Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fake Real Community and Virtual Actual Community (I was a middle-aged yoga mat cleaner)

Some time ago, I headed back to Corporate Yoga as part of their yoga-trade program. It’s something about which I have (surprisingly) little to report. I got to evade the intensity of being a lawyer for a few hours a week, clean the studio, and in return accessed their generally fine yoga classes. And so much the better if I happened to overhear things like, “Yeah, that quote about ‘doors of perception’ is by Jim Morrison,” (which is true if you leave aside both William Blake and Aldous Huxley, relative lightweights in their fields), and “Yeah, I HAD to get hair extensions – my hair kept flopping around in class and now I can tie it back – how does it look?”

Unfortunately, my short time as a middle aged yoga mat cleaner came to an end when Corporate Yoga essentially blew up the program, which I suppose makes sense considering all the classes they were giving away. In the course of my termination, I exchanged views with management, during which I was repeatedly reminded about the Corporate Yoga “community.”

Community? Huh? Mainly we saw a lot of tuned-out and/or self-absorbed office workers over the years. We didn’t see a lot of people talking, and we certainly never met anyone we would now consider close friends. This is entirely consistent with the sales-oriented mission of Corporate Yoga, but inconsistent with actual community.

Which brings me back to long-distance backpacking, of course. For a few years in another lifetime I messed around for a few summers doing some really long hikes – in particular on the Pacific Crest Trail. During that time, I became sort of known in a limited sort of way among the other hikers, and later with ultramarathoners. Not like I was a record-setter or doing anything serious out there, but like I was a harmless guy doing the trails and occasionally writing about them.

At the time I was critical of what I saw as the false community of the long-distance backpackers. They seem friendly enough, but you never actually see them – they’re all online telling tales (or not online, not telling tales, and working and/or hiking a different trail than you). Little did I know that it’s actually a fairly vibrant community of like souls who like seeing large swaths of the country on foot and/or getting really dirty.

Case in point is my recent exchange with El Monstro/Fstpker/Adam Bradley, who recently absolutely destroyed the FKT on the Arizona Trail. I was particularly interested in his trek as he started right about when I ended my two week hike this spring, and became more interested when he appeared to be shadowed along the way by another hiker known only as “Starsky,” who may or may not also have been seeking the FKT.

I had a few questions for the man, in particular how he understood the “official” route of the AZT and alternates. He wrote back with surprising clarity, defining the scope of his efforts and justifying his decisions. Back when I was hiking, I was disturbed by the relative lack of style employed by a lot of thru-hikers, and turned to organized races as a means to explore my distance/speed limits (long story short, those limits are in fact quite limited). And here’s someone sorting through what style is effective and necessary to define those distance/speed limits and efforts without organized races. Great stuff.

And as a few other people weighed in on his efforts, I realized the extent of the (admittedly small) community of distance/thru-hikers, as well as some meaningful individual commitments/contributions to that community. It was impressive, and I see it as a real community, despite the fact that said community often exists largely online. Which was strikingly highlighted when I was faced with continued invocations of a face-to-face “community” – when said community is based largely on sales efforts and appearances. I’ll take the former over the latter any day.

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