Monday, September 2, 2013

The Answer To Your Question

Changes in life often bring the questions and concerns of others into sharp focus as we struggle to move our vision of life a little closer to reality. The quintessential question in middle class American culture what do you do? is replaced, when you're transitioning, by what are you going to do?  The underlying assumption, that what I do is of primary importance, ignores and devalues the reality of who  I am.

My knee jerk reaction to this question, no matter how kindly meant, is to sneer Napoleon Dynamite style and offer a Whatever I wanna do, gosh.  I try to rein it in, truly, because I hope that the usual questioners simply have no concept of what it might be like to eschew traditional bourgeois values.  Our ideas about what constitutes real life simply don't geehaw.

It is easier, by far, to list all the things I will not do. I will not settle for a life of corporate drudgery, no matter how well paid.  I will not pursue material things with such fervor that a loss of income could reduce me to bankruptcy. I will not trade my leisure time for extended work hours that benefit only my employer. I will not opt-in.

There are some in my life who seem to mistake my antipathy towards middle-class, suburban life as an inability to succeed. An easy mistake to make, I'm sure. Let me be clear: I don't have a high powered, high paying job, because I've never sought one out. I don't have a MBA because I have no use for one. I refuse to pay the equivalent of the median household income for a family of four for a vehicle that I will wear out and consign to the junkyard eventually. I do not value the typical consumerist lifestyle.

When asked what I will do, the asker typically wants to know how will I support myself. In the same way I always have: by trading as little of my time as necessary for the amount of money I need to live. Only once in my life, for a period of around a decade, did I find something, professionally, to be passionate about. I was so drawn to my work in outdoor education that I financed it by serving steaks to rednecks for 8 months out of the year. My love for that time and place has never gone, but I find that my tolerance for major sacrifice to remain doing it has lessened. I won't live in Minnesota or Vermont, thousands of miles from home, to remain at camp. So that time has ended.

As we transition to Florida, a decision that has mystified as many as it has elated, know that we have a plan.  It won't surprise a core group of friends and acquaintances, many of whom share our lust for living on the bohemian side of things.  We are not going for no reason; we are going to homestead more fully. We're not just buying a house, we're building a livelihood too. In the tradition of all the current (sub)urban homesteaders, we're creating a small (mostly) self-sustaining island in the middle of traditional America. 

We're trading our clock punching for beekeeping, cheese making, gardening, crafting, composting, baking, fermenting, and preserving. We will help ourselves to some local bounty by foraging, gleaning and fishing. We'll use our cottage industry to help us achieve a better life/work balance than what we see around us.

This is nothing new. The bookshelves are currently lousy with memoirs of people my age, many with Ivy League educations, who just opted out. They found more value in learning to make sauerkraut than in selling stocks and bonds. In my parents time it was buying small remote farms to get away from The Man. In the early 20th century it was self sufficiency on 5 acres. 

The irony, of course, is that because we hail from middle class America, we have the choice, the luxury of opting out. We can become purveyors of honey at the farmers market, make very little in the way of cash, and yet never actually be part of the working class. We exist as something else, something difficult to define. Educated, primarily white, usually progressive, back-to-the-landers abound in this generation, as more and more of us acknowledge that the rat race is for suckers. 

Maybe you still worry about what we'll do, maybe you can't help it. Remember that what we'll do is live. On our own terms. Just as you and everyone else must.

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