Conquer the Useless
Useless is a subjective term. Conquer it, make it your own.
I’ve been saying for months that all I want to do this summer is hang around Decorah and ride bikes, read some books and shoot some movies. And luckily, through what must surely have been some egregious oversight in the Dean’s Office I’ve been granted the opportunity to do just that, as they’re funding my documentary project. (Thanks! Much love, o giver of grant money!)
Admittedly, spending two months shooting movies and bumming around Decorah does sound like a fair amount of slacking off. When I tell people my plans, they usually chuckle and give me a knowing look. And yes, for some, working on this project could be a waste of time. But not all. So, I offer this question: who gets to dictate what is and isn’t useless?
Society would have it that anything without external reward should be seen as a waste of time. That’s common thinking, but it doesn’t have to be the prevailing opinion. Internal reward is hard to quantify, but still worth seeking.
In the Patagonia documentary “180º South: Conquerers of the Useless” (2010) adventurer Jeff Johnson weaves his way to the tip of South America, following in the footsteps of Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins (founder of The North Face), who made a similar iconic journey some 30 years prior. Along the way, he takes time to muse on conservation techniques, culminating in an attempt to summit the mountain Cerro Corcovado. He risks his life to climb this mountain. Useless? Not at all. Though climbing the mountain is without external reward – save for fame, but who’s into that? – he climbs it anyway, just because he wanted to.
He just slows down and enjoy a break from traditional ambition, and conquers some useless things. Because really, what does it matter? No one apart from his climbing companions cares if he makes it to the top of Corcovado or not. So what’s the point? Famous climber George Mallory was once asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. His response: “Because it’s there.”
“Conquerers of the Useless.” Committing to a journey that carries little reward in the eyes of mainstream society, simply because you love it. I can’t think of anything more beautiful.
Which brings me to my ever-looming senior project. I’m doing mine on hitchhiking, which I’ll research in August by hitching to the West Coast (don’t kill me, Mom). Yes, it’s been done before. Honestly, it’s nothing I couldn’t research by reading about.
But, it’s the same as reading about climbing mountains – at some point you just have to try it for yourself. And it does seem pretty useless, and maybe even reckess (seriously, don’t kill me, Mom). I’m won’t be saving money for graduation, and will probably just end up with a whole bunch of ... feelings. Feely feelings, to. The feeliest.
Mallory attempted to climb Everest because it was there, a challenge staring him in the face. My summer plans are motivated by similar reasoning. Granted, Mallory perished in his summit attempt. Hopefully that’s not prophetic of my upcoming adventures.
So, I invite you to join me in taking a step back from the grind, from laboring to pay bills and meet societal expectations.
Go conquer something useless.