A few nights ago I watched a fascinating program called “My Life As A Turkey”, about a man named Joe Hutto. Hutto is (amongst other things) a hardcore method naturalist, and this drama-documentary detailed a period back in 1995 when he lived as the 'mother' of a brood of endangered wild turkeys — an experience he wrote about in Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season with the Wild Turkey. I haven’t read the book yet (it’s on order) but the documentary was spell-binding, an hour in the company of a rather extraordinary man.
One of the most striking things evoked by his experiences was how, while he was fully-integrated with the brood and operating as one of them, it was as though Hutto’s entire environment (the flatlands of Northern Florida) unfolded and opened up to him — as if the other creatures basically took the turkeys’ word for it that this tall, denim-clad dude was, effectively, a turkey, and behaved as they would as if a human wasn’t around. Deer played in his presence, larking around with the young turkeys. From glimpsing a handful of rattlesnakes a year, Hutto started running into them every day. By removing himself from humankind and going wild turkey, he stepped through a hidden door into another world, as an equal.
When the brood eventually split up and moved away, this passport was rapidly withdrawn. The other animals faded back into invisibility, once more shunning man as the animal-who-is-no-longer-an-animal. There was something heart-breaking about this process, and you couldn’t help believing that mankind as a whole was once more like this, integrated with our ecosystem and environment — living the kind of lives we hear of in legend and dismiss now as fantasy: and that our myths and old animal gods and modern bonds with pets speak of a deep and wistful yearning for when the whole world was this way.
The other insight Hutto focussed on was how the turkeys lived in the here and now, rather than ‘betraying the moment’ (his phrase) by casting their consciousness back or forward in time. This a far more commonplace observation (humankind’s tendency not to live in the moment is well-documented, and addressed with varying degrees of failure by a very large and profitable self-help industry) but it struck me for the first time how there’s now an added dimension.
We don’t just betray the moment any more. We betray place too.
Living out of time is an ancient human trait, probably the one that got us where we are today (for better or worse). It’s part of the educating and socialising of children from a very early age, after all — encouraging them to endure present tedium for alleged future benefits. Grill a five year old about their day at school and they soon learn to mutter a meaningless ‘Fine’, knowing a response is expected but unable to comprehend why anyone would care about something that happened somewhere else and at another time. Virtually everything that happens within the education system after that (and in the workplace, and life in general) is a sustained exercise in moment-betrayal. Living in somewhere other than our present locale, however — at first very occasionally through the written word, and then the telephone, and now continually via email, tweet and status update — is a more recent gift from our technologies (themselves a function of transcending the moment, the realisation that ‘it would be cooler tomorrow if we could...’), and one which takes us a dramatic step further from authentic existence.
From being in the here-and-now, we are headed toward forever being there, and then... and arguably this does not constitute ‘being’ at all, at least in the old sense. We are twice-dislocated from reality, bedded neither in time nor place.
When we experience the moment or thought, we’re being: but as soon as we start to compose the tweet describing it, we’re doing this other thing. If our minds are continually on what we’re doing in ten minutes' time, or with the utterances of distant strangers... then who or what is actually left here, in this space taken up by our bodies? Will there come a point when it is more convenient to simply park them somewhere comfortable while our consciousness flits across space and time, inhabiting every spot in creation except for the one where our corporeal form waits, experiencing the here and now quietly by itself? I realise this is a time-worn science fiction trope, but I’m not talking about sf. I’m talking about the way things are, right now. The future never presents the way stories say it will. We have no doors that briskly swish-thupp as they slide open and close. There are no hover cars overhead, nor robots with amusing insights into the human condition. We have laptops and smartphones instead, and actually leaving this ball of rock in a physical sense will merely be a matter of degree. We’ve already left the planet behind.
And that’s okay, and many fine things may come of it, but it’s also strange:
Goodbye, body, farewell — I will always be elsewhere now. But don’t worry, I’ll let you know where I am via status update, email and tweet: virtual postcards from anywhere but here.
Anyway. My point is that I’m going to compound this trend in my own small way by starting another Tumblr while I’m in the US — for stuff encountered while at large in Northern California. It will be found here, won’t start until the second half of August, may be brain-meltingly dull...
... and if you’d rather ignore it altogether and talk to the person next to you instead, you have my whole-hearted support.