Eternal vigilance is the price of living deeply.
We did chores for each other: filling the wood shed or baking or cleaning, there’s a humility present when you do work for people. (If you want to love someone, do work for them). I got lost once on a long walk and my neighbor’s cabins emptied out as people came to look for me. The social events of an entire hamlet were put on hold.
This is a community. This is how people learn. This is how people love. And I don’t know how to find it again. Every person on that mountain belonged wholly to me, and I belonged to them.
The difference between being young and being old is, hopefully, that the former thinks they know everything and the latter knows they don’t know anything.
When you are in a community your love for people is not dependent on their actions or beliefs. When someone confesses to you that they think something you believe to be ugly, that bristles up against your comfort, your reaction isn’t to disappear and laugh about it later with other people who agree with you. Your immediate response is to listen and learn. You don’t come from the presupposition that everyone who agrees with you is smart and everyone who disagrees with you is simply uninformed.
The past three years I’ve been able to live wherever I want (good internet withstanding). I’ve dreamed about mountains and beaches and an emotionally pleasing population density. I’ve held back and stayed in the city because I’ve realized that the right place doesn’t mean anything without the right people. Freedom and money can give you a nice view, people are more difficult.
Where do you find people who want to learn? Where do you find people who want to love?
My most listened to song of 2016 was Jenny Lewis’ Acid Tongue because I listened to it hundreds of times one night when I heard the line about fixing that hole in you. I knew suddenly that there was a hole in me, and months later I am realizing what it is.
I don’t want things to be so easy.
I miss the work of loving people who were not always easy to love. I miss the work of being existentially insecure. I miss the work of being awake. I miss the work of being together.