Sunday, July 10, 2011

Alternatives? What alternatives.....?

I don't think it would be fair of me to allude to the fact that there are indeed alternatives to spending one's life on the great rotary milking machine....and not specify what at least a few of them are.

Okay, I was a hippy. Sometimes, I was a member of the great unwashed, unless I could find a nice stream or a lake to dive into. There was a period when my 'extended family' even ate out of dumpsters. We discovered that a local Safeway tossed huge amounts of good food out with the 'bad' food that was merely outdated. If an egg broke in a flat of eggs, the whole flat went. Some kind soul realized that we were using these cast-offs and began putting them BESIDE the dumpster, instead of inside it. Hallelujiah.

We considered and even referred to ourselves as 'freaks', and we definitely knew that we were 'outsiders' in the culture from which we had emerged. In truth, we were ordinary young Americans who had each looked around at this society and found it lacking in many ways. We craved an alternative society where love and compassion were important, where kindness and freedom were accessible and revered. We thought of what we were doing with our lives as creating an alternative society within the greater one. Some have referred to those times as the era of the 'counter-culture', and I believe that is an apt descriptor of the motivation behind it. They were good times for those who didn't fall prey to the temptation to over-indulge in hedonism, drugs and laziness. Some of the hardest working people I have known were well-grounded and highly motivated HIPPIES. So, please do not succumb to the notion that it was all about being high and promiscuous.

During the rise of the Third Reich in Germany, there was also a counter-culture. It was made of young people who had basically the same reaction to a highly structured and regimented society that the hippies had. The were called Wandervogel--Wandering Birds--and these intrepid young Germans had their own traditions. They set out on the road, wandered as far from the Fatherland as the Far East, had their own songs, poems, bandanas and shirts, and conducted themselves in a way that drew as little negative attention as possible. They craved the freedom of the open road, and, in fact, this sub-culture pre-dated the Nazi era by at least a generation. The Germany that they returned to became a nightmare of conformity and I suspect that almost all of these young people ended up in the military, or the Hitler Youth, depending on their age as conformity became mandatory.

In the present economic and social climate in these United States, adopting an alternative life-style is doable, but it requires the same determination and ongoing effort that participating in either of the aforementioned alternatives did. A person, or a couple, or a group of like-minded souls can buy a piece of land and begin laying the foundation for living in a way that does not require being tethered to a job, a career or a mortgage and all the other indebtedness that comes with being 'middle-class'. Most people think doing this would mean living in a way that is so impoverished and deprived that they could never tolerate it. This impression is false, and it is the result of just not knowing what an increasing number of people are doing across the land.

Learning how to become self-sustaining is now associated with the term: 'off the grid', which means dropping out of the system we're all literally plugged into. To be 'comfortable'--for the vast majority of Americans--means that you have a full set of monthly obligations to: the power company, the mortgage company, the energy company, the insurance company, the auto finance company, and on and on. This amounts to a 'monthly nut' that anybody living this way has to 'crack'. If you can no longer meet your all begins to fall apart and becomes a modern American nightmare, often ending in bankruptcy, even homelessness.

So, the question becomes: "Yes, but how do you escape this without living like a 17th century peasant?"

And, the answer is: "You avail yourself of the vast body of knowledge surrounding alternative dwellings"....even 'owner-built' dwellings that can be created for a song, compared to the turn-key homes that most feel are the only choice....and to which they immediately become indentured on signing a mortgage aggreement. My son's mother, built her own mountainside home in a year, using her own sweat, some help of friends and it was a comfortable and excellent dwelling. She is a Cornell graduate, with a masters in education and a law degree. But, she could have done this regardless of her formal education. She did it because she wanted a home that would not enslave her.

Becoming self-sustaining in all the ways that it is both possible and necessary is eminently DOABLE. But, not unless you start thinking outside the box.....the box that comes with a hefty monthly payment.

One of the greatest assets that any person or couple can have is that of friends. Finding people who feel similarly and who want to also 'escape', is vastly easier in these days of the internet than it used to be. The process of building a community of people who are willing to throw in together and depend on each other, is both a grand and difficult undertaking, but a source of making the whole process of becoming liberated ever so much more doable and sustainable.

So, when you ask: "What alternatives?" My response is that you need to begin shifting your focus away from what you CANNOT DO towards what is POSSIBLE,...and once you do that, the possibilities begin to emerge from the mist.

When I landed in Marin County CA, fresh out of grad school, head stuck in the mainstream American paradigm, I was convinced that life consisted of a series of roadblocks that one had to overcome, defeat or somehow learn to accept. The de facto matriarch of the extended family that adopted me was a remarkable woman named Donna. One evening as we sat around, I was grousing about wanting to travel but not having any money. She looked at me and shook her head. "You dumb ass. All you have to do is stand up and walk out of that door and you are travelling." I looked askance. She continued, "Just do it and figure out the details as you go." She was speaking with credibility because not long before I met her, she had spent several years travelling all the way around the planet. She'd been a cocktail waitress in Hawaii, and one day she got fed up, tossed her apron to the bartender, said, "See ya." And, she took off for she knew not where....with a young child.

A month later, I landed in Paris.....with $40 in my pocket. And, I stayed in Europe for the next five months, had the adventure of a lifetime.

You can only escape your limitations if you are willing to set them aside.

This much I have learned. Btw: That is a picture of Donna at the beginning of this piece.

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