8.06.2012

Singularity

As I drove the incessant reaches of I-5 through central Oregon last week, I thought about the countless time I have spent on said highway in the last 12 years. A significant part of my life has most certainly slipped by via the hundreds of gallons of gas combusted, the countless engine cycles completed, the mathematically computable but still almost unfathomable number of tire rotations that have pulled my car and me foot by foot up and down that highway perhaps two dozen times or more. Ever since I started climbing I've spent an almost ludicrous amount of time pounding asphalt in search of adventure, escape, redemption, fulfillment; whatever the overarching question, the answer was and still is, simply, to go.


But that 'going' isn't always entirely pleasurable for a multitude of reasons and inevitably a long drive will have its low points. Though not quite so soul-wrenching as the endless swath of highway through central California, which exists in its own special universe that lacks a temporal dimension, Oregon has its own idiosyncrasies, at least for someone who has driven through it an excessive number of times. I remember little of the Oregon portion of my recent journey. 'Autopilot' would be an accurate description of my driving style at that point; even though my car lacks such sophisticated technologies as cruise control, losing myself in the monotony of the act of driving the vehicle was still accomplished with ease. Time inverted to a sort of non-time, a limbo where action and thought became negligible. Scenery was unimportant. Even my geographical location, often of such initial importance on car trips, was lost in the repetition of the car moving through space at such a constant rate, any perceptible change lost a host of competing minutiae.

The philosopher Paul Virilio has opined that the speed at which we move and communicate in the modern world alters our sense of geography so as to polarize us. Essentially the entire world is reduced to one point on the globe when geography is no longer a hindrance to movement for many of us; a trip to Europe is measured in hours rather than months and there are few places on Earth that are truly unreachable by people. This is the same world in which, for Virilio, war becomes dominated by logistics rather than tactics; no longer is terrain the dominant factor in battle, nor is it necessarily among the most valuable spoils of victory. Speed, instead, is the motivator and the enabler. In a nuclear world, we live not only with a continuous flood tide of war, a state of 'pure war', but also with the reality that the potential for war is now instantaneous. Despite the obvious latitude we have for physical movement via travel, the overall result of speed as a dominant force is to polarize, to eliminate geography as we are accustomed to perceiving it.

Is it this sense of approaching singularity, this polarization that drives some of us, including myself, to seek solace in ponderous automobile journeys? Will I soon be undertaking interstate travel via horse and buggy to further slow the process in an attempt to restore my faith in geography? Probably the answer is no on both counts. I'm pretty convinced that my penchant for escapism is born in the cold ashes of a pervasive ennui, an all-encompassing lassitude both progenitor and beneficiary of decades of indecisiveness and lack of focused intent. This might be slightly more self-effacing than I should be at 31 and possibly slightly untrue. What about adventure? Certainly that has some stake in all of this. The open road holds the sacred promise of the unknown, the allure of the unformed and the inchoate, the pure essence of free will and possibility. This all, of course, contrasts sharply with the rather conformist and confining aspects of highways when considered literally, but the point still stands. All those destinations waiting there in the night become possible with a mere turn of the key and some nostalgic art rock in the stereo (and you think I'm joking; I have eight Rush albums on my Ipod).

Maybe the world seems to have lost its flavor because I'm back home and the novelty drug of traveling to such exotic locales as can be had via twelve hours in the car has already worn off. Withdrawal from the dynamics of travel is sometimes like this, where the familiar seems even paler than before. This, of course, is the exact opposite of the intent of travel which is usually to inform and enrich one's experience in a way that is moveable and generally applicable towards a betterment of self. Well, there comes to mind a rather wretched but apropos cliche, so odious that its mere utterance is reminiscent of a mouthful of bile. It goes to the tune of "no matter where you go, there you are". Such a naively infuriating thread of dribble, the phrase still begs attention as it describes with such poignancy the absolute inertia against which I now battle from sunup to sundown and sometimes even in the in-between times. There is no escape, only a constant battle to swim away from the gathering gloom, the event horizon of frustration and helplessness that can only come of chronic unemployment and noncommittal tendencies. Cue the violins and standby the tissue boxes.

In this obsessive-compulsive melodrama wherein I see the incongruous behavior but am powerless to change it, I do what any sensible person would do: run away and come back only to repeatedly face the same status quo in a cyclical fashion almost ritualistic in its adherence to replicating itself flawlessly each time. Recognition of this pattern is of course no medicine for it; little is accomplished by palliating symptoms aside from momentary relief. If there is a cure for wallowing in self pity there is probably also a cure for overly florid language. If I find them both I will be a much happier, more effective person and this blog will be far more incisive and far less booched up with naughty syllables. Less is more, they say.

Since I know full well that there is nothing more compelling than 'glass is half full' ranting, which I imagine runs rampant these days, I will end with this: to me, at this juncture in time, the glass is half full of salt water! So there! Thank you for reading. Maybe the next entry will be about climbing or something.

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