Wednesday morning, around 9:30 AM, the entirety of Innovation Lab along with anyone in Greenwich High School interested in hearing Emily St. John Mandel speak about her book, Station Eleven, made their way down to the Performing Arts Center. There we got the news that Mandel was running late due to some unexpected transportation issues. We later found out that her driver had made an illegal turn in front of a police officer, who subsequently arrested the driver for an outstanding warrant. Her driver was thus taken away in handcuffs, and sadly Emily was not able to speak at the high school. Luckily, she did make it to the Greenwich Library that night where Ms. Mistretta, an English teacher at the high school, interviewed her about her newest novel, Station Eleven. That night, I, along with four other students and a room full of Station Eleven enthusiasts listened to her talk about her writing process, her decision-making process, and more. It was a great experience and peek behind the scenes of an author’s thought process.
Every single year, Greenwich Reads Together chooses a book for the community to read. This year’s reading was Station Eleven. Along with the reading of that book comes an essay contest. For Station Eleven we wrote a personal essay on what non-technological item we would bring in a post-apocalyptic world. Judges selected three high school entries (two honorable mentions and a winner) and two middle school entries (one honorable mention and a winner). I was lucky enough to be one of the high school honorable mentions, a great honor. For those of you who have not read the book, Station Eleven takes place in a post-pandemic and post-society environment and focuses on Kirsten, a member of the traveling symphony. The traveling symphony consists of musicians and actors who travel the new world performing Shakespeare and playing music.
The following is the essay prompt and my response to it:
In Station Eleven Kirsten Raymonde carries Arthur’s glass paperweight that Tanya gave to her the night before the pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population. In a similar crisis, what one non-technological object that means the most to you would you keep and how would it ensure your physical or psychological or emotional survival? In your response, please draw parallels to Station Eleven.
There is no one around; all that surrounds me is vast raw wilderness. White pearly mountains watch over me and the elegant creature grazing only yards away. A cold breeze blows past my bearded cheeks and makes my uncombed hair dance. The rumbling in my stomach reminds me what I set out for. I clasp the .22 rifle tight. I breathe in slowly through my nose and then back out through my mouth, leaving a cloud of vapor drifting off until it vanishes into nothingness. I smile. The simple beauty of the landscape around me still makes my heart flood with joy. The smile widens at the thought of being here, living and breathing nature, and escaping society’s crushing trap of conformity. I need to hold back laughter when I think about how I will never again suffer from the disease of materialism. I aim the gun and peer through the sights. I breathe in again slowly. Air feeding through my nostrils sounds loud and clear. Hold. Patience. Wait. Fire.
I wake up out of my daydream realizing that I have been staring out the window for minutes on end, with my copy of Into the Wild in hand. A purple pen marks the page where I left off. This book that has become so precious to me over the last weeks is my number one choice to bring with me to any post-societal environment or survival situation.
After his graduation in 1990, Christopher McCandless set out on a lone journey across the United States. After two years of traveling the roads at the age of 24, Chris, by then known as Alexander Supertramp, set out on his final journey, an “odyssey” if you will, to Alaska. He planned on “living off the land” for some time. His provisions were minimal consisting of only “a ten-pound bag of rice” with “no ax, no bug dope, no snowshoes, no compass” (Krakauer). He would spend his final 118 days in the Alaskan wilderness until he died of starvation in “the magic bus.” Although McCandless’ story is one of a quest for greatness and proving himself much more than mere survival, it does reveal the morals and thoughts of a man who thrives and achieves greatness with the absence of modern day technology and the conformity and stability that modern society brings; neither of which are available in the post-pandemic world that Emily St. John Mandel brings to life between the front and back covers of Station Eleven. Into the Wild is the real world example of Station Eleven .
Coming out on the other side of a pandemic or any other survival situation depends on much more than mere physical necessities like water, food, and shelter. Psychological and emotional fortitude separate the survivors from the ones that crumble. Keeping our humanity and taking in the joys of life that are “placed all around us… in everything and anything we might experience” (Krakauer) sit at the center of thriving in a world without modern day society. A moral that for me is contained within the words of McCandless’ story.
It surprises me every single time how simply beautiful McCandless dream was. Through the reading of the book and the multiple re-viewings of the movie that came out in 2007, I have fallen in love with the ideals that he sought. To “move around, [to] be nomadic, [to] make each day a new horizon” (Krakauer), which Mandel emphasizes in the world of Station Eleven. Being able to see the world, meet people, bring joy to them, learn from them. Kirsten, who start to travel with the Traveling Symphony at a young ago, is the perfect example. She sees both the horrors and beautiful parts of the world. She learns about the instincts of survival and human nature. In an interview with a local newspaper, she talks about how “some places, you pass through once and never return, because you can tell something’s very wrong. Everyone’s afraid, or it seems like some people have enough to eat and other people are starving… the place is either lawless or in the grip of something, a cult of some kind… they’ve slid into disarray” (Mandel 114). Seeing all these places and meeting new people is one of the reasons why Kirsten survives and thrives in the new world. She learns from her experiences and different encounters, allowing her to grow. Into the Wild reminds me to do the same. Even without its necessity for survival, I am already yearning to travel and see the world, making Into the Wild the motivation I need to do just that in Mandel’s post-pandemic society, thus bringing Into the Wild ensuring my survival.
Chris McCandless thrived with nothing more than a hunting rifle, some rice, the clothes in his body, and books. And I am yearning to set out on a similar adventure. To break away from the confines of society. That yearning becomes significant if I were placed in the new world of Station Eleven. An internal drive to be better, which stems from McCandless’ story. It creates a similar mindset that Jeevan, one of the pandemic’s survivors falls into during his time on the road. His mind got to “whispering the same two words over and over: ‘Keep walking. Keep walking. Keep walking” (Mandel), an internal motivation that ultimately leads to his survival and thriving in the new world. That is what Into the Wild means to me. It is about the will to keep going and fight until you achieve what you set out to do. To be different and stronger than everyone says you can be. To crush limits and expectations. Qualities that will ensure my emotional, psychological and therefore physical survival.
Painted on the front caravan of the Traveling Symphony are the words, “Survival is insufficient” (Mandel) a powerful phrase. Living in the new world is not only about survival. It is about thriving even without modern-day technology and civilization. Into the Wild embodies those ideals. It will empower me with the motivation and morals I need to “make everyday a new horizon” (Krakauer) even in a post-pandemic society like Station Eleven.
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