Midian Ranch Blog

This is the web log for Midian Ranch, an isolated homestead in rural Nevada. It is owned by Jason and Tina Walters, whom are also its regular posters. This blog is exclusively for the enlightenment and edification of our friends, family, and colleagues.

My Photo
Location: Gerlach, Nevada, United States

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Magical Wal-Mart Reindeer On The Soul

A few days before Christmas Cassidy and I walked into Wal-Mart and saw a reindeer.

Well, Cassidy didn’t really walk. She was riding in a shopping cart. And it wasn’t really a reindeer. It was, in fact, a middle-aged minimum-wage greeter wearing an enormous pair of foam antlers (with bells on the ends, no less.) And this particular reindeer didn’t seem to be overflowing with endless amounts of yuletide joy, either. She was plainly exhausted; most likely at the very end of a tedious shift of smiling at shoppers as they came in, and then checking their receipts as they went out. Not a job likely to fill anyone with Christmas spirit seven hours, one half-hour lunch break, and two fifteen-minute state-mandated breaks into their work day.

But Cassidy was convinced that what she was seeing was, in fact, a real reindeer. She oooohed. She pointed. She repeatedly made the sign for reindeer: thumbs pressed against her temples palmed outstretched, with fingers waving. When I seemed insufficiently impressed she repeated the entire process, as if to say “Look Dad! Can’t you see her? A real, live magical reindeer is right in front of us!”

And then…

Cassidy is one of those people. The kind that is capable of walking into Wal-Mart and seeing reindeer. I’m the other kind of person. The kind that is only capable of walking into Wal-Mart and seeing tired, minimum-wage employees. Or so I thought. Lately I have come to the conclusion that, like my daughter, I have a disturbing tendency to look at things that are self-evidently one thing, and see something entirely different. Or, to be more specific, to see things in ways that irrational and self-serving, rather than seeing them for what they are: namely, bleak.

Doubt. It’s a powerful emotion. It’s also why this blog hasn’t been updated in almost six months. I haven’t been writing at all, really. The tiny Wal-Mart reindeer weigh too heavily upon my soul.


Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been working a lot. And I actually wrote a couple of posts: long, rambling weird ones. But I ended up scrapping them instead of putting them up on the blog. They were all too angry, too depressing, or too crazy sounding for me to inflict upon my friends and family. A typical example was “The Redneck as Jew,” an angry 4,000 word tirade about how rural Americans are treated by urban Americans in the 21st Century, with historical references, footnoting, and quotes from Napoleon.

So, yeah: you’re not going to get to read those.

But I’m also not going to lie to you. I’ve been having serious misgivings about my life out here. Not that I have any desire – or even ability - to live anywhere else. The dust has been ground too deeply into my personality for that. Midian is who I am. For someone like me, the trip to the desert can only be a one-way trip. Every place else is now and forever someplace else: one that can never be home. That can never really ever be real, even. But the vision I had for my life out here has eroded from the noble down to the grubby. Midian Ranch is a dirty, difficult place to live. Simply put, it’s a huge amount of work to live off-grid in a desert. Nothing you do here is ever easy. Everything is always breaking, freezing, blowing down, or simply disintegrating under the twin pressures of wind and sun (like my greenhouse, thank-you-very-much Mother Nature.) You never really get clean – not in the sense that townies and city dwellers think of clean – and your home never really gets clean either. It’s a never-ending struggle to hold the line at “mildly dingy.”

For a long time this lifestyle felt principled to me. Moral. An adventure. The constant struggle to bend wind, sun, and water to my will. To create my own personal paradise, free from the influences and controls of the outside world. [Solar panels.] To take the meaning from words like Freedom, Self-Reliance, and Independence and craft those meanings into a physical reality. [Wind mills.] To work. To live differently. To let the desert heal me, challenge me, and inspire me. To be a 21s Century frontiersman. [Spring Water.] To be a living roleplaying game character. To be science fiction. To settle Mars, at least in a metaphorical sense.

Now I increasingly feel that I’m see things for the way they really are. Doubt stalks my days, and my dreams are minimum wage Wal-Mart employees with antlers. I’m no visionary, no frontiersman, and no romantic figure. I’m a middle-aged, failed misfit who lives in poverty and obscurity with his unhappy wife, handicapped daughter, and oddball friend in a bunch of old doublewides and shipping containers on worthless land that nobody else wanted. My work and life have had no meaning, nor shall they. My exercises in preparedness and independence are exactly what they appear to me: evidence of a paranoid, deteriorating mind.

Or at least that’s how I feel on some days. Others are better. Those are the days on which I pretend to see the reindeer.


At its heart, there are three problems for me: or, perhaps, for someone like me. (You know me. You know the type.) Each is unique and horrid in its own special way. Each is a treasured problem, to be polished unceasingly like the barrels of assault weapons in that imaginary, secret basement compartment each of us has constructed in our souls.

(Okay… maybe that’s just me. Though, thankfully, some days involve less obsessive metaphorical barrel cleaning than others.)

The first - and perhaps the most important - is the obvious truth that changing locale doesn’t automatically change who you are. (Not that I saw that.) I wasn’t able to leave Jason Walters Stressed Out Messenger Service Owner behind when I relocated to the Black Rock Desert. I should have. It was part of my goal to kill that bastard as dead as cordwood by moving out here. But he was much, much more a part of me than I had expected. Taking him out of his element didn’t kill him. It just made him stronger, and now I find myself mired in numerous complex business schemes that have little to do with writing, building Midian, being a father, or simply having a good time. It’s like that part of me is a hydra: I chopped off Flash Messenger, and out grew DOJ Logistics, IPR, Hero Games, and Blackwyrm to take its place. All with the best of intentions, of course. Economic independence and whatnot. Puritan work ethic and so forth. Pulling my weight and blah blah blah.

It’s all a bunch of obsessive-compulsive crap. Or fear. A subconscious fear of becoming something other than what I was, even as I consciously strove to do just the opposite. But what’s the point of abandoning a society if you just tie yourself right back to it? It’s like I’m Gulliver and his Lilliputians all at the same time, perpetually binding myself to the ground when I could be flying around on the city of Laputa, throwing rocks at rebellious cities… or something. I might not be remembering Gulliver’s Travels properly.

In any case, the second is that it’s almost impossible for me to be happy for very long. Or, at the very least, I don’t seem to be able to be happy to the same extent or in the same manner that other people are happy. I can only catch fleeting glimpses of a happiness that slips through my fingers like sand when I try to grasp them. (Or maybe I flatter myself in to thinking this unique. Is it like that for you too?) When I was young I tried to inspire those glimpses with drugs. It didn’t work. As I got older, I switched to looking for them with alcohol. No luck there either. Then I came out to the wilderness, still looking for them in the vastness. No luck here either… though I don’t feel the lack quite as much.

Maybe it’s the same thing. Maybe that’s what happiness is: a lack of unhappiness. Or maybe that’s just what most of us settle for. Or maybe that’s just another minimum wage worker in antlers too.


The first two problems are ones that you, gentle reader, may have already dealt with in your life. The third and final problem is perhaps peculiar just to me. (Or, again, I may be flattering myself). It is this: I’ve grown to distrust pleasure, comfort, and convenience. When I spend time at Casa Azul (my mother’s lovely house in Gerlach), Reno, or in the Bay Area, I feel somehow guilty. Uncomfortable deep within my center; modern society, it seems, has become almost physically repulsive to me. It’s like central heating, nearby grocery stores, good restaurants, unarmed neighbors (okay: that would just be the Bay Area), normal water pressure, “stick houses,” and homes that lack entire packs of animals that consume all possible organic table scraps are somehow sinful, unclean things. It feels like I’ve violated a religious prescription… which seems to suggest that living out here has become my religion.

Or maybe it means I’ve become a genuine desert rat: by definition a one-way trip to nowhere. Or at least to here. But where is that? Somewhere… or nowhere? I’m uncertain. I have doubts.

I have magical Wal-Mart reindeer on the soul.

Which reminds me: I didn’t finish my story, did I? You know: the one actually about magical Wal-Mart reindeer. The one that ended with “And then…?” That one.

And then the lady with the reindeer antlers noticed Cassidy. She smiled, waved back, and said “Aren’t you a little darling? Merry Christmas!” She even looked a little less tired.

Cass waved back a final time as we rolled away, and then turned to me with a smug look, as if to say “See? I told you she was a magical reindeer.”

And of course she wasn’t. She was a tired, middle-aged, vaguely humiliated woman making $8.25 an hour to make certain nobody steals Monster High Dolls from the Sparks Wal-Mart.

And yet maybe - just maybe - for an instant, if you squinted very, very hard, she was.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very bleak Jason but so real. I think it's like that sometimes for other people who live in places like the ghetto. But the difference is that you have more choices and more educated. Life can be a bitch. And life can be inspiring. For some people yoga helps. It's for the mind and no the body. Meditation. Walks. Changes... It was great to see you. Hope you drop by again soon. I liked cassidys impersonations of animals. Billy.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Ed Healy said...

You are beautiful, Jason.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Wilson (zornwil) said...

I wouldn't call the 3 problems unique. Distrust or disgust of comfortable living, the third, can come from very different sources than yours but the result is, regardless, much the same.

Anyway, FWIW (and I presume the worth will fluctuate depending on the moment), while I won't snow you that it's more than small moments of time, Vast White has brought glimmers of happiness to me, at least, and I really hope you publish the second part soon. And the same can be said in a more general way of a rather large number of things you have produced or helped produce. Not everyone can say such a thing, or at least not to the same degree, having touched at least (let's be conservative here) hundreds if not thousands of lives in some positive way, providing a respite however minimal from the problems you mention and so many more.

That said, this is not intended as a pep talk. It's just a data point among many. It doesn't address your problems, not in any way, perhaps, or even if, by some measure somehow, in a way surely it's not enough (nor am I suggesting I know what "enough" is, either in subject or amount). The reason I felt like posting it was two-fold. The first was merely that I happened to talk to somebody today, quite literally, about Vast White, so it was on my mind. The second was that, while I don't think it's the same as a pep talk (again, because that would be addressing your issues much more head-on and far less superficially, and I don't even know you well enough to engage effectively to that level, let alone I'm not a good pep talk person), I do think that, at times like these, it's good to remember, if true (and regarding you it is true, not a Wal-mart employee appearing as a reindeer, not even a subjective statement), that one has actually done something worthwhile, something that, however small (even trivial, to you, perhaps), meant something to others. And I don't think that's totally meaningless to you (if I'm wrong, well, then I can only shrug and hope to discuss sometime; bear in mind I'm not suggesting it should change, or even brighten, your moment, merely that I think it has some meaning in the mix).

Oh, and while truly I had to think to myself "am I posting this purely selfishly to prod Jason to get the 2nd book out?" I'd say not really...after all, it only reminds me I owe you some audio (sorry)...but really I DO want to read the second part, and I won't bug you but just know I really do and I'm not joking around or "being nice," I want to see what happens. And that's the last time I'll say it (because personally I'd kind of hate to be bugged about a sequel if I had any issues in getting it done, I know what a blocked feeling is all about, even if it's not re writing professionally).

As to how bleak the sentiment, I dunno. Sounds like another day of life, to me, which is actually the bleak part of it, that I'm not so sure it gets better. But we get to see reindeer once in a while, and short of death there's not really anything in the way of alternatives.

On a (related) tangent, "they say" (i.e., recent studies suggest) that most humans retain good memories more vividly and enrich those while downgrading bad memories, even softening those. But some humans don't. I don't. I don't think you do, either. Wouldn't it be nice to be one of those people? I wonder what their lives are like.

1:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought you were really ready to move away from that "hard" life out there until you mentioned how you felt while visiting the "comfortable" world. Hehehe..

6:10 AM  
Anonymous Mike Wuerz said...

It still has to beat earning minimum wage working closing shift for a huge company that practically worships a rodent.

It seems that time changes and people not so much. Some people are happier and see the positives more easily than others. I feel that is a biochemical process that others cannot accomplish. I wish all my friends fell into that happy category. If they did I would most likely feel a little lonelier knowing that there were not kindred souls out there in the world.

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do believe it is all normal. I could be wrong and I'm not calling you normal. From my perspective and social surroundings you are all but. I must say I aspire to live like you. I think of how wonderful it would be to live off the grid and be self sufficent. The adventure and newness of that lifestyle would be a near Utopia for someone like me. With that being said I will add a couple of things...
1. There is some chemical in our brain that is in surpluss as we experience new things, giving us a natural high that is beyond compare to any drug. That is why things become mundane to us. From the physiological aspect, if you do the same thing day in and day out we do not produce that substance as much and do not get the natural high from it. On the other hand, that is why some people become addicted to extreme behavior and are always seeking the next high.
2. As children we dream. We are told that we can do anything. We see everything differently. It wasn't until I turned 40 that I realized that there would be no knight in shining armor riding in on a white horse to save me and carry me off to a fairy tale castle to live happily ever after. (That was slightly dramatic, but the point is this.) I believe there is a point in our lives that we see everything differently. We realize that it is what it is and we are the only ones in charge of changing it or making it better. The fairy tale is truly gone. That is a fair amount of stress on a any person.
On another note...
I love the way children see the Magical Wal-Mart Reindeer. It gives me hope again. If we could capture that, just imagine how much better everything would be. You have a great day.

7:45 AM  
Blogger John Taber said...

I can't express myself over text like you can...so I'll put it simply. Being a parent of a special needs kid is one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life...saying that...the reindeer make it all worthwhile. :)

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oddball friend???

I heard he is ruggedly handsome % extremely intelligent.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Beth said...

This post speaks with the voice of my beloved former boss: older, wiser, (dirtier??:), change of scenery, but still fiercely taking on the not-always-pretty issues. It also rang true with my take on things these days, even though my perspective is still framed by skyscrapers and such. D'you suppose it's a wicked combination of season, circumstances, the world we live in, and age?
Either way, I admire how you always lay it out there straight, Jason. I don't think I appreciated that quality of yours enough 10+ years ago.

9:32 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home