Elegy for the ski bum
All who wander are not lost. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
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You know those bumper stickers that read something like, “All who wander are not lost?”
At my recent college reunion, I talked with an old friend who was a bit concerned about his child. Basically, he’d grown into a young man, graduated college, but now seemed aimless, no career path, no big plan.
Well, I’d also happened to be talking with a writer named Jay Alan Wolfe in Montana, but who wrote once about the years he spent as a ski bum (his words).
I liked it and asked if I could share it. Here’s Jay:
Elegy for the ski bum
by Jay Alan Wolfe
I used to be a ski bum.
For a time, I worked to live, earning just enough to cover the essentials: food, shelter and occasionally new boards.
I lived in single-minded pursuit of my passion, without any thought of “monetizing” it, without any chance of competitive success or recognition.
There’s a purity in such a life.
Those days are long gone now. Not just for me but, I fear, for others. I mourn the loss.
Some dismiss the lives of ski bums as selfish and frivolous. They say such lives are of no benefit to society. But most paintings will only be seen by their painters.
Who are the real artists: the painters who paint to fulfill commissions and grants, or those for whom pay and recognition are irrelevant?
They paint because they must. Because they love it.
A true ski bum is an artist. The medium, snow, is temporary, as fleeting as live music. No one questions whether a musician is an artist.
All this is temporary — our lives, everything we see. It’s only a question of to what degree.
The life of a ski bum is selfish? Then what of bankers? The ski bums I knew desired little — a shack not too far from the ski hill, enough food to eat.
The average ski bum sacrifices a great deal in pursuit of passion. They often leave behind family, career, stability, any chance of real material gain. … We would be better off if more people were selfish like ski bums and there were fewer rapacious bankers, politicians and tech moguls living like feudal lords on the labor of peasants.
We lie to ourselves. The acquisitive class still commands a certain respect, although they shouldn’t. I’d have more respect for Mark Zuckerberg if he’d dropped out of Harvard and moved to Jackson Hole and become a ski patroller.
Instead he oversees an app that whistleblowers tell us drives teenage girls to eating disorders and suicide. And society showers him with wealth and power.
Ski bums leave a small footprint. Most that I’ve met care about the environment and do little harm.
True artists live and work without much chance of success, without grant money, sponsorships or the safety net of a comfortable teaching position. Ski bums can relate.
True artists are rare these days. Their names are never known, or soon forgotten. Often their lives are the works of art: reckless and dazzling for as long as they last.
Death doesn’t always claim the lives of artists. The end can come in the form of a hospital bill, a bad marriage or the simple necessity of a soul-crushing job to afford to live.
We are on a treadmill now and its name is inflation, rising housing prices and the exorbitant cost of health insurance. Step off or slow down at your peril. We’ve created a society that punishes deviation from the norm and passion.
Crush the dreamers and the wayfarers, force them to comply like the masses.
Soon, children will begin filling out their LinkedIn profiles in elementary school, adding certificates and scholastic awards. Junior-high students are probably attending leadership conferences already and choosing extracurriculars based not on love but on what will look the best on a college application.
What is a life without detours? We’re made for more than work. Ski bums used to remind office dwellers of that.
Somewhere, a former artist is sitting in an office as his heart unwinds, beat by beat, second by second. A rare sight outside his window: A hawk glides on a current of air in the distance. Would the office dweller be happier if the hawk were in a cage?
A society needs heroes, exemplars and vagabonds. Ski bums. They challenge our reality.
Call for comments: Did you have a similar time in your life? Do you wish you did? And if not then, why not now (or in the future)?
7 other things worth knowing today
Six people were shot dead and dozens more wounded after a gunman with a “high powered rifle” opened fire from the roof of a building overlooking the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois. Hundreds fled the scene. Police identified Robert Crimo, 22, as a “person of interest” in the attack. He was still at large as of Monday evening. (Chicago Sun-Times, Twitter)
Google will delete user data on trips to abortion clinics, saying it's because some places people visit are "deeply personal." (Fortune)
The new Florida law dubbed “don’t say gay” by its critics kicked in Friday, banning instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in primary grades — and creating fears that all topics related to LGBTQ people are off limits in public schools. (Orlando Sentinel)
Six decades after the historic trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief engineers of the Holocaust, a new Israeli documentary series has delivered a dramatic coda: the boastful confessions of the Nazi war criminal, in his own voice. The hours of old tape recordings, which had been denied to Israeli prosecutors at the time of Mr. Eichmann’s trial, provided the basis for the series, called “The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes,” which has generated keen interest in Israel as it aired over the past month. (NY Times)
Just 29% of Americans want President Joe Biden to run for re-election while 39% want former President Donald Trump to run in 2024, according to a poll released Friday by Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies and Harris Insight and Analytics. (Forbes)
Mark Zuckerberg warns staff Facebook will be ‘turning up the heat’ to weed out underperformers: "You might decide this place isn’t for you, and that’s OK with me." (Yahoo News)
No experience, no resume, you're hired! Hotels fight for staff. (Reuters)
Really well written. Makes me think; perhaps should make us all think a little more. Thanks for sharing.
For me, having a vocation is like being a ski bum, except I make money doing what I love. I’m always learning and my clients appreciate my enthusiasm. I take a vacation every six weeks and live a fairly austere life. I’ve never been a good traveler, and I don’t feel I miss out on the more expensive things in life. My travels are in my mind to learn new things to help people heal. There is all kinds of freedom and having a vocation is one of them.