Kitchissippi Reads: A true story to inspire new challenges

By Jared Davidson – 

Before starting Railbender with his girlfriend, Marta Jarzabek, Alex Néron was in a bit of a rut. He wasn’t enjoying his life as a corporate salesperson. He decided to completely reinvent himself, leaving behind his old life in favour of a new adventure, but what it would be he did not yet know. It sounds like the start of a novel, and it is.

The decision was catalyzed in part by Alex’s experience with the film Into the Wild, and later with the book upon which it is based by the author Jon Krakauer. The book charts Christopher McCandless’s journey out of civilization and into a new way of understanding oneself as apart from society.

“It unlocked a lot of things,” says Alex. “The story itself left a profound impact on me.”

An international best seller inspired Alex Néron to strike out on a new path. Photo by Jared Davidson
An international best seller inspired Alex Néron to strike out on a new path. Photo by Jared Davidson

The book’s central themes of self-discovery and survival unlocked Alex’s own need for independent creativity. And the risks that Christopher McCandless takes in the book inspired him to take risks of his own, one of which resulted in the opening of Railbender Studio, Alex’s tattoo parlour in Hintonburg.

The place is unusual as far as tattoo parlours go. On the walls, instead of pictures of tattoos, Alex has hung local art. The atmosphere is comfortable and clean.

The studio space was first discovered when Alex and Marta happened upon an empty space in a relatively derelict building after a Beyond the Pale brewery party. They noticed the ‘for rent’ sign, and the very next day they picked up the keys and launched into the renovation. That’s the kind of risk that Alex associates with Into the Wild. It is a book that celebrates self-reliance and struggle.

“It’s a story about survival,” says Alex. “It can apply to anyone’s life, whatever you’re going through.”

For Alex, the book has remained a source of inspiration and strength throughout the building of Railbender to his cancer diagnosis two years ago. He recommends the book to anyone who is going through struggle, but also admits that the book holds a special place in his heart because he identifies with McCandless on so many levels. Alex is an outdoorsy guy. He’s spent most of his life camping and hiking, and for him, the woods are a place of rejuvenation. McCandless’s journey into the wild is, for Alex, a journey away from the structures of society that hold one down.

This rebellion against the norm is central to Into the Wild and to Alex’s own life. He has worked for corporations like Ford and Pepsi, but you wouldn’t know it to talk to him. Alex’s unhappiness with that life, like McCandless’s, came from a feeling that it wasn’t right for him. “I played the role but I was very unhappy,” he says. “I decided one day to change everything.”

And it all started with a book. So, for some summer reading that may open up new life paths, Alex’s recommendation is Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

This post is part of our annual summer reads issue. Read all of our 2017 profiles right here.

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