Living on our own terms…or not

I was moved last night even though I didn’t embark on being moved…by anything.

I was just tired, bored, languishing, sad at the closing another weekend. I didn’t feel like writing, I didn’t feel like reading or listening to music. This piercing ennui, I was aimless and exhausted, physically and mentally. I couldn’t bring myself to embrace anything. I rarely feel such a despondent boredom but it was too early to go to bed and I wasn’t that tired even though I gotten shit for sleep Saturday night. I felt tormented, but nothing was bugging me. A taste of unease as I like to call it. A subdued chameleon dour emotion that saps you of enthusiasm and energy. Ah yes, Sunday night.

So I turned on my overpriced, needlessly fancy television and defaulted to my default mindless entertainment corner. Where I go when my mind needs to coast, like driving downhill when you are staggering on the last few ounces of gasoline in the gas tank. Perhaps there would be something to watch, I thought. At first I began watching Bad Lieutenant, the one with Harvey Keitel from 1992. Dark, gritty, soiled, gloomy…it required too much effort, spiritually. I wasn’t armed and ready to handle this movie, so I stopped it after 10 minutes. I loved it in 1992. Last night, I was not in the mood. I began surfing movie titles but nothing caught my eye. Nothing. I was ready to give up and go back to my computer and look for mortifying gore on Reddit. I was desperate, man. As I scrolled through the documentary section, I saw a movie titled “Grizzly Man” but what caught my attention was that it was directed by Werner Herzog, the well-known German director who happened to have directed the recent incarnation of The Bad Lieutenant which takes the old plot and revitalizes it for post-Katrina New Orleans. The Netflix summary for “Grizzly Man” merely said the documentary was about Timothy Treadwell, an environmental activist who sought to save and preserve bears and their habitat, and who ultimately was attacked and eaten by one of the animals in a twist of irony.

I was in an apathetic and tired state. I really didn’t care. I didn’t care what I watched, I just needed to fixate my mind on something which would not require thought or concern or interaction. Passive engagement is what the situation called for. I played the movie. It began by detailing the comings and goings of a peculiar Mother Earth Worshiping Gaiaist type of fruitcake. This is how I first thought of Timothy Treadwell when he popped up on the screen frolicking through the deep green Alaskan countryside. As the movie begins, we see footage of Treadwell as he embarks on his 13th sojourn into the Alaskan wilderness where he follows and studies the life of wild bears. We know how the story ends, and the documentary builds toward this. Treadwell would routinely come within feet, or inches, of the large animals which were quite capable of ripping a man to shreds.

Treadwell’s demeanor was effeminate and he spoke very lightly with a feminine inflection and I would have thought he was gay if not for the fact that a parade of women were interviewed for the movie who all seemed to have been his ex-lovers. In fact, on his final Alaskan journey in 2003, he was accompanied by his girlfriend, Amy Huguenard, also an environmentalist. During one interview Treadwell jokingly laments the fact he isn’t gay because romance seems much more straightforward for them.

As the movie progresses and we learn details of his death, we learn more about Treadwell’s darker, former side. He was born in Florida and went to college with a swimming scholarship which was shortly withdrawn after a back injury. During his free time, he began descending into a maelstrom of alcoholism. During one particular bottomed-out drunken postscript, he decided suddenly he would go to Alaska. Thus began his annual trek in of living among the bears and other wildlife of the Alaskan tundra.

Treadwell predictably drew criticism from many corners, especially conservatives who seem to be born with an ingrown distaste for anyone who worships the Earth. Many critics felt his ecological principles and practices were destructive and counterproductive. And Treadwell certainly comes across as a satirical image of a granola-munching hippie type. His fascinations with the the northern windswept wilderness and its wildlife (he also befriends a pack of foxes, one which he pets incessantly like a puppy) seems exaggerated and unrealistic and romanticized. We sense that his adulation of animals and the wilderness is a thinly disguised lunacy for the man seems slightly off his rocker.

However, as I watched, I came to appreciate and admire Treadwell. He had absolutely no fear or hesitation about his unorthodox life. He seemed utterly at peace with his life and he loved what he did with a gusto that you never see, especially among the hordes of corporate desk jockeys who clutter my day (especially myself). Say what you will about environmental activists, this man, Timothy Treadwell, was blessed with a life he loved vividly. I was awed at how he lived life on his own terms.

And I came to appreciate the nut for this reason.
I can mock him and call him demeaning names that right-wingers use for his type, but ultimately he had the last laugh. As I sat here on a putrid Sunday night, dreading going back to work and wage slaving for the man so I could continue to prop up this tenuous materialistic existence in which I am enslaved to my ego, Treadwell had the last laugh.

He lived and died on his own terms.
Who the fuck can say that?
This society is so demanding and harsh that it has created a soulless vacuum that will sap you of your last ounce of humanity the deeper you fall into its hypnotic illusions. The more you desire status and goods and the bullshit of artifice, the less you live for yourself, ie, on your own terms (or not).

We live for everyone but ourselves. We live on society’s terms, we live on the law’s terms, we live on the bank’s terms. We don’t live on our own terms. Treadwell did.

He died on his own terms. In order to truly live on your own terms, you must exit society and have a heart of stone in order to weather the demands of such a lonely place, because it is lonely. The price of eschewing the popular cultural dream set is solitude.

If Treadwell was ultimately delusional about his animals and Mother Nature…so what? He harmed no one although it’s very sad that Hugueard had to die along with him, although we learn in the movie that she stayed during the bear’s attack (which began with Treadwell) and tried to beat it off with a pan even though Treadwell continued ordering her to run even as his scalp was being ripped off. But she stayed.

Perhaps she was obeying her own terms, also.

That’s OK, after the movie, I turned off my television and prepared for bed quickly so I could get a good night’s sleep before being jolted awake by a heartless alarm clock. If you live in a heartless world, its terms will dominate you.

Youtube video – Treadwell’s last footage while alive.