What is real, anyway?

I just finished reading Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild. I know, I know, it’s been out for a while now, but as a student, I am more than a little behind on my recreational reading. And yes, I know the book has been made into a movie, but somewhat intentionally, I am even further behind in that department. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I even decided to forsake my reading diet that consisted solely of non-fiction.

I thought that by exclusively reading non-fiction books I was somehow getting a closer glimpse into people’s realities, that this allowed me to share a closer connection to the diverseness of lived experiences. To be honest, this search for realness extended beyond the books I chose to read, and into the music I listened to. For a while, all I could listen to were live albums. I dug up all the bands who did those MTV unplugged concerts in the late ‘90s and would listen to any artist who put out an acoustic album. I yearned to hear missed guitar chords and voices crack, to witness the imperfection of those we tend to deify most. To this day, many studio albums just sound too polished for my liking.

It was by reading Krakauer’s account of the young Chris McCandless who donated his USD$25,000 in savings to OXFAM, left college and took off to the Alaskan wilderness in search of more by having less, that I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that I have been on a largely subconscious search for realness. That, by setting out to witness the unedited rawness of human experience, my imperfect reality was somehow affirmed.

I’m pretty sure most of us have heard the popular saying “just keep it real,” or some version thereof. Probably too many times, I’m guessing. Well, maybe it’s time to take a minute to attempt to deconstruct that realness that we like to speak so fondly about and seem to value so highly. I mean when you think about it, what makes one moment or action or person any more real than another? Are there parts of me and you that are not as authentic as other parts?

Contemplating the substance of authenticity, as Chris McCandless most certainly did, a glaring question that arises is whether there is an attainable space within any of us that is incongruous and that holds no contradictions? It appears that we fabricate our existences by interpreting our experiences and circumstances. What we tell ourselves forms who we are. Or at least who we think we are. The question then becomes whether there is even an authenticity that can be aspired to? Or are we at the mercy of interpretation, of the storylines and dialogs around us and between us?

The subject of realness is complex, to say the least. Questions raise more questions and there are no solid answers. Maybe authenticity is realizing that there is no true authenticity. That our realness is always in flux and embracing that is what makes us real . . . maybe?

Well, we can’t ask Chris McCandless what his search for realness revealed to him. He died alone four months into his Alaskan wilderness odyssey. It doesn’t get much more real than that.