I live in a remote cabin where I spend my time thinking about literature, history, mythology, poetry, astronomy, astrophysics, the curvature of space-time, quantum mechanics, Greek tragedy, Taoism, biology, evolution, and songbirds while hiking or skiing around in the woods. A Newfoundland Dog is my constant companion.
I enjoy reading and languages. I enjoy kayaking immensely. I enjoy travel. I love the Pacific Northwest. I love a lot of places but Alaska is the only place that has ever felt like home. I tried moving away once but wildness and freedom are addictive so I came back. It is certainly possible I will live elsewhere in the future, but for the time being I am answering my personal call to adventure by being where I am. I’ve never been happier than living in my secluded cabin, surrounded by books and wilderness. My favorite thing might be a fire in my wood-burning stove.
I read Tang dynasty poets—the wilderness sages and Taoist hermits—and discover analogues to both my existence and perception.
—could choose any guru Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Dante, Herman Melville, Charles Darwin, Walt Whitman, Albert Einsten, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, JD Salinger, Richard Feynman, Thomas Pynchon, William T. Vollmann, and David Foster Wallace would be in the running. This list isn’t comprehensive but a sampling. In an ideal world I would get these candidates into a single room, hold a round-robin tournament of head-to-head Frogger, and dedicate my life to the teachings of the last man standing. (If you have never played Frogger I recommend doing so: it is an invaluable preparation for navigating life.) Einstein would have a definite advantage due to his intrinsic understanding of space-time, but so would Pynchon, because I guarantee that dude played a lot of Frogger in his day. Lao-Tzu would be a total wildcard; he would either win with one move or refuse to leave the center of the screen. Buddha would probably realize all the cars were actually frogs themselves, eventually, but it would take him so long that even Proust would lose interest. (Jesus wasn’t invited because he would just let the first car he saw run him over. And then he would let the second car run him over.) Salinger would show up wanting to convert everyone to Buddhism, no actually Hinduism, no actually Zen, no actually Vivikenda had it right, but then suddenly he would storm off and leave forever (or is that him wearing the fake mustache and the Thomas Pynchon name tag?). Feynman could probably map out every possible route of every possible Frog but I’m not sure this would help him navigate actual traffic in the end (and Albert would snort derisively at this quantum hocus pocus). Herodotus would travel around the room interviewing everyone about their different opinions of Frogger and its origins before—FINALLY—narrating a play-by-pay of the match. Charlie Darwin would notice that the frogs were getting quicker and better at car-avoidance with each generation, and Melville would go native, marry a Frog, have his fun, then return home to narrate his amphibious adventures. David Foster Wallace would get so distracted discussing the endless ramifications and implications of Frogger as a cultural phenomenon that Carl Jung could handily trounce him in his sleep. Aeschylus would play a perfect game but only the first third of it would get recorded, sadly. William Vollmann would cause everyone to identify with the Frog’s tragic plight, only to be disqualified for bringing a .44 Magnum to the party ‘just in case.’ Dante would be escorted out for soliciting the coat-check girl (who’s a little on the young side, to put it mildly), and Walt Whitman would somewhat tarnish the dignity of his santa-claus beard by writing snippets of ambiguous prose—I mean poems—and dropping them surreptitiously in the vicinity of Marcel, who would sip tea all night in nostalgic reverie. Joseph Campbell would sit in the corner, study everything, and fit it all together. James Joyce, druid-cleric of this amphibiaphanous sagequest, would keep the minutes, beginning: If I—
That last paragraph was designed as bait for crackerjack girls trolling literary keywords. Did it work? Or did I just ensure that every gal with a Frogger or amphibian fetish is going to be stopping by? (You know they’re out there.) How ironic would that be.
This OKCupid experiment is probably doomed to fail for a number of reasons, but I’m going to come at it wielding a tomahawk anyway, because who knows, right? I would much prefer to meet a girl in person, but my lifestyle doesn't allow much opportunity for that right now. So, here I am. And I admit, I’m curious to see what happens.
I guess I should summarize myself now? So I am supposed to give a brief statement of my main points? Instead, how about a long, discursive essay in which I attempt to explain myself (or at least parts of myself), talk about life, rant, rave, criticize, laud, and generally make a nuisance of myself? That sounds like more fun. I wish I could hand out popcorn and soda.
My most salient characteristic is an enduring love of books. I read more than anyone I've ever met. I want to be specific about this; I don't just 'love to read.' I have read well over 100 books this year already and it is only July. My nose is almost constantly buried in a book. I practically live in them. The only thing that has the ability to draw me out of this book-world (biblioshpere?) I inhabit is adventure. Usually these adventures involve the wilderness or the ocean or travel or sometimes even love. (All of these at once would be a personal Holy Grail…is anyone interested in sailing around the world?)
My grand design is to write books and it is a calling I am singularly devoted to. It dominates most of what I do. A ludicrously high percentage of my thoughts are devoted to creating and inhabiting the worlds of the books I am writing. Which makes solitude a fairly common state for me these days.
That doesn't mean I want to be alone, however! Just I don't waste much of my time anymore on activities or social interactions I find unrewarding and fruitless. I am, on the other hand, very much interested in finding the right partner: a person to care about, spend my time with, someone who might help me start a family, if that’s in the cards. And someone who will inspire me. I do spend a lot of time cultivating the few friendships that are important to me. But whereas in my twenties I spent a lot of my time socializing, out in bars, traveling with people, in my thirties I am more often alone in the woods, skiing, or kayaking, or hiking with my dog and thinking about books. This change has been hard on my social life (but undeniably good for my liver, if nothing else).
So that should be understood: I am into books. I iterate myself at the risk of redundancy because it seems the girls I date often do not fully understand the depth of my love affair with reading until it is far too late.
I am in the Merchant Marine and my job keeps me at sea for weeks at a time in the Spring and Summer. When I am not at work I live in an isolated cabin in a small town in Southeast Alaska; I love the wilderness and the climactic natural landscape, but let's not kid ourselves: it isn't an environment one would describe as exactly overflowing with single girls! The roughly one half of the year I have off of work I spend between my cabin and traveling, but never with much time in any one location to devote to romantic adventurism.
Which is where OKCupid comes in. My hope is that I will can meet someone on here, exchange some emails, and then when I am down south this fall we could meet and hang out and date and see how it goes. Unfortunately OKCupid seems designed to accommodate a different sort of purpose, one that requires high hours of browsing time and potentially endless back-and-forth messaging, meant for people who spend a lot of time on the computer and live in the same town. I am hoping, instead, to use the website to bridge distance and serve as an introduction service, one that will lead to emails and real letters and then face-to-face encounters down the road. I admit that OKCupid might not be the proper tool for this. I only spend a couple of hours a month on the internet, for one. (I do however receive and send emails on my phone when I am somewhere with service. I am guessing I will probably be able to check OKCupid on my phone, too.) So obviously I don't have a lot of time to spend browsing profiles. I suppose that means it will be up to you to find me rather than the reverse! I am aware of the fact that it is usually the guys who do the profile surfing and first contacting, and this might doom the endeavor from the start, but it is pretty obvious that the girl I am hoping to meet will not be your average sort of girl, so maybe there is a chance you will find and contact me after all.
When I do have time to get on OKCupid I will search for profiles by targeting keywords. The concept of answering a bunch of questions and then letting a computer program find 'matches' seems preposterous. I will have to be creative in choosing these keywords; many of the ones that would be easy to use would be utterly useless ('Books' and 'Reading' for example. Even people who only read one book a year tend to say they 'love reading' in their profiles for some reason, which is pure obfuscation. I watched one television show last year, and even though I liked it I would hardly claim that I "love watching television.") So, if you received a message from me, it is probably because I did a search for certain keywords, found your profile, and saw something extraordinary.
Regardless of how you ended up reading my profile it should be understood that short, frequent messaging is not in the cards. If that is what you are looking for, I am sorry to disappoint. Nor will it be possible for me to nip down to the corner cafe to meet you for a latte, at least not without some significant planning! If you stumble on this profile, like what you see and read, and we begin communicating, it will likely be a couple of months before we could actually meet. (I will be in the lower-48 this fall and winter.) So I might not be your cup of tea. But if you're interested in a slower online introduction, involving longer but less frequent communications, that might lead to something further down the road, drop me a line.
I should probably comment on the location I have chosen for my profile. I didn't provide OKCupid with my actual zipcode because that would completely undermine my purpose in using the service in the first place. I have never lived in Portland but I chose it for a couple of reasons. I lived in Seattle for a number of years and have spent a lot of time in Portland. I would definitely consider living there at some point in the future (in fact, I often wrestle with the idea of buying a house there even though my main residence is Alaska). Portland is one of my favorite cities in the U.S. (Austin is the other) and the Northwest is the only place I feel at home. Every time I go down South I go to Portland for at least a week and usually longer. I have a couple of good friends in the area, and I try to buy as many books as possible at Powell's. (There are no bookstores worth the name in Alaska, sadly, and I am forced to buy on the internet. To compensate for this I try to buy enough books to fill a truck every time I go south.) Also, and I hope any Seattlites reading this don't take this amiss, Portland's vibe just seems better to me these days, and I feel that I would be more likely to meet the right person there. So Portland seems like the better choice for a location, despite the fact that Seattle is closer to where I currently live.
Back to the summarization which will likely continue to arrive in fits and starts:
I am into organic foods and lifestyles. I like to spend time with people one-on-one rather than in groups. I don't like anything plastic. I like few things digital. I love all of the data available on the internet but I find it is ultimately a time-waster so I usually avoid it. I don't watch T.V. I don't like the entertainment culture we live in. This is not to say that I don't find it entertaining but rather that I find it much too entertaining. I try to stay away because I want to be productive and I find myself happier reading or writing or outdoors than I am in front of a screen. The mass digital entertainments that are available these days are quite as effective as heroine and seem to have largely the same consequences.
I enjoy diversity and heterogeneity and cultural complexity and I feel like we as a society have lost so much of this since the advent of the information age. We are too connected, too the same. One has to go further and further afield to find any differences between places and people anymore. In the smallest village of Alaska people are talking about the same things as in the largest cities down south; they use the same phones; they stare at the same websites all day long, watch the same shows. Our culture, especially our digital culture, is almost completely homogeneous. I suppose that this is convenient in a way. I can go anywhere in America, meet a new person, and instantly have a connection with them based solely on the shows they watch or music they listen to. Great. But has anyone else noticed how effing boring these conversations are? What's the point? What good are these spiffy digital tools we all have if we are all using them to watch the same things, listen to the same music? What good is our freedom and individuality if we all choose to be the same?
The success and health and continuation of our species (and of all life) is derived from diversity and mutation (change). What does it say about our culture that it stomps out diversity and is wholly prophylactic to change?
Moreover, I think it’s ultimately mind-numbing. The internet is our river Lethe.
Observe our American streets: the population shuffles mindlessly, staring at tiny screens, listening to inaudible sounds, talking to people who aren't there, oblivious to the lack of birds, the lack of plants, the lack of animals, the lack of social contact. It’s an exact image of a plutonian underworld.
Technology seems to dictate every facet of this nightmare. Look how servile we are to our technology, rather than the reverser. Our phones are smarter than we are. Much smarter. They regulate and dictate our lives like a little overlord we carry in our pocket.
(Could you blame an alien species if, upon observing us, they surmised that iphones were the dominant species and human beings a vastly inferior host organism. Or perhaps they would think that iphones were some sort of detachable brain and human beings are mere interchangeable husks for them to inhabit? And how close to the truth would they be?)
Observe our listless, wired citizenry, shambling around, practically drooling on the screens that enrapture them: is there any way to escape the Zombie metaphor? It's hard to argue that the Zombie Apocalypse hasn't already happened.
Okay, I am being slightly hyperbolic. But yes, I have a hard time integrating into the collective digital mind these days. Books still give me so much hope though! And readers! Books are such amazing tools for diversity. No two readers are alike. No two experiences with the same book are alike.
Take two people who love all the same writers, put them in a room together (maybe add a little alcohol), and as often as not they will be at each other's throats disputing interpretation and meaning. I can listen to someone talking about my favorite book and often wonder if they are even talking about the same book at all. The fact that people can read exactly the same things yet have vastly different experiences and arrive at vastly different conclusions about life is fascinating.
I know avid Tolstoy fans that think I am dimwitted because I prefer the wrong one of his books; and I largely feel the same way about them. How extravagant is it that lovers of Tolstoy--an endangered species if ever there was one--are willing to dislike each other in this day and age? That is akin to a language dying out because the last two native speakers hate each other and refuse to speak (which has actually happened, by the way!) How strongly must they feel? How significant must the experiences of reading these books have been for them?
Compare this sort of differentiation and diversity of experience to a discussion about T.V.: "Did you see the last Mad Men episode?" "I did!" "I thought it was great!" "So did I!" "What do we talk about now?" "I dunno, have I shown you this new app on my phone yet?"
I would pay to see a friendship ended because one person prefers Don Draper and the other Sookie Stackhouse, but I'm not holding my breath.
Tolstoy came to mind because of the sentence I wrote earlier "No two readers are alike" which reminded me of the beginning of Anna K. Perhaps the 'happy families' that are all the same are the digitally enthralled? Perhaps the unhappy families are we readers who are so diversified? Is it then kind of mean for me to say I don't like this digital (happy) culture and prefer a more diverse, analog (unhappy) one? So I start to think: what is the point? Why bother actively disliking this culture? Why not just ignore it? Well, first of all, I write books, so the digital culture strikes me right where it counts. There is no doubt it will be much harder to market my books to the general public post-twitter. That's kind of selfish, but it is what it is. My legacy in this entire universe will be determined by how many copies of my books are floating around a few millennia from now (it would also be nice if I had a continent's worth of descendants a few millennia down the road but I’m trying to cover all bets here), so I think it is okay if I dislike anything that threatens that legacy, no? People reading less seems like a threat to everything I care about. It gets my hackles up. I realize I probably sound kind of shrill when my hackles are up, but I can’t help it.
And there is another reason to dislike this culture, one that is probably less selfish than just regretting the decline of literature. The fact of the matter is that people simply don't notice the total lack of birds. And trees. And honeybees. And wild animals. And clean oceans. And comprehensive forests. When the entire population has their mug glued to a screen 90% of the time who is left to notice these absences? I hold that these things (trees, animals, etc) are inherently good. I would like more of them. I think it would be good for all of us in many ways. I would like to hinder the alarming rate of their disappearance. I grew up in a community completely comprised of farms and orchards; it is now a concrete slab with concrete boxes on top, and I get crushingly depressed when I go home and see a hope depot where I used to pick apples. And I simply do not enjoy a culture that largely distracts me from the nature we do have left. I prefer my reading culture which rather brings it to my attention, helps me understand it and live with it rather than looking the other way all the time.
I am of course hyper sensitized to this enmity between mass culture and nature because of where I live. It is certainly less obvious in the lower 48. There are Varied Thrushes and Rufous Hummingbards and Yellow Warblers in my yard every day in the spring and summer. I routinely have to wait hours while Moose browse my shrubs. I can see magnificent constellations from my porch, not to mention periodical Aurora Borealis. I can climb a mountain or catch a fish minutes from my doors. Digital entertainment seems laughably inept compared to these pleasures. Unfortunately they are largely nonexistent or invisible down south and the digital is by far the most engaging phenomenon in our barren landscapes. It is much easier to understand how much of the natural world has vanished when you live in Alaska, and can compare the teeming forests and oceans here with the sparsely inhabited wasteland below the 48th parallel. I just feel that maybe if we weren't so engaged in the collective digital brain we would notice these things more, notice that they are disappearing, and work to reverse the process. The pleasure of a song bird is an indefinitely sustainable resource if it is protected; that resource can last millions and millions of years. No amount of anything can sustain Mad Men beyond a few more seasons, or iphones beyond, what, a few centuries at most? More likely a few decades? Is it wise to be feeding the unsustainable with the sustainable? This makes me think it is still worth getting somewhat upset at our culture.
Where do books come into this, again? Because I love them and this is my summary. They promote radical individuality and diversity. They promote engagement with life rather than retreat from it. A book itself is a vastly more sustainable object than any of our digital tools. We can literally grow the materials to make them! From sunlight and water and dirt! I have held books that are 500 years old and still perfectly functional. (Compare that to an ipad: which I've seen people discard because they are a year old. If a book can potentially outlast an ipad by thousands of years while being constructed with a fraction of the resources, how is it even up for discussion which is the better piece of technology?) A book is more useful in every way than our digital tools are. A book can educate us better, entertain us better (or more deeply anyway), communicate better, turn us into more dynamic people, etc. I can't think of a single thing an ipad does better than a book! If I am looking at a mountain and read a passage about that mountain it will be much more permanently written in my memory than if I snap a digital photo of it. I even need the ipad if I ever want to look at the photo! What use is that?!? If I want to communicate to a friend I can send them a message via an ipad, or video chat with them; but how much more is communicated by giving them a carefully chosen book?
I am laughing about how ludicrous this self-summary is becoming. But even if it is going to be laughably ineffective as a dating-website tactic, I am doing my best to summarize myself and things that are important to me. I'm rather a long-form sort of person, I guess. (I wonder why that is, and why this format isn't conducive to it? Ha. Do you think it is possible to meet another long-former on here? Will I manage to usurp this inadequate forum for my own purposes and harness it to my long-winded and bookish designs? Is it even in the realm of possibility that I will meet someone who is like-minded on OKCupid? That maybe that person will be a bookworm or an adventurer or a wilderness lover? Do bookworms and adventurers and wilderness lovers use this website or is this a humorous exercise in futility? Either way, I think I will continue to turn these text-boxes into discursive personal essays. That's just how I like to do things I guess. I also hope it will somewhat offset the fact that I won't be able to respond to messages frequently: i.e. if you want to get to know me you can make a good start just by wading through my profile.)
None of this is to say that reading and digital entertainment is mutually exclusive, which clearly isn't the case. It isn't that someone can be either a reader or a tweeter, but rather we all live in both worlds simultaneously (I assume that anyone that has made it this far is something of a reader); some of us more in one realm than the other. I have an android smart phone and it would be very difficult for me to live without it. Fortunately I don't have cell service in my cabin so I don't spend all my time looking up random information on wikipedia, which I am apt to do. I do most of my writing on a computer (I do love and use my typewriter but I feel like I'm clear cutting a forest when I use it for an extended period of time). And I have an ipod for my music. All of that jazz. But I don’t have internet at home. Because if I let these objects synchronize with the Ur-brain my cabin will be turned into a lethal entertainment machine, siphoning years of my with neverending HBO reruns and charming yet ultimately vacuous videos of kittens on trampolines.
So I have one foot solidly in the digital world, too, anyway. No helping it. I just try to avoid as much of the really time-wasting stuff as possible. I don't shun the technology that is actually beneficial to my goals. I really couldn't imagine writing the books I'm working on without a computer. I love that I have a phone that I can use to talk to and email my friends and family even when I'm in Alaska. But I do get rather antagonistic to the tech that infringes on my world. I can't count the number of long term friends that I lost since the advent of Facebook. These are people that had been excellent at making calls, writing letters, and sending emails over the course of long friendships. But after exposure to Facebook they are incapable of communicating in any other medium. It's like we don't exist in the same worlds any more. It's that sort of thing I abhor. No matter how you cut it, that just can't be good. And please, don't suggest that they are maintaining the same level of communication simply migrated to a new medium, that I am out of the loop because I haven't evolved. I've seen Facebook. There's no pretending the quality of interaction wasn't completely sacrificed in the translation to social networking. I miss my personal letters and phone calls. Tweets and impersonalized brief updates do not plug that hole.
So we readers exist simultaneously in the digital and analog (book) world. It isn't black or white and I'm not suggesting it is. But I think it is obvious that digital entertainment does restrict and infringe upon our reading, and I wish this were not so, or much less so, or that more people could balance it better. I think this would be healthier for everyone in our great community. How many people do you know who were raised reading voraciously but now barely read at all? They will be the first to admit that their antedigitial reading was personally formative and bemoan the loss of 'time to read.' Just as an example, how many profiles on this site do you find where people confess that they don't read as much as they did formerly? They invariably admit that this is a bad thing, but almost no one mentions the cause. "I'm so busy," they say, totally disregarding the fact that what they mean is they are accomplishing less in more time. (I can cover more ground socially in one hour face-to-face than I can in 24 hours on Facebook, so why is Facebook considered such a great social tool? Isn't that backwards? Isn't that the opposite of the truth? Isn't Facebook just feeding on people's sociability by trapping it and confining it and stretching it out into interminably longer segments of marketable time? Isn't it just imprisoning our social lives in order to feed on them? But only on Facebook can one maintain hundreds of friends, right? But having hundreds of friends is only viable if one has Facebook to negotiate the colossal network, so what's the point? If 300 friends showed up at your house to hang out at once what the hell would you do? It would be chaos! I can't find any utility in Facebook beyond the capability to instantaneously inform 300 'friends' that you just ate ramen noodles for dinner; in which case...again, um, wtf?)
But no, the real culprit is just that we are "too busy" now. No mention of the fact that lethally pleasurable and mindless entertainments are at our fingertips 24 hours a day. No mention of the fact that these entertainments have been designed by very, very intelligent people. They have been designed by our best and brightest. They have developed and evolved entertainment to the point where we can say without exaggeration that it has been weaponized (miss you, DFW). This weaponized entertainment effects our personal and social organisms exactly like a virus. One person in a household gets an ipad, then everyone has one. Then co-workers have one. And Aunts and Uncles. And then acquaintances. Six degrees later Kevin Bacon has one. Likewise at the debut of a new show, Mad Men or Game of Thrones or whatever. These entertainments vector like diseases until they permeate the whole social organism. They choke it, stifle it. They numb the mind. Productivity lowers. Functions cease.
And these entertainments are attacking us first and foremost where it effects our personal development the most: in our free time. Digital entertainment is a maniacally voracious eater of our time. Entire planets and solar systems of time are consumed, and it isn't the direct cost so much as the opportunity cost of this that is so destructive. It isn't that Modern Warfare is necessarily bad for an adolescent but rather that he or she simply doesn't spend time outside or reading or socializing or cooking or making music while playing it for hours and hours on end. (And when this adolescent turns 18 he won’t be able to play the piano, start a fire, or make spaghetti carbonara…but you’d better believe he’ll be able to point and shoot a gun.)
I hope I am not sounding preachy here. I'm as guilty, or more guilty, than anyone when it comes to wasting my time in our mass culture. I am probably far more susceptible to the ills of digital entertainment than most people, for whatever reason, and that's likely why I see shadows in every closet. It probably isn't such a problem for most people. I mean, I have to sequester myself in a remote cabin in Alaska where I don't have access to our time killing culture, or I can barely be productive or happy at all! (Part of me would argue strongly that this is true of everyone, really, but part of me recognizes that it must be exaggerated in myself, which while perhaps unfortunate at least gives me the opportunity to understand our culture better by observing its effects in extremis.)
That's probably enough on mass digital culture.
I plan on returning to this summary in the future; I want to add sections about adventuring, wilderness, Alaska, and philosophy. Among other things. This is a work in progress.