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Travelogue F27

September 8, 2015

The next day, the next-to-last of our time together, found us back around the breakfast table and my companion circling back to his subjects of predilection and myself in the midst of still further character sketches. Between monologues, he sought my opinion about the merits of section hikers as opposed to the thru hikers, that is, those who hike the whole of the Appalachian Trail either in more manageable segments over the course of a lifetime or in one furious burst from end to end, lasting anywhere from three to six months. As is my wont, I took the synthetic approach and briefly evoked the section hiker’s greater enjoyment due to eased pace but took pains to sketch out the frenzy that must settle over the thru hiker and company as the end approaches, whatever the state of their feet.

The subject of the trail brought with it talk of the “toadfrog” glimpsed by my companion the day before at the edge of one mountain stream and about which he went on to add that the term owed to his own grandmother, who, from what I could make out of his explanations, had cobbled together two distinct species, the frog and toad. Either similar to or made similar by her primitive understanding, she had, from my point of view, stoked the magical thinking which had, ablaze in previous ages, yielded the chimera and which, in our own day and age, leads the cryptozoologically inclined to posit the existence of monsters, limbs and organs fused from this and that. I pointed out to my companion, though in not so many words and in not quite the manner that he might have understood, that the world was poorer for the loss, that we had lost the real import of the monstrous imagination.

To the talk of the grandmother was joined another refrain on his relation to the mother, who, as was made still clear, had not gone about trying to destroy her son from the moment of his birth nor the early months but, instead, from the very first age at which he might be aware of her efforts, so that the beginning work of destruction might coincide with his first glimmers of consciousness. And the cycle was beginning anew, he feared, in his daughter’s relationship, her attempts to alienate, in all relevant senses, her father from his life’s work, his offspring or that which he had not undertaken to destroy. Perhaps she found his failings in this oversight, that he had not carried on his own mother’s efforts, and that now the burden was hers, its culmination left to her, to spoil all that he had before the last glimmers of consciousness fell away.

In truth, I was somewhat bewildered by the relations at which he gestured and unable to comprehend just how he had come to find himself at the center of a tragic narrative. Still, I found myself unable to call him out on the details, to question his place in it all. For my manner of engaging with his monologue and sketching his character threw a reverse image of sorts onto my own. We were alike in one respect, in that neither of us had gone about being an incomplete perfectionist, that is, one which had not proceeded unlike the logical lines that one can normally follow in people of the sort. He claimed to value perfection but, when confronted with the choice, inevitably preferred to delegate rather than obsess over the details work. Yet he, just as inevitably, found the work to lack the details that he had vaguely imagined for it. In short, his entire person consisted in a structurally malcontent, perhaps even unwilling, perfectionist.

The absence of a destructive character manifested itself in me in entirely different fashion, namely in a certain disengagement from emotion and a thoroughgoing, lifelong commitment to conflict avoidance. Of the two types of conflict avoidance which I have thus far encountered in the world – either those who avoided conflict so as to smooth over social interactions or those who avoided social actions so as to smooth over conflict – I had found their combination in myself, a virtuous circle of retreat.

I again gave my attention back to my companion, who, though far from a mirror for my own thoughts, threw back a reflection in its own way, dulled in places, dim in others, as do perhaps all those we come across.

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