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Hiking Without a Trail - Essay (1 Viewer)

MrTamborineMan

Senior Member
First off, I'm not necessarily asking you all to agree with what I have written here, because I know it is a fairly controversial topic. I would appreciate feedback on style, structure, syntax, and things like that. Any suggestions would be helpful.

____

Hiking Without a Trail​
By Mark Goldstein​

Apparently, I am currently living my whole life in sin. This is according to a morbidly obese, middle-aged lady who wandered into the bookstore where I work, and proceeded to give me a hard time. She asked me why I would devote my time to a company that stocks, among other things, pornographic books, pornographic magazines, books on witchcraft, and (of course) The Satanic Bible. She told me that by helping to sell the devil’s work, I am one of his minions. She told me that I needed to find meaning in life; so I asked her, “What does life mean, then?”

Quite honestly, I do not think she expected to be asked a question of that nature. My assumption is that she simple wanted to heckle a bookseller until she was ejected from the store, and then raise a big stink about it with her bible buddies. She hesitated for a moment… and then hesitated some more. Eventually she mumbled something about serving the Lord. I asked her to repeat herself. Rather than do that she said, “I don’t need to put up with this nonsense!” and she determinedly waddled out of the store.

Something that I find increasingly amusing about religion is that each one seems to hold one truth: everybody else is wrong. Something that is equally amusing is that none of them seem to have much of a conception about what is right. Religions exist to answer one question: why are we here? Since none of them can actually answer this question, they decide to make the purpose much simpler: man exists in order to serve his religion. There is no higher purpose. This is why many often turn to the church in time of crisis and need. Nothing in their lives has seemed to have a hint of logic in it, so by devoting themselves to a set of pre-arranged dogma, they have found meaning where there was only void before.

In a way, it is similar to buying a franchise. A man buys a McDonalds franchise, because he does not want to take the risks that involved with creating his own business. He wants a pre-established set of rules and business practices to go with, and an established name to work with. In the end, he will always have to answer to a higher source, so he does not bear full responsibility for his actions. He can simply claim that mistakes in the company were due to the will of the upper-management. By doing this, he can at least guarantee himself a mild degree of success. It will never come to the point where he is a business mogul, but on the same token, he will never go hungry.

By picking a pre-established religion, one earns the same type of insurance. Rather than creating his own purpose, he is following one that is planned out for him. It is complete with a set of rules, ethics, and rituals, so that he can draft his behavior patterns accordingly. The pious man always answers to a higher source, which is a divine being more often than not. By doing this, he can claim that his faults were the creator’s will. This way, he will never find any true meaning in his life, but on the same token, he will not be spiritually empty.

Sixty-one years ago, before my grandfather’s brain turned into sour applesauce, he earned a medal for killing Germans at Normandy. About two years ago, back when there was still logic in his words, he said something that stuck with me: “It is easier to kill people over what you are supposed to believe in, than what you actually do believe in. When you are raised to believe that your ideology is the only one that could possibly be right, then you can view yourself as a hero, rather than a murderer.” When my grandfather was growing up, the general attitude in the country was that the ideals that our nation is run on are exactly what the rest of the world needs. Therefore, marching to the front lines with a rifle in hand; my grandfather found a great deal of meaning in the fact that he was serving his country to protect democracy around the world. On the other hand, Hanz Lederman from Hamburg, was marching to the front lines with the same determination. To him, the meaning of life was to protect the ideals of the German nation, and to protect his people from the threat of international Communism and Judaism. While I am not praising this ideology, there is a point that can be seen in all this. Each person holds a different perspective of what his own meaning is; and it is often shaped by outside forces such as nationalism and religion. Therefore, it is generally impossible for an overall meaning of life to exist.

When I was thirteen years old, I went on a hiking trip with a group of three other children, led by a guide of about sixty years of age with balding hair and a speech impediment. After we had hiked out for about five miles, he had us all sit down on a log, and he proceeded to blindfold us. He then told us (after struggling to formulate his words) to remain completely silent. After sitting there for about ten minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I was then led from my seat, and my guide whispered for me to take his hand. He then guided me to an unknown location, and removed my blindfold. He told me that it was now my job to find my way to the next check-point, which would be a picnic lunch. There was no logical path to follow, but it was still my responsibility to find my way on my own.

I am not going to express my details of how I found my way to the check point, because I was one of the last people to get there, and it was rather embarrassing. My sense of direction is skewed, so I found myself wandering in circles or heading back in the direction that I had just came from. When I finally did stumble upon the meeting place, it was more of a matter of chance than anything else. After hours of aimless wandering, I finally managed to get to where I belonged. One of my companions, however, managed to track back to where he had come from, and he managed to quickly. Of the four of us, none of us had used the same method to get to where we were. However, in the end, we all ended up at the same place. Larry, the old man who took us on this hike, died the following year.

I feel that perhaps I was being a little too harsh on the overweight woman. While she did not know the answer to my question, she probably believed that she did until I actually asked her. I do not believe that by seeking an answer where there is nothing to find, she is stupid or foolish. It is natural instinct to look for answers, and to criticize or destroy anybody who thinks otherwise. However, no matter how hard she looks, she is never going to be able to find a clear purpose as to why we are here. She can waddle around in that forest all she wants, but she will never find a trail. Although nobody is going to get to the destination the same way, we will all rendezvous at the final check-point.
 
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mammamaia

Senior Member
you'll need to divvy this up into proper paragraphs, if you want anyone to comment on it... indents don't work in posts, so you have to hit the 'edit' button and use line breaks, instead...
 
I would appreciate feedback on style, structure, syntax, and things like that. Any suggestions would be helpful.

____

I found this easy and enjoyable to read, with a good balance of humour, observation and thought. The grammar and structure seem fine to me and it flowed well. I couldn't spot any punctuation errors so any points I made were about subject matter. I don't know if they help any, but I didn't spot any mistakes in terms of writing.

Something that I find increasingly amusing about religion is that each one seems to hold one truth: everybody else is wrong.
I'd say you have a point here, but not all religions are the same. The judaic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) commonly adopt this view. Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, even Satanism, tend to be more accepting of a variety of viewpoints.

man exists in order to serve his religion. (God)

A man buys a McDonalds franchise, because he does not want to take the risks that involved with creating his own business.
Nice analogy.

The pious man always answers to a higher source, which is a divine being more often than not. By doing this, he can claim that his faults were the creator’s will. This way, he will never find any true meaning in his life, but on the same token, he will not be spiritually empty.
Yes, I'd agree - but a religion like Christianity make the excuse where they say it'll all be explained when they get to heaven. Perhaps meaning for them is in seeing everyone else go to hell.

In terms of style I'd say it's fine. You begin and end with an informal style and touches of humour. You could maybe inject more humour into the main body of the article and give it a stronger flavour, to lighten up an otherwise heavy topic. (say describe a McDonald's guy being told off by his boss, and tossing burgers and compare with people praying for a pay rise.) Just a thought.
Or you could take out all the humour and make it formal - but I like the stuff about the fat Lady - and you leave with a compassionate feeling towards her anyway.
Nice thoughts, good stuff.

Hope I helped. I'd appreciate if you had a look at my essay about Dogs if you have the time - actually it's more of a reasoned rant than an essay. I don't get offended easily so you can crit all you want, that's why it's there.
Cheers.
 

Flexbile Garphite

Senior Member
That was very good. I've spent a lot of time thinking about that subject so it was interesting and held my attention. I have nothing constructive to say other than to keep up the good work.
 
R

rick1950

"My assumption is that she simple wanted to heckle..."

Did you mean simply?


You might consider leaving out most of the comments about the appearance of the woman in the bookstore. It leaves the impression that your real problem with her was her weight, not her comments.

The piece flows pretty well but you might want to work a bit on the transitions. The section on your grandfather and the section on your hiking experience read like seperate little essays.


I would also suggest that you go through the essay and cut some of the unnecessary wording. For example, the comments about the woman's weight and your grandfather's mental condition - neither add to your arguement and are not the topic of the essay.
 

A Simple Man

Senior Member
Great flow, sentence structure, use of language, with hardly a flaw! (maybe some light transitional issues)

I can't give much credibility to your argument though. You start by painting a very vivid caricature(well done!), but then you jump right into attacking religion in general, then you build a theological parody.

Throughout the rest you slaughter your mound of straw.

It is easy to paint the ridiculous, then point out the hilarity of your construct. Next time take on something a little more robust, you clearly have the skill to meet the challenge.
 
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MrTamborineMan

Senior Member
Thanks, I appreciate the feedback. As I was looking through it, in hindsight I really did not support my arguments too well at all. Some of the attacks on religion were sort of uncalled for, although when I was writing it, it seemed to fit more with my point.

I actually plan to make this part of a collection about what makes us want to continue living in a world where we are without purpose. Why do we enjoy living so much that we create theologies to try and justify our living, and kill each other over these theologies? That sort of thing... although I realize now I was just being flat-out mean to people that follow religions.
 

Sock

Senior Member
This is a really great piece. It has a certain Existential quality to it that I really liked, while not getting pretentious as Existential pieces tend to become. I really liked the idea of no matter what path you take, you get to the same place, presumably death. Very good, very insightful. Well written.
 

americanwriter

Senior Member
Interesting Essay. Here are my suggestions, for what they're worth.

Apparently, I am currently living my whole life in sin. This is according to a morbidly obese, middle-aged lady who wandered into the bookstore where I work, and proceeded to give me a hard time. She asked me why I would devote my time to a company that stocks, among other things, pornographic books, pornographic magazines, books on witchcraft, and (of course) The Satanic Bible. She told me that by helping to sell the devil’s work, I am one of his minions. She told me that I needed to find meaning in life; so I asked her, “What does life mean, then?”

[REVISION -- Tighten sentences, use direct statements, weed out excess words. Take ownership of the statement you're trying to make.]

According to a morbidly-obese middle-aged lady, who wandered into the bookstore where I work, I am living my life in sin.

"Why do you devote your time to a store that stocks pornographic books and magazines, books on witchcraft, and The Satanic Bible, among other things? You are doing the devil's work. You are his minion. You need to find the meaning of life."

"What does life mean then?" I asked.

[END REVISION -- By quoting her you make her more real to your audience and put your readers in your shoes, behind that counter, facing her.]

Quite honestly, I do not think she expected to be asked a question of that nature. My assumption is that she simple wanted to heckle a bookseller until she was ejected from the store, and then raise a big stink about it with her bible buddies. She hesitated for a moment… and then hesitated some more. Eventually she mumbled something about serving the Lord. I asked her to repeat herself. Rather than do that she said, “I don’t need to put up with this nonsense!” and she determinedly waddled out of the store.

[REVISION]
The lady was obviously unprepared for my question. Did she simply want to heckle a bookseller until she was ejected from the store? Did she want to raise a big stink and then flaunt it in front of her bible buddies? I assumed that to be the case. Her hesitation in answering my question lingered. Finally, she mumbled an inaudible response, something about "serving the Lord." I asked her to repeat it, but she evaded the request.

"I don't need to put up with this nonesense!" There was a distinctly dertermined aire to her waddle as she left the store. [END REVISION]

And so on and so forth. If you would like a good guide to paring down your writing, I'd recommend you do some reading of Hemingway's articles during his stint at the Kansas City Star, and his fictional works. I don't particularly care for his take on things, but his style is still considered one of the most provocative and he is considered a master wordsmith.
 

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