I happened on a documentary yesterday on the National Geographic channel that I feel compelled to recommend. Called Alone in the Wild, it documents Ed Wardle’s attempt to spend ninety solitary days in the Yukon wilderness. Putting the challenge in context, Wardle has twice summited Everest. (You can see a page about the show here. I haven’t been able to locate a DVD, and the documentary doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix.)
If the title or subject matter evokes anything for you it will probably be the similar story of Christopher McCandless, whose fatal journey Into the Wild was turned into a book and subsequent movie. By absurd chance I happened to read the original magazine article about McCandless when it first came out in 1993, and my reaction then is the same as my reaction now: I’m not surprised that someone who knew little or nothing about surviving in the wilderness died after only cursory study and inadequate planning.
I want to stress that I take no satisfaction in the fact that McCandless died. The arrogance and ignorance he displayed is the flip side of adventurism and daring, and had he lived he might have profited from the experience both personally and financially. I do think, though, that there is a human tendency to perceive conception as the greatest obstacle to attainment. It’s not the doing that’s the hard part, it’s thinking of something to do that takes real ingenuity.
Over the course of my life I’ve come to believe that this is exactly backwards. In the storytelling world it doesn’t take long to realize that great ideas really are a dime a dozen — or a gross. It’s execution over the long haul, draft after draft, and the realization of detail in the final polish that makes any idea shine. But that’s not fun to contemplate because it presupposes a life of hard work and apprenticeship, when what everybody wants to do is fall out of bed and land on fame and fortune. [ Read more ]