Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Into the Wild

Christopher McCandless was a 22-year old American university graduate from a well-to do family. In 1990 he moved out of his apartment, gave away all his money, cut off all contact with his family and everyone he knew, and set off across the US on a grand adventure. He spent two years wandering all over the country. He was an intelligent and gifted young man, who made quite an impact on the people who met him. Jon Krakauer wrote a fine book about him, which was later made into a great film.

McCandless had strong convictions and very high standards. He clashed constantly with his parents. He was a good student, a great athlete, and was also musically gifted. He had the intelligence to follow whatever career he wanted in life. Instead, inspired by books and high ideals, he answered the call of the wild.

He wanted to live free from his parents, from society, to be uncompromised by rules and conventions he didn’t approve of. To challenge himself and truly live in nature, instead of just existing in a world he saw as being plastic and fake.

He did all these things. And then he died. He starved to death, alone in a rusting bus in Alaska. He was 24.

I am not Chris McCandless by any stretch of the imagination. But I recognize something of myself in him, and something of my time in Japan in his two-year odyssey across America.

Like him, I love books and reading. Like him, I can be stubborn, and I have an idealistic streak that doesn’t always fit so well into the real world. Like him, I had issues that contributed to me moving very far away from home, in my case all the way from Australia to Japan.

Of course, Tokyo is not Alaska. But although my time in Japan has been far from the kind of adventure that Chris McCandless experienced, it has been similar in that it is here that I have experienced both the best and worst times of my life. There have been times when my whole being has been filled with happiness, times that I have been more alive than ever before. Times when I have truly lived.

There have also been times that I wanted to die. Times when I felt so low, so self-loathing and negative, so isolated and alone that I didn’t want to go on. Times when I would have preferred to simply not wake up in the morning. To sleep forever rather than face another day.

In the time since I came to Japan I have been up and down several times, with three major bouts of depression. Each time, it got a bit worse. The last time, three months ago, was by far the worst.

I am not sure what lies ahead of me when I return to Australia. I am not sure what I will do for work, where I will live. Moving locations does not change a person. But Japan does not seem to be so good for me. I am glad that I came here, glad that I had my equivalent of a grand adventure. But I think it is time to head home.


  1. I had a hard time reading the book and seeing the movie because like you I identified with it too much for my comfort. But isn't that what books/movies/music is supposed to do? Break us out of our comfort zone. To live in a foreign country like you have is a true adventure which most people like myself probably don't have the courage to do so. Just don't eat any wild mushrooms,(a little dark humour there, sorry, had to add that in).

  2. Hi Wendy,
    Thanks for your comment, yes, I know what you mean about identifying with McCandless. I don't think he was a hero the way some people do, but I really relate to what he did and why he did it. He lived and died on his own terms, and I suppose that is more than most of us can say.

    On the other hand, despite all his intelligence he was really only a boy. It is interesting to think what he might have contributed to society had he made it through his Alaskan pilgrimage and grown up.

    But he knew what he was getting into, and he knew that death was a real possibility. Whether death was more than an abstract concept to him when he headed out into the wilderness we will never know. But from the writings he left, it was certainly real by the end.

  3. I loved this book, when it first came out 12+ years ago, and then I loved the movie years later, which probably gave it a much bigger audience than it had at first. It is such a story - and the raw reality of the way he lived and the way he died left me with a feeling that is hard to describe and hard to forget. I also related to the book in some ways when I read it, and in more ways now, after I had moved for a few years to another state with little contact with my family for the entire time. My reasons were not all about depression, but that was part of the problem. Unfortunately, I had a major psycohtic break and it didn't turn out well, so living in Virginia ended, and I no longer have little contact with my immediate family; I talk to several of them on a regular basis. I still am cut off from most of my extended family, but I no longer care, as we have nothing in common and they are no more interested in me than I am in them to be honest about it. I've also never felt like I fit in on this planet much. So I could relate to Chris, and his idealism too. It still makes me sad to think of him dying in that bus.

    I think if you have found yourself battling more and more depressive episodes where you are, than perhaps your situation is not the best. But, as you said, moving does not solve things either. I think it can, however, make things easier to cope with, if one has some people around that they can talk to or be close to or rely upon for support. I did not have that in Virginia, and I have a small amount of it now, which actually does make a difference for me.

  4. Hi Jen,
    Thanks for your comment. I think in one way or another his story resonates with so many of us because we have left from where we are from looking for freedom, for ourselves, for happiness.. or just to get away.

    After going back and forth several times I have decided to stay in Japan for the time being, as the situation has improved somewhat. But I although McCandless is inspiring on one level, on a deeper level he is more of a cautionary tale. The quote at the start of the last chapter really hit home with me:

    "Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste: look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end."

  5. maybe blog some professional people in here..these are valid peoples stories..but let the professionals diagnose...these are folks lives...