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Running down antelope
The uniqueness of human persistence
A human can chase down an antelope, which can run 60 mph.
In a town of 2000 people somewhere deep in Louisiana, I’m listening to people tell stories for a radio show called This American Life. I toss a trash bag in a dumpster behind my family’s convenience store. I just finished an 8-hour shift, it’s 10 pm, and I have school tomorrow.
Chasing down antelope feels impossible. 8 hours of non-stop running instead of standing behind a register? I could barely do the latter. In that forgotten alleyway next to a dumpster, listening to the whine of the cicadas, the life of getting to tell stories about chasing antelope feels even more like a dream.
And dreams run faster than us–in the short term.
Most people, as Henry David Thoreau said, “live lives of quiet desperation.” They have nothing in their life resembling their dreams. To chase them seems silly. Antelope can sprint 61 miles per hour. A fool’s errand.
Similarly, how could a human being out-sprint a wisp of a dream?
Try writing a screenplay and see how many Hollywood agents knock on your door. That dream will gallop away from you faster than you can blink. Nobody is coming to Jackson, Louisiana, begging me to tell stories to millions of people. Why would they?
I haven’t chased after them for days, weeks, or years.
But, my dream was to tell stories for a living. I’ve wanted that ever since I was nine. I noticed how my family talked about the people on the TV. To them, they were real. Why did books and TV matter to them so much? Why couldn’t they explain it–even to themselves?
It seems improbable for a boy in the small-town deep south to make an honest living telling stories. I had never met a writer. Books and TV–they just existed–nobody we knew made them. Stories aren’t made of gasoline or steel–it’s hard to imagine they’re useful.
How do I tell a story that matters to people? Is that really labor? Or is that just a vain wish?
When I finally gathered the courage to write a story, they told me it was futile–those people in quiet desperation. “What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” – Thoreau. Dreams cannot be caught, they say. Anyone who caught them is either lying or lucky. Get a fucking job.
Trying to outsprint antelope will make us look like fools, but that element of endurance, persistence, and resilience is what makes us the most courageous creatures on the planet.
But if we’re so amazing at it, why do most people stop chasing dreams?
Anyone with a dream knows it's painful. We're unsure we can ever catch it. Am I a fool? Should I get a “real” job? What will my parents think? A dream is a dream because we might never catch it. But, goddammit, what if I caught it?
The only thing more painful than hanging onto a dream is giving up on a dream.
Scott describes a mystical moment after chasing an antelope for hours when it suddenly collapses. All you have to do is walk up and grab it. Can you imagine the joy early hunters felt? Food. For weeks. For their entire family. And look, the animal is just lying on the ground. Heat radiates from its exhausted body. “Why did this seem so hard?”
But the refusal to stop running, even when the antelope weren’t visible on the horizon, was the hard part.
Perhaps, like antelope, dreams relent to those who keep running.
Thanks for reading,
Share this with anyone who can’t see their antelope on the horizon.
What’s moving me:
“The world would be a much better place if everyone experienced the hunger that would make you suck the eyeballs out of a rabbit with pleasure.“ — a guy starving to death in the Canadian wilderness
“When a person gets embarked on a topic which in its vastness almost completely swallows up his efforts, the subject dwarfs the writer; or when a logician has to treat of great subjects, with a view to deriving a fixed theory, he abandons the primal idea and digresses into elaborate disquisitions, on the more inviting portions of his argument. Again in works of fancy, a too prolific imagination literally flys away with the author, and lands him in regions of loveliness unutterable, which his faculties scarcely grasp, which dazzles his senses, and defies speech, and thus his compositions are beautiful indeed, but beautiful with the cloudiness and dream-beauty of a visionary.” — James Joyce
“In the realist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith.” — Dostoevsky