The Snows of Kilimanjaro


Joseph Campbell is perhaps most famous for his mantra, “follow your bliss,” but this is dangerous advice (or so my father once said).  I can remember discussing Campbell with my father a few years back, and when I invoked this mantra, he told me “a lot of lives have been ruined that way.”  I, of course, thought my father was full of shit.  I didn’t want to believe him, partly because I’m an idealist and a romantic at heart, but mostly because I was ignorant and completely out of my mind at the time.  I was in the midst of an existential crisis, which I wasn’t handling very well at all, and I decided I had to make some radical changes in my life because I just knew that to not do so would mean certain doom.  So I made those changes and “followed my bliss” at my own peril, and now (too late, as always) I realize that my father was right.

Somehow or other during this existential crisis I managed to find myself on a mailing list for a motivational speaker by the name of Scott Dinsmore.  He founded a company called “Live Your Legend” whose purpose was to help folks “change the world by doing work you love and surrounding yourself with the people who make it possible,” which seemed like something I could get behind.  I never bothered to unsubscribe from his mailing list because his e-mails were few and far between and weren’t at all intrusive, unlike the ones I get from Pottery Barn.  [Side note: How did I get on their mailing list, anyway? And why the hell can’t I get off of it?  Being on the Pottery Barn mailing list is like being in the mafia– you’re in it for life.]  If anything, Scott seemed to be an infectiously positive guy and his Live Your Legend e-mails brought encouragement and hope to me in a dark time in my life.  I figured I didn’t have enough affirmation or motivation in my life, so why not remain subscribed?  I truly do believe in the importance of affirmations, though I don’t really practice them myself (hmmm… maybe that’s the problem).

scottdinsmoreScott and Chelsea on vacation

In the occasional updates I received, I followed Scott and his wife Chelsea as they sold all of their possessions and left their home in San Francisco to embark on a globetrekking adventure.  All in all they visited twenty countries on their journey, which ended in Tanzania.  Apparently it was a lifelong goal of Scott’s to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, so that’s exactly what he and his wife set out to do.  Well, I recently received an e-mail from the “Live Your Legend Team” rather than Scott himself (which I thought was odd) with the subject line of “In Memory of the Greatest Living Legend of Them All: Scott Dinsmore” (which was even more odd).

During his ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, shortly before he was to reach the summit, Scott was struck in the head by a falling rock and killed.  He was 33 years old.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to Hemingway’s famous short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” which tells the story of a writer who [spoiler alert] dies while on vacation with his wife in Tanzania.  As he’s dying, the character finds himself reflecting on his life and wondering whether or not he’s lived up to his full potential.  But Hemingway’s protagonist had plenty of time to reflect, as he was slowly dying of gangrene.  Scott, on the other hand, was likely killed the instant the rock struck his head, thereby preventing him from such reflection.  But from what little I knew of this man through his e-mails, had he been afforded the time for such reflection, there would be no doubt that he was indeed living up to his full potential.

Below is video from his TED talk on doing what you love, and it’s worth a watch.  And feel free to check out his Live Your Legend page, too, if you’re so inclined.  As for me, I think I’m done trying to believe in the power of positive thinking.  Life is just too random and absurd to comprehend anymore.

Ol’ Blue

In an earlier post I wrote about “going back to the beginning,” as Inigo Montoya once did, in the hopes of rediscovering who in the hell I am and also figuring out who I’m supposed to be.  Well, I did exactly that this week when I bought myself a late birthday present:  a forty-year-old typewriter.  Not just any typewriter, mind you– one that’s a spitting image of my dad’s old IBM Selectric, the same model I learned to type on as a kid and that my brother and I affectionately referred to as “Ol’ Blue.”  This is some real return to the womb shit right here, folks.

2015/07/img_9907.jpg“You’re my boy, Blue!”

The fucker weighs about forty pounds (it sure as shit ain’t no Macbook Air) but this Marlin Blue beast is a thing of absolute beauty.  Looks aren’t everything, though– it’s what’s on the inside that counts, by gawd, and I will slap my hand on the Bible and testify that this is perhaps the single greatest piece of machinery ever made by man– it’s the very pinnacle of mechanical perfection.  They just don’t make ’em like this anymore, and with good reason:  technology has rendered these dinosaurs beyond obsolete.  I mean, who in their right mind would actually want to use one of these things?  Nobody.  But what about those of us who aren’t in their right minds?  Well, I can only speak for myself, but I can tell you unequivocally that I wanted this big-ass IBM typewriter like a fat kid wants ice cream.

The trend among the hipster literati for the last few years has been the procurement of manual typewriters in the hopes of magically transforming themselves into respectable authors.  The motives behind this practice are mostly bullshit– I’d reckon they’re roughly 20% pragmatism, 30% poseur, and 50% faux-nostalgia.  Some have gone so far as to purchase behemoth typewriters the size of cash registers simply because that’s what their favorite author used a century ago.  It’s so strange to me to think about the lengths that some folks will go to in the hopes of emulating their heroes.   I mean, I like to drink Wild Turkey, but I don’t necessarily drink it because Hunter S. Thompson drank it– I drink it because it tastes good, it’s 101 proof, and it gets me really drunk.

image50% alcohol = 50% closer to my goal of getting lit

Given, many writers used portable typewriters back in the day, but “portable” in 1938 means something a whole helluva lot different than it does in 2015.  You can bet your ass that if Ernest Hemingway had access to even a halfway-decent laptop, he would’ve chucked his Underwood Portable into the garbage.  Freeing up fifteen pounds in his luggage would have meant he could have packed more shotgun shells for wherever the hell he was headed.

hemingwayunderwoodPapa Hemingway and his “portable” Underwood

Seriously, though, the hipsters are indeed on to something with the proliferation of old-school typing devices, as I discovered first hand after the purchase of my typewriter, and that is preaching the gospel of “distraction-free writing.”  When it comes to long-form writing, it pays to be unplugged.  I have the hardest time staying on track when I’m trying to write because I keep dicking around on the internet every five minutes.  I don’t think I have Attention Deficit Disorder, but I do seem to display the symptoms every time I try to write something for an extended period of time.  It’s akin to wearing an uncomfortable shirt–you just find yourself restless far too often, and you can’t get a damn thing done because of it.  Well guess what?  There’s no checking your e-mail or playing Words With Friends on your typewriter–it’s just you and your actual words.

But this isn’t the biggest benefit I have reaped from my “new” typewriter.  When it comes to writing, I am my own worst enemy.  I consider myself a better editor than I am a writer, and if I’m trying to write a long-form piece (especially a narrative) I find myself editing and re-composing the words I’ve just written over and over again to the point where I eventually come to the conclusion that what I’ve written “fucking sucks,” and in a fit of despair I will quit writing altogether.  Well, a typewriter obviously doesn’t afford you the same editorial freedoms found on a computer screen– you’re stuck with whatever words you commit to the sheet of paper sitting in front of you.  And while this might sound like a detriment, in my case it’s been a godsend as it has allowed me to just write.  It’s almost like a weight has been lifted in my writing process– I am suddenly unburdened because I’m unable to re-read or edit until the page is completed.  I’ve written more in the last few days than I have in the last long while, in part because of this improvement in my writing process, but also because I had forgotten what it was like to type on such a machine.  Manual typewriters are an absolute bitch to type on because you have to hammer the damn keys to get them to strike, and the keys can WILL get jammed if you go too fast.  Not so with Ol’ Blue– I type upwards of 120 words-per-minute (wpm), and the IBM Selectric can cover 150 wpm with ease.  I cannot begin to describe the joy I feel when I first fire it up and hear that distinctive electric hum come alive, or the tactile pleasure I get out of typing the living hell out of this old machine and the feedback it delivers as I watch it keep up with me.  It may be mechanical, but it really does feel magical– I reckon those hipsters might be right after all.