Late Night Contemplation and James T. Kirk

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“We let our grapes ripen on the vine,” the narrator of this particular commercial boasts, bright green grapes hanging in the sunlight, “so that they can attain a full flavor.” He continues, convincingly, “and only the most experienced hands are allowed to harvest them.” Images of white men in clean shirts choicing bunches of grapes and placing them into small, wooden baskets, as though clean shirts and farm work ever coincide. Still, it’s convincing. The tone of voice, the words, the accompanying imagery.

And then the sell comes.

“Only the most experienced hands are allowed to harvest them…”

“That’s why we only sell our grapes to Wal-Mart.”

Instantly the illusion is dashed. As though anyone could be fooled by the idea that high quality, or small farmers, go hand in hand with Wal-Mart. As though any of us actually sit and think, “Hmm, I need an experienced, high quality opinion, maybe I should ask a Wal-Mart associate.”

Illusion is thick in this world so full of media. I’ll try to avoid the cliche and allow my confidence in the reader to shine through, but even those of us who are aware of the game that’s being played with our lives on a daily basis succumb to this advertisement reality.

iPhones, Prius, Levis, Leatherman. We all believe that the products we use are good, if not downright great. We invest in them, not just financially, but even emotionally. Our phones are our best friends, like our jeans used to be. Our cars are our homes for hours a day. As for our tools, well we like to know we have the best and rarely put them to the test.

But we’ve traded the true reality for this new one. Men once toiled over bow, arrow and till in the field, while women taught children to knead bread and build fires. There’s a quote akin to how the largest mistake a man can make is to assume food comes from the grocery store, heat from the furnace. Yet we all make that assumption every single day.

Where Wonder Bread was presented as a way to free women from the rigors of their daily boredom, to give them more free time, more time with their children, to enjoy pursuits and hobbies, has it really? Do women today spend more time with their kids? Or do they work jobs and allow others raise their babies? Do people in general have endless hours to tend to their interests? Or instead of knitting and crocheting and building model boats inside of bottles, are we all just sitting around on phones reading up on how we can further hack our lives, multitask the shit out of our days, and end up with…what exactly?

Forgive my focus on women there, and believe me when I say this idea has nothing to do with gender. It’s about the last sixty or so years of progress we’ve made as a nation, a society, as humanity, toward finding a way to simplify our lives by replacing slaving over a hot oven with microwaves, changing our own oil with Jiffy Lubes, and choosing and playing an album with shuffle on an ever present iPod. It’s about how we’ve been stuffing our dishes into machines that clean them so we can have more time around the television after dinner. It’s a grocery store where we choose to scan our own foodstuffs in a self-checkout line rather than “suffer” the small talk of interacting with other, breathing things.

We’ve discarded the actual act of living for allowing simplified robots to do that living, that actual participation in the little things that make up life, while we sit back and ingest random nothing.

Where the automatic transmission was meant to allow us to drive more easily, or as another recent commercial puts it “spend more time driving and less time worrying”, what it’s actually done has removed us from the experience of driving. We’re able to disappear into random thought, the radio, more commercials, our problems that really only affect other parts of our day. Instead of being aware of our speed, the coming hills, traffic ahead, and feeling the movement of the gears as we dive into downhills and work our way up the steep, we’ve set it all on automatic, and have been making our way all over but rarely seeing any of it along the way.

Living life on cruise control.

I suppose to some, that may sound like a fun idea. Like a Jimmy Buffet song gone your morning commute. But when you really dig your heels in and realize what it means, that we’re not doing any of the work, or getting any of the experience of our action, we’re completely losing out.

When all you get is the reward, the reward is a penalty. Just like if our natural state of being was high on ecstasy, being high on ecstasy wouldn’t be, well, ecstasy. It would just be normal, simply sobriety.

It’s only when you’ve had a killer hard day at the mines does a beer actually taste great. Only when you’ve struggled to losing your hair that an achievement can feel empowering.

This concept has little to do directly with traveling, but they are both very similar concepts, and perhaps one bares the other. When you choose to participate in all of the little tediums in life, whether it be tying your shoes instead of slipping them on, rolling a cigarette instead of producing one from a pack, or following road signs with an atlas rather than allowing Siri direct you down the road, you’re gaining more experiences. You are ingesting the world around you, with time to think about the man with the strange hat on the corner, or why the construction worker seems so damned angry about having to stand there all day, or just getting frustrated at missing your turn every now and then.

I don’t know, anymore to me it’s tedium that is exciting, because it leads to ideas, to a need for real adventure. Opening a door manually tells me, “I’ve entered,” not, “I’ve been let in.” Wiping dirt from a windshield or setting up a tent and tearing it down over and again reminds me that when I wrap this one up, I should go hike a mountain or study a tree.

One not need be active in the physical fitness sense, or busy in the “hard-working” ideal that apparently exists. Just get down and do the little dirty work, take the time to pop the lid of your beer with a lighter instead of buying twist offs, to park at the far end of the parking lot and walk through all of the cars and abandoned shopping carts, to imagine what the every man passing by is thinking as you stare out of the bus window instead of spending your mass transit commute neck deep in your phone.

After all, if we want to boldly go where no man has gone before, we’d do better to look out into the stars than down at our communicators. Or if nothing else, at least give ourselves a firm tap on the chest now and then and make sure we’re still within range.