Roger Marolt: The silver cloud with a dark lining over Aspen
What if we are not living fulfilling lives? What if “living the life” is a billow of verbal cotton candy we dissolve in our mouths to justify paying the rent and wasting our lives searching for parking spaces in Aspen?
Regular readers know my weekly column pretty much amounts to one super-long, run-on sentence, about 750 words a week out of a million-word mega-column, and counting.
I point this out because somebody wrote me about how I ended last week’s edition with something like, “Many locals are trying to be fulfilled by where they live rather than by what they are doing with their lives.” The idea was spurred by another person I previously met who lived in a dreary city, but enjoyed stimulating work there. It all continues into what I am writing today.
We hear it all the time: “I don’t know how anyone could live in the city.”
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When you think about it in the low pressure of high altitude, it makes sense. Truly, who would rather live in an ugly old city than here in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet? All other factors being equal, nobody would. But, they do. So, it is fair to assume that the cities have something compelling to offer. We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t admit that.
Jobs, accessibility, stable populations of family and friends, and affordability are factors. But I think there’s even more than that. I think a big reason people live in cities is because they offer more potential for meaningful jobs, activities and vocations than a place like Aspen. OK, I said it.
We have symposiums and summits about meaningful things here, but most of the ideas are carried out elsewhere. There is evidence we don’t generate much in the way of fulfillment for ourselves.
There is no real value to anyone if I ski every day. Even the value to myself is one of diminishing returns. The first day of skiing or the first powder day fill me with excitement. I end those days joyfully refreshed. But, every day afterward becomes a little more commonplace until by April I can’t wait for the mountain bike trails to open. And then I start the process of reduced satisfaction with each ride. I’m not alone. It’s why there are huge lines to ski Fanny Hill in November when the slopes open with rocks and why Moab is crowded with Aspenites in March when skiing is at its best.
We obliquely addressed this problem of pointlessness by inventing the 100-day pin. With it, we magically turn boredom with skiing into an achievement. It takes an amazing amount of endurance, mental more than physical, if we are being honest, to win this prize. Anybody got 1,000 miles on your bike yet this summer?
Further, Aspen is purported to have more not-for-profit organizations per capita than anywhere else. I don’t know if that’s true, but it doesn’t seem ridiculous, either. This sounds great, except we don’t hear a lot about many of them making much significant impact. It’s not for lack of trying; it’s for lack of support. While the proliferation of charities is certainly not a bad thing, the to-each-his-own method of operating them might be a sign of locals trying to create meaning in their own lives rather than in the world at large.
But, it’s not just that, either. It is a constant source of amazement how much we fight in Aspen. Until now, I have accepted the common explanation of, “It’s because everyone cares so passionately about this place,” but that rings a little hollow considering how much worse we make the town with all the bickering about how to make it better.
Is it possible that all the arguing might not really be about preserving Aspen’s character? Maybe it’s about creating purpose, instead. Save the planet? Probably next to impossible and nobody would notice anyway. Save our beloved town? Heck yeah! That can fill my life and newspaper pages of letters to the editor. If anyone argues back, all the more validating.
We proudly shun commitment and responsibility like lethal viruses.
Most of us don’t bother to vote.
Even our communal disdain for developers could be more about envy than anything else — they are making a mark here.
If this is only about a lack of significance to our missions in life, no big deal. Let’s continue to live in subliminal boredom. But if our propensity toward lack of purpose has anything to do with despair leading to our tragic incidences of suicide and destructive indulgence in alcohol and drugs, then we have a problem. A modified Aspen Idea could lead to awareness — “Body, Mind, Spirit, with Purpose.”
Yes, Roger Marolt knows we aren’t supposed to talk about Aspen like we have any problems. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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