Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Psychology of Living in a Cabin in the Woods: Facts and Fantasy

I have mentioned before that people who come out to my cabin in the woods say things like, “This is so isolated.”  Most people add that it’s nice living surrounded by nature but I can tell they wouldn’t trade city life for the way I live.  After all, living in a city has its conveniences and once people get used to them it becomes hard if not impossible to leave.  Some people fanaticize about living the way I do but I think it’s more metaphorical than real.  A fellow I knew always said he wanted to live in a cabin in the woods but it was a symbolic wish and not fact.  He lives in a big city and never made any real attempts to leave.  But of course, this has a lot to do with the way people think.  We all dream of a life without problems.  The classic image of that idea is the cabin in the woods.  Add to that the desire many people have of leaving their current situations and escaping to a world that is perfect or at least a whole lot better.  The cabin in the woods is perhaps the corporeal embodiment of that wish.  Religions and certain institutions and organizations play up that human fantasy and stoke people's anxieties about the way their lives are evolving.  End of the world dramatics, conspiracy theories, doomsday scenarios, us against them hysteria…people are shoveled that sort of theatre on a daily basis.  Live in a city and day-of-reckoning mania can become a lifestyle.  I dropped in at a gun shop last week when I went to town to buy supplies and the walls were bare, the shelves were gathering dust, and the clerks looked like they were in a state of panic.  “Business must be good,” I said.  To which one of the clerks said, “Haven’t you heard?  They [the quintessential “they”] want to destroy us….”  I smiled and replied, “Well, business still looks very good.”  But my remark didn’t seem all that important.  After all, we’re talking about taking to the hills, living off the land, heading to the boonies….Bugging OUT!!  Oh, the fun of it all.  When the Mayan Calendar thing fizzled (As it turned out the Mayan’s just ran out of stones to chisel and the guy who wrote the calendar was about to retire and take his pension and nobody else wanted the job)….but anyway, a whole lot of people were sorely disappointed.  Not the least of which were the folks who run The History/Discovery Channels who had to scurry around looking for a new crisis to exploit.  But then here comes The Walking Dead!  A classic depiction of good versus evil where the good guys can indeed blow the living (oops, wrong word) sh*& out of the bad guys and still get past the censors.  It’s the great dream come true, at least on TV, where we take to the road living off our wits, facing evil and getting to annihilate it.  And at the same time we’ve got the bathroom a few steps away, the refrigerator is buzzing and full of goodies, the air-conditioner is blowing cool air into the room and later on we can take to our favorite forum and poke keys for hours about the details of the most recent show.  Ah yes, the modern day cabin in the woods.  Now I too have to make my plans but in my case that means make my lists.  A spiral notebook close at hand because when things come to mind I’d best jot it down quick or I’ll forget it and a 140 mile round trip gets expensive (and time consuming) and when I forget to get something all I can do is think, Why didn’t you jot it down on the list?  Things must be coordinated.  Grocery store, hardware store, doctor’s appointment, other odds and ends.  I cracked a tooth recently and when I’d crunch down on that tooth a pain jetted into my upper jaw past my ear into my brain and exited out the top of my head.  I went to my dentist a few weeks later and he said, “Arturo, it’s like a crack in the windshield.  At first you can’t see it but it grows and grows and starts working its way across the glass.  Your tooth is cracking and it will be painful but let’s wait because the crack will work its way through the tooth and in a few weeks you’ll be chewing something and maybe hear a click and find part of your tooth has fallen off.”  Well, he was absolutely right.  That’s just what happened.  But I couldn’t call up and drop in to see him the next day.  Not living way out here.  Besides, if I’m going to run into town for every little thing then what’s the point of living the way I do?  So I waited nearly a week until my appointed time to go to town and on that day my old friend looked at my tooth and asked, “Is it hurting?”  To which I said, “Not anymore.”  So he said, “You know this is a really clean break.  You’re lucky.  Let’s just leave it as is.”  So, of course, I was quite pleased and off I went to run all the other errands on my list.  You see that’s part of the reality of living in a cabin in the woods.  Yes, there is a garden and there are tons of birds all around to watch and I’ve got deer and hogs out back.  For some people that’s what it’s really all about: They just want to hunt and trap and fancy themselves Jeremiah Johnson.  But in some ways that’s a rather hedonistic attitude.  Besides, I don’t have much of a taste for red meat anymore and so I don’t hunt although I would if I were really hungry.  I do like to fish.  The saltwater bay is 100 miles or thereabouts east of here and now and then I’ll mosey over that ways to drop a hook.  But that’s not very often so I abide by my list and take to the road about every two weeks and in the interim I….just live.  Yeah, that’s it.  I write and tinker around in my workshop and take my dogs for long walks and sit on my porch and bird watch and at night look up at the stars.  I make hook knives and crooked knives and other woodcarving knives and sell them to carvers and now and then I’ll forge a big knife I call a Woods Roamer Knife; and I’ll send articles out for publication and other editorial related endeavors.  Ah, the beauty of using pen names.  Especially if you enjoy privacy and living in a cabin in the woods.  But for every place—and this you must take to heart—there is a downside.  I miss my boys who live so far away.  Of course, many people in the cities have their grown children far away too.  Lucky are those who have family close by.  But I can’t drop in on people to chat like those in a city and I think about that sometimes.  Fortunately, I’m of the type who prefers working on various projects and who writes and who is a voracious reader and prefers a contemplative lifestyle.  I think that’s essential for anyone who wants to go beyond the fantasy and actually live in a cabin in the woods.  A fellow who lives nearby moved here from the city and became miserable within a few months.  He looks for any excuse to drive into town 65 miles away and I’ve been told he will sometimes take the long trip stay a few hours and return and then after another while he will hop back in his car and take another trip into town.  He will invent any excuse to go to the city.  He complains incessantly about living out here and so people generally avoid him.  It’s sad, actually.  A lady told me not long ago that she asked him why he wants to be so miserable.  But he used the opportunity to complain a bit more and then walked off.  I wonder if someone like that would be the same if they lived in the city.  Maybe not and it seems to me, based on what I’ve read, that longstanding depression can affect a person’s behavior in the sense they become aggressive, hostile, impatient and grumpy.  But here’s the point: We can think of living in the woods on two levels.  We can think of it as a literal experience or a figurative lifestyle.  In the latter sense anyone can live in a cabin in the woods if they are sufficiently strong in character and will.  Those who must live their lives through the eyes of others need not apply.  They are forever at the mercy of trends and fashion and propaganda and that need (which can become pathological) to fit in with the crowd.  So you see it is a matter of mental attitude although the more introverted, contemplative and analytical have a decided advantage.  Ask yourself this question: Do I draw energy from crowds or do crowds wear me out?  And then ask yourself: After being in a crowd do I often need time alone to recharge my batteries?  If you answered that crowds tend to wear you out and you need to be alone and recharge your battery after being in a crowd then you can find that cabin in the woods no matter where you live.  You can learn to be less self-indulgent, less hyper-consumptive, more contemplative and less prone towards living your life in accordance with the masses.  Whether in the city or way out in the woods it is your attitude towards yourself and others that steers the course of your life.  Remember that how you feel about yourself will determine to a great degree how you feel about others and the world around you.  Witness the people who are constantly trying to show off and grab attention and who shop incessantly and must drive a fancy car because it’s really all about impressing others.  But truth is that nobody but the most frivolous is impressed by those sorts of people.  And in the end it all comes to nothing.  They wasted their lives in pursuit of what is essentially unobtainable: Unlimited admiration and worship.  Maybe someday you will indeed get to live in an actual cabin in the woods.  Understand that it’s not the place you live that matters but the way you view life.  A man can live far removed from everyone and be miserable.  Note the fellow I told you about earlier.  A person can live in the inner city and be quite content—not because of the things all around but because of the mental perspective that person has mastered.  We live in an increasingly complex world.  A man moves to the woods and builds his cabin and along comes the Oil and Gas Mafia and drills a hole and “fracks” the underground and ruins the man’s water supply and his quiet place in the woods becomes a nightmare.  This has happened and is happening to many people right now.  All things have their downside and it does not look like it will get better.  More to come.