If you’re one of my close friends, you probably know that I think about death a lot. I have since I was pretty young as well. I have a tattoo that literally represents death and I think about it on the reg.
This sounds morbid, depressing, and potentially creepy. But I don’t see it that way.
Being aware of my own mortality and my impending death pushes me to live. I know that I am not going to be here forever. So while I am here, why not do everything that I want to do? Why not get the tattoos I’ve been wanting? Why not stay in if I don’t feel like going out? Why work at a job that I hate? Why not live out and proud? Why not take a crazy chance? Why not do a crazy dance? If you lose a moment, you can lose a lot. So why not. Why not!!
If I’m going to die one day, I might as well live the life I have exactly how I want. And being aware of death is ironically what pushes me to live.
I’m not sure what prompted my daily thoughts about death (holy shit that sounds so creepy and weird wtf!!!) but I’m glad for it. Besides pushing me to live how I want while I’m still living, it’s given me a new outlook on regret.
It sounds stereotypical, but I really do think that the “no regrets” thing has some clout.
But I would modify that a little bit. It’s not that people don’t have any regrets. We all have regrets, no matter how small they are. I regret one of my college majors. I regret not coming out sooner. Fuck, I regret saying “you too” to the people who sell tickets at the movie theater when they tell me to enjoy the movie.
But all of these decisions are things I can live with, and have made me who I am today. Who knows where I’d be, better or worse, if I hadn’t done those things. When trying to decide something, there’s nothing helpful about asking yourself “What if I regret it?” because that is always a possibility.
The real questions you should ask yourself are, “If I do it and I regret it, can I live with it?” And, “If I don’t do it and I regret it, can I live with it?”
Let’s look at some examples from my own life. I know that I’m a trans guy who wants to medically transition, but I wrestled with the idea of starting hormones for almost a year. The main thing holding me back was my nagging fear that I would regret my decision to start them, seeing as some changes are irreversible.
But the idea that I could die tomorrow without ever even trying hormones was more terrifying than the idea that I might regret a permanently lower voice. I would live with more regret having never gone on hormones that I would if I do go on them and regret it.
So I’m starting hormones this Tuesday and getting two new tattoos next Saturday. And if I regret either one, I can live with that.
We all have regrets. Which ones can you live with?
So I’m kind of bummed that this second installment of this series took forever for me to get to.
I was thinking I would do like 1 post of this series per week, but thinking back that is a little unrealistic for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I do have a job. People think that freelancing means a ton of free time, and sure it might mean some more free time than other types of work, but I still have to work.
Secondly, I am a fast reader, but I’m by no means one of those people who can scan a fucking page and then recite it back. I take my time while reading especially for things like this were I’m taking notes, trying to find meaning, staring at the same sentence for a few minutes for no reason, etc, etc. And not only do I have to read the whole book, I then have to actually write the post about it.
So one post of this series per week? Fuck no lol. I’ll aim for once every couple weeks, but we will see.
After that long ass intro, I still didn’t write what book I read for this post (even though it is in the title of the post). I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I’ve read this book a few times, and each time it was an emotional and amazing read.
Why I Bought the Book in the First Place
I’m going to try and follow a similar structure for each of these posts, but obviously it won’t be exactly the same.
So as I said, I have read this book before and I loved it. I’m always a slut for books about people dropping everything to go on a journey, especially ones that involve hiking.
But my journey with this book didn’t start with the book: it started with the movie. Usually I am that annoying person that smugly slips into conversation, “Oh, I read [insert book name here] way before it became a movie.”
However, that was not the case here. I saw the movie when I was a sophomore in college, which was around 3 years ago (fuck I feel old). The movie was great and it does a great job at adapting it to a film (except that Reese Witherspoon is deff not 26 in the movie like Strayed was on the trail). I actually saw it with my mom, which turned out to be good because a lot of the book/movie revolves around Cheryl’s mother, her mortality, and their relationship. Needless to say, I sobbed multiple times at the movie (I’m a soft kinda guy what can I say).
After we walked out of the theater, I immediately made my mom drive me to Barnes and Noble where I bought the book and read it in one sitting, through the night, until 3 am.
What I Would’ve Rated it Then
I would’ve given this book an 11/10 if that were an option. I was enthralled and read it multiple times in a row because of my love for it and its message.
Why was I so enthralled? This book tells the true story of a real person in a transition period of life, dealing with death, family, and her own identity. Sure, she was hiking the PCT and having adventures and misadventures alike. But the underlying message of personal growth and odyssey was so captivating to me.
This message of growth and transition was especially appealing to me at that time when I was going through this type of growth and change as well. I was just realizing my sexuality and queer identity, I was halfway through my college career, I was depressed and anxious, and I had no self-esteem. I was searching for meaning in my own life as I tried to understand myself.
Knowing that, it isn’t very surprising that I latched on so tightly to Cheryl’s story of independence and hardship. I felt so alone without any direction. Like Cheryl, I wanted to escape all of my problems and find a journey that would help me learn about myself. I wanted to walk and hurt and feel pain until I could no longer think about everything I was going through.
So I read. And I read this book. And it helped me more than anything or anyone else during that horrible time of my life. It wasn’t a super happy, uplifting book that made me feel better in that sense. It was raw and sad and painful and made me cry and laugh and feel scared and understand mortality. It is someone’s real life and it describes some of the hardest things we as humans have to go through elegantly with wit and raw emotion. It was a narrative that I could relate to.
Perhaps my own issues at the time didn’t really match up to Cheryl’s in Wild: I still had (and have) my mother in my life, I had many close friends, I wasn’t using drugs, my family was and is a constant support, and I wasn’t in a struggling romantic relationship.
But what was (and still is) so great about this book is that its truth extends past these particular struggles that Cheryl faced. Just because I hadn’t lost my mother like she had doesn’t mean I can’t read her words and feel a little bit of that pain. Just because I hadn’t lost my family doesn’t mean I can’t feel the fear of that loss, and the grief that I will have to endure. Our struggles were different, but the emotions are universal.
So, like I said: I would’ve given it an 11/10.
What I Rate It Now
With the previous description I just gave, it isn’t surprising that I’m still giving this book a high rating, but perhaps not quite an 11/10. I’ll give it a 9/10.
For all of the same reasons I listed earlier, I still love this book. I still felt the emotions, I still cried, and I still connected.
But it was harder for me to get into it on this reading. I feel like I thought too hard about which book I should read next for this series. It makes sense that I would read this book as I am yet again in a transition period: I am literally transitioning from female to male, but I am also just out of college trying to figure out my life. It makes sense to read this book about transitions.
But I think I overthought it. I didn’t re-read this book now because I felt like it or because the message truly spoke to me like it did when I first read it. I read it this time because it made sense for this blog post. I thought it would be a great parallel for my life, just like it was when I first read it.
And while it is a great parallel, I think that I am going through too much hardship in my own life currently to want to also read about someone else’s hardships. When I first read it, Cheryl’s struggles helped me feel less alone and helped to put words to my pain and my inner desires. But when I read it this time, it was as though I was feeling the burden and heartache of her life along with everything else that I’m going through. I still felt the raw emotions that make this book so special. But those raw emotions, instead of making me feel validated in my transition, made me feel worse.
I chalk this up to my worsening anxiety and depression and not because of a dislike for the actual book. My desire to have a romantic and poetic reading because of the ~parallels~ between my life and the book got in the way of me actually reading something that would touch me in that way.
Instead of reaching for something I truly wanted to read, something that called to me, something that had a message that resonated with me right now, I chose something that I thought should’ve done all of those things because it did in the past. And that is a mistake.
Why is that a mistake? I made a decision for my current self based on my past self. This might seem dramatic (It’s just a book Elliot jeeze) but it is the truth, and it’s something that I do a lot. I make decisions for myself based on how I felt in the past or how I think I will feel in the future. This will only lead to angst and struggle. My past self and my future self are not more important than my present self. I need to think about myself now and what I need to do to be happier now, not what I did to be happier 5 years ago or what I think might make me happy 5 years from now. I am important, right here, right now. I need to make decisions with that in mind.
So in the end, the actual re-reading of this book didn’t give me as much insight as the choice I made to re-read it did. Weird how introspection works sometimes.
Am I Keeping This Book?
If anyone remembers back to my first post, the reason I decided to do this “re-reading my bookshelf” series is because I am trying to focus on a minimalist lifestyle and only have things that really add value to my life. I wanted to clear out my huge stash of books because they take up so much space.
So am I keeping this book? Short answer: no.
But that doesn’t mean that this book didn’t add value to my life. It 100% did and has added value to my life. But just because it did add value doesn’t mean that I should keep it. It is a great book that I will always love and will always remember as something that got me through one of the hardest times of my life.
But this book isn’t something that I reach for to re-read regularly like some of my other books. Wild is something that I didn’t even really want to re-read right now, I just did because I thought I should and I thought it would help me. It has added value to my life in ways that I can’t even begin to try and put into words.
But the physical book itself didn’t add that value. It was the situation in which I read it the first time. It was me, crying about coming out and realizing I was queer, reaching for this book in a time where all I did was panic and hate myself, and reading it through the night. It was watching the movie with my mom, realizing how much I love her and how short life is. It was reading about the pain that Cheryl felt and thinking that my own pain was somehow being written down by someone else, and how that meant I wasn’t alone. It was me writing in my journal about how much I loved this book and how much it helped me start my own journey, just like Cheryl did. The value was how the story affected my life in a time when that was the exact story I needed to hear.
It was never the physical book. Until now, I hadn’t read it since I read it three years ago.
With that said, I can’t justify keeping the book. If the message and the story calls for me again in the future, I can buy it again or go to the library. But I need to make a decision for the present day me, not the future me. And I can’t see myself wanting to read this book again for a while.
That doesn’t mean its message and meaning have not given me something so valuable that I really, truly think I owe my current life to it.
Yesterday, Richard Adams died. Many might not know who he is, and his death might be overshadowed by Carrie Fisher’s extremely sad passing.
But my sadness lies primarily with Mr. Adams. He changed my life without me ever meeting him. His words in the famous “Watership Down” helped me through depression and even through high school (that’s when you know something is seriously helpful). I read this book at least twice per year, and every time I read it, I learn more about the world around me and about myself.
“Watership Down” is an adventure story about rabbits. Whenever I try to explain what it is about, it’s hard to truly encapsulate the many messages put forth by Mr. Adams. The story may revolve around rabbits, but it has taught me more about bravery, friendship, home, death, and the true meaning of life than any story about humans I have encountered. Each time I read it, I am overwhelmed by a sense of serenity, as though it is helping me exist in this dangerous, scary world. Continue reading →