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A Deserted Island Essay

Alone on a Desert Island

Most people are afraid of being alone. Sometimes being outside alone can already pose as a challenge. Human beings are inherently social and aloneness is not usually a pleasant experience for everyone. Being alone on a desert island is a different story altogether. The image of aloneness it carries can be considered a metaphor directed to the dynamics of the human condition when subjected to utter loneliness. Will this lead to a more desperate emotion, more than just a state of being, which is loneliness.

A desert island, of all places, must be the worst place to get stuck in, alone. Considering that it’s a desert, resources will of course be scarce and since it’s an island, communication would also be hard to be access. To be alone in such a place is a situation that is always brought up in question. We would always be questioned in random, what would we do if we are to be left alone in a desert island, what would we bring but the question that usually isn’t asked is, would we survive? To be alone is different from loneliness. Most people would claim that being alone is a choice. On the other hand, to be alone on a desert island can be perceived as both a challenge and a choice. To subject oneself in this kind of challenge would suggest that there might be something in exchange. For some people, this could also be associated with the idea of cleansing both the mind and body. In light of this, it is easy to see the differences in how people perceive aloneness and how people would always tend to have the need to function within a group, community or even within the backdrop of a whole society.

Stuck on a Desert Island

We are often asked what we would bring when stranded on a desert island. There are different answers to this. Many people respond based on their basic necessities. Many would choose to bring something that would comfort them despite being alone, like a book or a television or the likes. But of course, the real question is how we would survive when faced with such predicament. People deal differently based on how they are adjusted with the social environment they are in; different personalities in a community that either clash against or jive along with each other.

There are people that believe that they are well accustomed to loneliness to the point that they think they can survive just being in touch with the vast expanse of both nothingness and greatness on a desert island. Some people would immediately resign to the idea that they will be subjected to aloneness. This shows a dichotomy of personalities in the society; those who can survive being alone and those who cannot. But of course, even this dichotomy is conditional. It is still up to the individual in how he or she will handle survival, because sometimes being alone on a desert island, as a metaphor, is not a choice, but rather a necessity in order to make more sense of what is happening around. For some, solitude is a gift rather than a curse because it makes us remember the things that surround us, especially in a time that tends to make us selfish amongst each other.

The situation of being alone in a desert island is never perceived in its actual sense because of obvious reasons; it is a state of mind rather than a state of the physical body. To be alone in a desert island is definitely a challenge but for some, it would be something that is worth taking, for the betterment of the individual.

One of my favorite things to ask people is what they would bring if they were stranded on a deserted island. Ironically, it seems that there are more and more scenarios of deserted islands cropping up and I thought it’d be interesting to take a deeper look. It seems to say a lot about us what we would choose to bring along… or does it just mean we have some major creativity?

First there was LOST which I admit I was completely addicted to, own box sets of most seasons and for a while there was even dreaming about. I would literally watch a bunch of episodes, fall asleep and look forward to the vivid dreams that would follow. In the morning I jotted details in a journal about what I could remember; stacking ammo for a later date. In fact, it was after a session of season four if I remember correctly that I first decided to ask the author I was currently interviewing what they might bring if they knew they’d be stranded. Ever since, I’ve always included this question in my list. It never fails to elicit a fun response.

After LOST, the island I think of next is somewhat of a Survivor scenario. Drop a bunch of people in a place where things will undoubtedly be out of control shortly. Let them flirt, plot against each other, and eventually mate with one another. Alliances are formed, plans are made to eliminate the weakest links and those who are the strongest—well, they survive. This idea is something completely different from a plane crash to purgatory, but it’s also got a huge following and let’s not forget those cool headband/tube top thingys. Eye candy never hurts.

Now we have Naked and Afraid where a man and a woman are left on a deserted island without so much as a stitch of clothing. From the preview I’ve seen, just three days in, one of them is laid up with what looks like severe sunburn and maybe an infection of some kind—not too sure what else goes on just yet. Also happening on the Discovery Channel is Naked Castaway, where we meet Ed, who is perhaps the most resourceful person I’ve ever laid eyes on. Not only does he build a shelter, find food and water, but his improvised lean-to has actual gutters. Gutters! Also, despite being left without clothes, he has the ability to text in case of emergency and a stash of antibiotics. Kind of like the coincidence of Jack being a spinal surgeon… hmm.

Looking at these situations, it’s something of a contradiction—isn’t it? I mean how would you know that you were going to be stranded on a deserted island? In fact if you knew, you wouldn’t really be stranded there…would you? You wouldn’t know that you have sixty days till a boat comes to get you. Nobody would fight you to win exemption from a physical contest of sorts. You may not be building gutters, but you wouldn’t have antibiotics either…or a million bucks if you were the last one standing.

What I find fascinating about all this deserted island stuff is that whether or not there is film and texting, there is consistently less clothing and almost no rules. That said it made me look back to all the responses I’ve received to the question posed in interviews, to friends and family and of course from my students. What I found was nothing like the TV shows at all.

Instead people have stocked: bottled water, endless paper and ink, generators, Kindles and Nooks, notebooks, a Snuggie, weed, music, laptops, husbands and wives, their kids, condoms, more weed, sunscreen and more books than I can list. People either seemed that they would embrace the solitude and write their life’s manifesto, (but however would it get to the world if you were never rescued?) or they would need to have their significant others by their side and would never get bored (never? really? Hmm…) On more than one occasion, the answer has been toilet paper even though there are no bathrooms; computers with a forever charge even though there is certainly no WiFi; and some have even said they wanted an endless supply of their favorite beer or wine—not caring that they’d be imbibing alone or not have any food to pair it with, or perhaps most importantly any Advil or Gatorade for the aftermath.

The contrast is obvious and completely understandable with the way times change and the differences between reality and reality TV. However I was super interested to see what exactly happens over time, so I went digging in the crates for some old journals and got quite an insight. In the 90s I apparently needed all of my Doc Martens and CDs if stuck on an island. Not sure where I’d be wearing boots to or what stereo the volumes of grunge would be played on, but you value what you value I suppose.

In the 80s, I would need Jimmy–a boy I crushed on throughout grammar school, my red Converse sneaks, a soccer ball and blue pens. I actually recall writing his name on said sneaks with blue pen. Combo pack anyone? I would also need to be assured that I would not be rescued by any parents—mine or those of other people—which would likely mean not getting rescued at all. I later found another list where I wished for notebooks and a padlock. No clear recollection why, but no less intrigued.

Early 2000s yielded cocktail napkins and coasters stapled, taped and tucked in between the pages of my notebooks. Many were illegible, most lyrical and all solid ammo for the story of my life. On one coaster from a favorite pub in New York, I found a circular swirling list of things I thought I needed in my life. Not one of them was a person, no shoes were involved and the only constant was a pen. I guess we change but not at the core…

John Berger once said “To be naked is to be oneself.”But what if all the things we think we need with us on our respective islands take away from who we are rather than defining us?

I know my list does not contain a computer or internet access, but I use these things every day. But I am a person, not a web presence. My list doesn’t have a favorite food or drink because I know I’d eventually tire of it. Would I bring my dear significant other? Sure—who wants to be stranded alone if we can bring actual people with us! But more-so because we are life partners who do everything together. Yes I’d want a pen, but have been known to create with whatever is around. Clothing? Well… I’m really prone to sunburn, but I think I’m also more comfortable in my own skin now so no biggie.

SO what would you bring if it were you being stranded on an island? Books? Pillows? Water? Weed? Don’t worry—nobody’s judging and chances are you will change your mind in a year or two. Think of it as a writing exercise. Some of the best stories are about something we think we want until we don’t need it anymore.

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