This text was written straight to final draft. I write this way because it's more interesting and much less work.
This is a work of language; any resemblance to actual experience is temporary.
The opinions in this document are those of the author. Although they are intended to be duplicated into the minds of readers, this intention is not enforced. This product contains ideas, which are extremely hazardous when used under supervision.
Welcome to Superweed 2
When the first Superweed ended, it was May 1998. I had just flirted with and rejected two opportunities to move from Seattle to the woods. Then I decided I had lived poor long enough and I was ready to live in the world of bigger money. Then:
My friend Adam is in the computer world; he told me that, with effort, I could get a super-high-paying job testing software; an acquaintance was leaving his software testing job and recommended me to replace him.
Adam and my sister Sheila are a couple. They bought a house together in June, and then went to Europe for three months, from July 9 to October 9, and let me house-sit; I sublet my super-cheap-rent room to a friend.
Adam and Sheila live in a world of bigger money than me, and I got to experience that world by tying up and holding onto the loose ends of their lives after they left. It was hell. Of course, there's no necessary relation between more money and a more complicated life. Or is there?
I spent July and August on Adam's computer, learning the internet and making web pages. I almost got that software job, but didn't. With my erratic work history it's hard for me to get interviews, but when I get the interview I get the job about half the time, and when I don't it's because I won't hide that I'm there to do the job well, not to make some weenie feel important.
I took a couple more stabs at software jobs, and backed off. In the context of this society, the more money and status there is in a job, the less that job is about doing the work well, and the more it's about making weenies feel important. I'm ready to wash dishes for a living if I have to, or dumpster dive, or go to prison, or starve; but I'm not ready to do what it seems like I'll have to do to get a high-paying job: apologize for my lifestyle and values, pretend to have any ego investment in my job, pretend to think my lack of experience is important, or above all, feign enthusiasm.
Before I accepted that I wasn't getting money soon, I fantasized about what I would do with it. I played a game where every breath, or every heartbeat, was another thousand dollars. FIve and I can get a car, a few more to travel the country, then ten more and I can start buying land: ten acres, 40 with a spring, 160 with a stream, a straw bale house, gardens, orchards, chickens, more houses for my friends...Around a third of a million the game got boring—that's all the money I want.
I drew dozens of diagrams of acreage on graph paper: Here's a square mile; here's 40 acres; here's how big a house looks on 40; here's 80 with houses and sheds and gardens and a stream, and here are the blueberry bushes, and the peach trees, and the woods beyond.
I noticed cars: the variations of pickup and closed pickup and blazer and sport-utility vehicle and jeep and minivan and wagon and hatchback. I noticed car colors: mostly drab metallic shades, and white, and red. It is obviously time for metallics to go out of fashion and cars to be pastel. Pale purple and green were so rare that I kept seeing the same cars, and I never saw a pale orange or a good bright peach.
Also, all summer, I kept working on emotion/perception stuff, and experimenting with my diet. I practiced being in the moment -- or is it being of the moment? Damn! No wonder I didn't get enlightened. I practiced living each moment as if it was my first, and letting go of things with my mind, and accepting more things. I began to notice that my moment-to-moment life is driven by fear... I tried a kinesiology-researched diet from the book Creating Heaven Through Your Plate, and cut out all starches and everything my body said it didn't like. All summer I lived on ground sourdoughed quinoa, bananas, organic butter, maple syrup, ginger, coconut milk, carrot juice, olives, and homemade cayenneless curry powder. I slept well for the first time in years, but continued to lose weight. But I think my weight loss and fatigue are asking not for diet change, but life change.
Somewhere I read a dialogue for changing your life. "What are your obstacles?" Then, "What would you do if those obstacles were removed?" Then, where it applies, "Hey! You can do that now!"
Sheila and Adam got tired of traveling and came back on August 27. They let me stay through September, until I could move back into my cheap rent house. But I noticed that I dreaded that house. I noticed that I had seen people live there for years, vaguely depressed, their lives stuck in place, and as soon as they moved out, their lives changed and they were happier. Most important, I noticed my fantasies: that the house would burn down with all my possessions and I would be forced to leave Seattle; or more than once I told people, "If I ever have to leave that house, I'll have to go to Wyoming or somewhere." Seattle rents are double what they were ten years ago. If I didn't move back to the energy sucking house, I had two options: stay in Seattle with a job that paid double what I've been paid before, or leave Seattle.
Do you want to know? I did it! I find that, paradoxically (or naturally), the less money I have, the easier it is to let go of money. I made a fantasy, and then took one little page and wrote how much I had, and how much I would have left at every step. I saw that I would have enough slack to get somewhere and find some job in my own time. I tested the idea on my friends and, bless them, none of them discouraged me or even acted surprised. "Oh," Betsy nodded, "the buy a car and go on the road thing." I went to my credit union and took out 35 $100 bills. Three days later, I traded 23 of them for the car that I had fantasized about buying after a year at a computer job: a 1986 Honda civic wagon with manual everything, four doors and a hatchback, just enough room to sleep in back, and 42 miles per gallon on the highway with me, the king mileage miser, driving.
I cast off another layer of possessions, stored the layer below that with my family, and packed the final layer in my car. I bought insurance against getting stopped by a cop who demands proof of insurance, replaced the near-bald tires (expensive!), and drove to Lewiston Idaho where my mom knows a skilled and honest mechanic. I stayed a week with my mom in Spokane, and five - no - six days ago, I headed south.
Tomorrow is October 9, the day my house-sit was going to end, and I'm writing this in my car in a campsite on BLM land in the Utah desert, just as the sky is getting dark, and the orange sunset light makes the red desert redder.
? Where did you get your money? How much do you have?
My parents saved me college money. But despite my near-perfect grades and test scores, the money n' status colleges figured out that I didn't belong there, and I went to cheaper state universities and kept the surplus. Also, somehow, I got a sense of my own value that's not based on status or possessions, so I'm able to live super-cheap. After college I had a couple jobs and saved a bunch more money, and the whole time it was growing with interest. At the peak I had more than $30,000. Then I lost a bunch on a successful business, and maybe that gave me the courage to let go of the rest to live without a job. Now I'm down to around $5000. Building up money and spending it is fun! I want to keep doing it.
? What's wrong with making weenies feel important? Aren't they?
I agree! Everything is limitlessly and unconditionally important. But that's the opposite of what job-hiring weenies want to hear: "Your importance, and my potential importance, come from this job."
I Love Camping
This is so cool! Why didn't I do this when I had $15,000 instead of wasting two more years in the city? Because I had to let go of that money to learn the courage to do this. I used to watch flies trying to get out my window -- they just tried to go up, up, up, but the opening was at the bottom. They had to go down before they could go up and out. I understood the message, but it took me a while to face it, and act on it.
This is so easy! Anyone can do it. I know -- you have a job and a family and a mortgage and all that. So change your priorities, slash your spending, weather the scorn, save some money, sell your house equity, and take your family with you, if they want to come. This is your life.
What if everybody did what I'm doing? Our whole society would collapse!
If that many people want to drop out and live as migrant campers, then our society wants to collapse. We can all do what we want, and our society will adjust. The only path to a better world is for particular people to stop doing what they hate and start doing what they love and let go into the fearsome consequences. If sweatshop clothing workers all quit working, then there will be no more sweatshop clothing factories, and rich liberals will lose their easy guilt and their easy appeals for violence-backed government intervention to gradually improve sweatshop conditions, and have to wear status-lowering stained and worn clothing or the strange-looking and expensive clothing made by people who do the work out of love instead of fear.
Did I say I love camping? It's a revelation that with a car and a few hundred dollars worth of stuff, I can live rent-free in nature as long as I want. I was about to write a Demystified section where I said, no, I didn't feel super-excited about this trip, and I don't feel some mystical bond with nature. But those denials are self-fulfilling. I declare that I do feel a mystical bond with nature, and now I'm looking in myself to find that feeling.
Industrial society is a little playroom full of cool little toys: jet planes and dams and freeways and computers and bombs. Outside is a wider world of magic and bottomless wonder. We got skyscrapers and electricity through detached engineering and top-down control; we got these red cliffs and streams and trees and birds and bugs by leaving it all alone to co-create itself from the bottom up.
I've been here two days now. The moon is three quarter full, waning, so I have a couple hours after sunlight and before moonlight to look at the stars. Last night I learned a few stars and constellations, and this morning I looked at my star map to find out what names they have been given.
In the hot mid-afternoon I stand in the stream and bathe with a washcloth. I've started to walk around barefoot. I see many little lizards, and twice I've seen big black beetles. A couple hours ago two ravens came to visit. One called down to me in melodic, warbling, leisurely caws that barely resembled the angry shouts of city crows, and I sang back to it. I don't know what we said -- I hope they don't come back in the night and take my eyes out for not delivering the promised dead coyote. Oh, and best of all, the night before last I saw bats.
On cliffs to the east, when the sun gets low, I see the figure of an Indian with a spear. To say it "is" "just" a trick of shadows is a lie. I see the shape of an Indian with a spear. From other angles of space or consciousness, one could see other shapes. An industrial human, trained to see meaninglessness, will see meaninglessness from almost anywhere.
Last night around dark, two carloads of industrial humans came and camped next to me. Industrial humans are a trip! I've been one for thirty years and I'm just starting to understand us. Campers arrive around nightfall, because they choose camping spots and departure times so that they get to hurry, to play with the fear of not getting there until after dark. This morning, they left their tents up and drove their cars somewhere, just as they leave their homes and go to work every day back in the city. No doubt they drove to some planned ritual that mimes the rituals of industrial society -- probably a "hike," where the hikers choose a "route" or a "goal" from among the small finite number described in writing, make a model in their heads of themselves at the goal, or the end of the route, focus on the difference between that model and their present experience, refuse to accept that difference, creating a tension, and use that tension to drive the motions of their bodies all day. Oh -- and the hike is on a "trail," a predefined path that's the same for everyone.
I don't enjoy hikes. I'd rather go off the trail and putz around someplace a hundred yards from the car but where no one ever goes because it's not on the trail. Or, when I'm more ambitious, I'd like to take a compass and dried food and wander days into the trackless wherever.
When I was a kid, my dad used to take me "fishing." To him, this meant getting up early, going to the river, and pushing up, up, up the river all day, casting our fish lures into the water as we went. Then we would take the fish home, put them in the freezer, and never eat them. My parents also used to hide cash in the freezer. My dad is still pushing up the job river, and will never spend his money. He's deeply troubled that I've spent mine.
I liked fishing only when it included camping. What I really wanted to do was hang out at the camp all day. One time my friend Albert came with us. We took a break from following my dad and sat by the river in the bushes that grew up out of the bank of boulders that they'd blasted down into the river to make the road, and we lit a tiny fire, and sat there with the fire and the river and the mountains covered with second growth fir trees. That was when I first got the idea that I wanted to live in the wilderness. Albert lives in Seattle now, and has a computer job and owns a house.
Thoreau / Kaczynski / Gates
So here I am doing the Thoreau thing, hanging out in nature and writing social philosophy. How did I end up on this path, and not making bombs or computer wealth? I think Ted Kaczynski and Bill Gates have more in common with each other than with ordinary people -- isolated, hyper-rational, socially awkward, heartlessly dropping power on the world to try to shape it according to their utopian ambitions.
I was just like that in high school. What happened?
Ah, but even in high school, when I was getting all A's in math and science, and taking advanced electronics and computer electives, I didn't hang out with the computer clique and talk about computers. I just took those classes because I was supposed to, and they were easy. I hung out with the slackers and fuckups and genius underachievers, and talked about philosophy and culture and worlds of imagination.
Maybe if Ted Kaczynski had had that kind of support group, he would have started dropping out of the system while he was still young enough to learn some human empathy and social instincts, instead of going in so deep that, by the time he turned around, like a cornered animal, he saw no way out but violence.
It's Saturday 10-10. 1010 was the number of the house I lived in from age 7 to 18, the only place I've ever lived for more than 2½ years. Yesterday I felt like I could stay at this campsite for life if I could get away with it. Today I'm itching to move on. I took a little hike down the river and ended up visiting my shadow Indian friend. I may leave tomorrow.
I've been seducing you with the bright side of nature. Here's the dark side: The first thing I had to do, when I got here, was make peace with the bugs. Dozens of the little guys were visiting me all around my head. I figured out that they weren't mosquitos and they weren't biting, and I said, "Go ahead and visit me, little friends -- just don't go in my ears too much, and if one of you bites me, I'll kill you."
I let flies crawl around my hands, and ants crawl around my feet. I mean, on my hands and my feet, while I've been writing this. If I can't share space with the insects, soon I'll be back in the city built so no one shares space with anything.
I hear someone saying, "Why don't you just use bug repellent?" Because that's not a permanent solution. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life buying and carrying around and putting on my body some stinky chemical. Eventually I'm going to have to make peace with the bugs, so I'll start now. My life is too complicated already. I am sick of waiting for my life to get easier, so I'm going to make it easier, by just doing what's easy, and accepting the consequences.
I'm starting to see life as a series of choices between acceptance and chores. The less I accept bugs around me, the more chores I have to do to keep them away. The less dirt I accept on my floor, the more chores I have to do to clean it. Do you like dirt on your floor? Do you like cleaning it? Neither? Then you have chosen to like neither, and you are choosing to live in Hell. I like dirt on the floor -- up to a point, and past that point, I enjoy cleaning it. I am choosing to live in Heaven. Nyah nyah nyah.
I'm working on trading chores for acceptance, and nature is helping me. Things get dirtier, and are harder to clean. I eat from the pan I cooked in, and instead of going to the stream to clean it every time, I enjoy, in every meal, a little residue of my previous meal.
Some foods I like don't keep out here, so I accept not eating them, instead of driving to the next town for ice every day.
I shit in a hole I dig -- remember: at least six inches deep, and at least fifty feet from the nearest water.
I didn't bring quite enough bedding -- maybe you can never bring quite enough -- so the ground is a little hard, and sometimes I'm a little cold.
...And, of course, my first campsite was exceptional to seduce me into more camping. It's 10-13 now. I stayed a night at the Moab hostel and yesterday, with more effort, I found a campsite with no water and trucks going by at all hours. I'm in a beautiful pine forest, but I think I'll move on and cross the great divide today.
...Later. I didn't feel quite ready to leave the West, and stopped on impulse just short of the divide, and found a free campsite with a picnic table, a sort of close stream, some magpies eating the guts of a hunter-killed deer, and a beautiful view of the yellow and green forest rising to craggy peaks.
Leftists love to complain about the wide gap between rich and poor. I've done it myself. And I've quoted my conservative friend, pointing out that the richest man in America and the poorest (within ordinary society) live essentially the same -- they have a refrigerator and hot water and windows and they go to a job every day and come home.
He means to vindicate the existing economic system: capitalism works; we've won; there's nothing left for the liberals to fight for. I mean to inspire the creation of some other system. The gap between rich and poor is not wide enough! In fact, the range of personal economic experience is narrower and more controlled than it has ever been. Bill Gates is not rich enough. I want to live in a world where people live in houses made of pure gold and sleep on cushions of blowing air, next to people who live under tarps sewn from animal skins, and eat bugs and dandelions. And they all tolerate each other.
The lifelessness of our society is not in our bogus extremes of wealth and poverty, but in the intolerance for anyone who is rich or poor in any way that's fun or interesting or independent of the global death grip that is squeezing us into One Middle Class of numb, hopeless people, plodding from job to car to TV to bed to shower to car to job.
Donald Trump showed a huge ego; Leona Helmsley was really mean; Ross Perot tried to buy himself president; Bill Gates tried to be a corporate cult leader; Michael Jackson totally changed his face, and rented Disneyland all to himself, and was alleged to have bought the bones of the Elephant Man, and to sleep in a tent of pure oxygen. I think some of this stuff is really cool, but these people were scorned and ridiculed in the dominant media for daring to do something interesting with wealth, instead of acting perfectly inoffensive and donating money to have respectable buildings named after them, or to fund medical research to invent more expensive ways to keep people sick longer.
In the other direction, poor people are supposed to act like pet dogs -- totally dependent on real humans and stupidly grateful for their help. Any display of passion or power or resourcefulness that shows emotional or physical independence from the dominant economy -- graffiti art, or a thriving encampment or squat -- is crushed.
Outside narrow limits, it is illegal to be poor. If I wanted to live with only $10 a month passing through my hands, I would have to break laws against sleeping on sidewalks and in parks, and break locks or trespass to get food out of dumpsters. Perfectly good food is locked in the garbage while people go hungry. The garbage-lockers are saying that they would rather give their unwanted food to worms and mold than to human beings.
Why? Because they feel threatened by human beings. If they were afraid of worms and mold, they would burn the food so worms and mold couldn't get it either. They are afraid that, if it is easy to sleep in parks and live in abandoned houses and eat discarded food, so many people will choose to do so, or be inspired by people who do so, that the economy and society as they know it -- the "system" -- will fail.
Do they really think this? If they really believe in the system, don't they think they can throw open the abandoned neighborhoods and the dumpsters and let a few eccentrics live on our scraps while the rest of us keep happily going to our satisfying jobs?
They are afraid of us! And they're afraid of themselves. They really think that the life offered us by the world in which we find ourselves, is so bad that many of us would rather live without electricity and plumbing and eat garbage -- so many of us that, if we could easily do so, the world we are used to would not survive.
We are admitting the emotional bankruptcy of the system. Or, they are admitting it, and I, who have always said it, am finally noticing their admission. Now I don't have to prove it, just act on it.
It's an effort for me to keep track of what day it is. This is Wed 10-14. I plan to stay a second night at the view camp, and tomorrow to start early and drive five or six hours -- a long day for me -- to the obscure grasslands of southest Colorado.
Seven years ago I did almost exactly what I'm doing now. At the end of September 1991, I moved out of that very same low rent house, packed my stuff in a metallic light blue Honda civic -- an 88 sedan technically owned by my parents -- and hit the road to find a new home, maybe in the midwest.
I didn't feel the courage then to just roll into some town and improvise staying, so I planned two places in advance -- Iowa City and Albuquerque, where I was ready to stay if it was really easy. It wasn't, and I didn't. I visited a friend in Boulder, family in Michigan, my friend Ric in the army in Kentucky, and almost at the end, I stayed in that same hostel in Moab, and then I went back inside Seattle. That was all at the same time that Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was becoming a giant hit. I got back and we were all excited that a band from Seattle was going to play on Saturday Night Live.
In August 1994, as I've told elsewhere, I took a quick trip and landed unexpectedly in Rapid City, South Dakota. I liked it and moved there for the first four months of 1995. Again, I went back to Seattle.
In March and April of 1997, I hitchhiked and bused down to L.A. and across to Austin. Hitchhiking is physically very hard. I dreamed of having a car again, but not until I had a lot of money. I got sick and went sooner than I'd planned back to Seattle, where I lucked back into the same cheap house I left in '91.
I read in a new age article about finding your "calling", that one way to recognize something that's good for you to do, is it keeps coming back. I keep coming back to desires to live in the wilderness, and to live in the midwest, in an old white house in a small town, like my grandparents' house, or in the country, with a pumpkin patch and fireflies and tornado warnings and thunderstorms and the embracing humidity that everyone else hates, the thickness of air that feels, to me, like thickness of life.
I love thunderstorms so much that, before I left Seattle in '91, I researched weather maps to see what place had the most of them. It was a little circle in southeast Colorado. I meant to go there but never made it. Tomorrow I go there. For the first time on my trip, I feel like the sun is moving too slowly.
I sure do write a lot about Bill Gates. I feel a bond with him. He's another geeky, hyperanalytical social outsider -- we even look similar -- but at the same time he has amassed terrifying wealth and power. I always cheer for good movie villains, and Bill Gates (or, really, his popular image) is the closest thing we have to a classic, James Bond, rule-the-world, high-tech movie villain. Sometimes I wish he had put a secret bug in Windows that would suddenly crash the whole global computer brain, sending us back to barbarism with Bill controlling all technology and trying to rule us. Anything but for the world to keep going the way it is.
But then I think that all our end-of-the-world fantasies are cop-outs. It's like you have a house that's so full of junk you've collected that you wish it would burn down so you wouldn't have to clean it up and face your shameful mistakes and take responsibility for throwing away your dead, sentimental past.
If we keep burning it down we'll never learn. We'll be just like "Atlantis" and all the other advanced civilizations that our history covers up. The next civilization will cover us up, and so on, until one civilization has the courage to take itself back apart instead of blowing itself up.
I feel good that I'm doing, in my own actual life, what I'm preaching metaphorically in our collective life: I had so much stuff that I wished it would burn, and so many societal chains that I wished I could disappear, and so much shameful emotional history that I wished I would just die. And I'm gradually taking the machine apart.
On the High Plains
Last night I dreamed of tornadoes and massive impossibly churning clouds and a six mile tall grey explosion. Today (10-15) I drove into the tornado country of SE Colorado, with a hard wind all day out of the southwest. The sun is setting and I'm watching the horizons -- the only thing that resembles a storm is in the southeast. I found a great spot out of the wind -- a patch of trees and abandoned buildings, one of which I easily drove my car inside. I'll sleep in the car tonight.
In many parts of the west, there are long highways that nobody drives on but the locals, and there are not many locals. Those are my favorite highways. The cars are down to five or ten an hour. The wind is getting gusty.
...10-16. The dates I write in here are guaranteed only for the ink marks of the dates themselves. I don't record all dates or date changes, and sometimes I stop in the middle of a sentence and continue days later. After dark the wind stopped, and morning was cloudless. Today I drove to just about the center of Kansas, and when two map-promised rest stops didn't appear, I found a great spot in a "public wildlife area" -- sort of a parking lot for hunters.
I'm into the part of the country where I'll consider settling -- it's humid and storms are all around, but not here just now. It's grassy with cavorting swallows and crickets.
Into the Midwest
I stayed Sat. night in a Country Mart parking lot in Atchison Kansas, and Sunday, halfway across Missouri, I stopped for a quick rest at Pershing St. Park and felt so exhausted that I paid $6 to stay the night. I'm discovering how emotionally exhausting it is to sleep or rest not knowing whether someone with authority is going to come and make me move.
Living in my car is not a permanent solution. Eventually I'm going to have to make a deal with the twisted game that is consuming my species, and give it something it thinks it wants in exchange for a piece of land where I can mostly live the way I like and be left alone.
When I drive through small towns, I go into the residential parts and look at the houses. I think "I'm here" -- now I just have to find my culture: a really good natural food store and the people who will have to be there to keep that store in business. I wonder if there is such a place in a small town, in the entire midwest. Ten thousand towns and not room for one that's not culturally the same as all the others. Liberals complain about standardized chain businesses like McDonalds and Wal-Mart replacing the small businesses, but the small businesses are just as depressingly similar. I doubt there's a mom-and-pop grocery anywhere in the USA where I can find bulk organic dates or quinoa.
I'm ready to settle for a large town or small city, hopefully one that's not totally dominated by a university. The problem is, the money has to come from somewhere, and it's going to have to be the kind of unsavory thing that money likes -- mind-freezing academia, or sterile yuppie businesses.
I'm about to leave the park. Last night and this morning I walked in the woods. The leaves are just starting to fall, and it rained hard a couple days ago, so there are mushrooms everywhere. I love mushrooming. I unpacked my Mushrooms Demystified book and identified a few. There are a lot of Death Caps just coming up, a lot of something that may be Russula rosacea, but doesn't taste acrid, and I found and ate some Blewits and a huge cluster of Honey mushrooms, fried on my camp stove in olive oil with quinoa and garlic.
Thursday 10-22, and the first big leg of my trip is over. I'm with my aunt Janice and uncle Jerry on 8 acres near Eaton Rapids Michigan, for about two more weeks. I'm enjoying being able to move around in a large heated space, and eat perishable foods, and watch TV -- X-Files and Sightings every day! I'm also paying back with interest the energy debt that I built up on the road, discovering once again that my wilderness outlaw heart is in a delicate body that needs more hours of sleep, more layers of clothing, and more frequent meals than even the other industrialized humans.
It's Thursday Nov 5. I was hoping the full moon on election day would do something interesting in the world of politics, and we got something very interesting: Jesse Ventura's election as governor of Minnesota. The interesting thing is not that he used to be a pro wrestler, but that a guy with fully exposed libertarian ideas -- he like gun freedoms, gay marriage, even legalizing prostitution -- and running from outside the ruling Democrat/Republican party, has won a major office, and is getting attention from the dominant media. He's proven it can be done, and maybe, as with the four minute mile, we're going to start seeing more and more people doing it.
Anyway, the above title is not about the elections but about my indecision about where to live. Janice has the internet and I've figured out how to search for food stores. I search the yellow pages state by state in the "health and diet foods retail" category, and one site lets me show only the entries with "cooperative" or "grocery" in the name, which I do to filter out the 90% of "natural food" businesses that sell mostly just laboratory-manufactured supplements -- that is, they sell unnatural non-foods.
Michigan has a lot of stores. Last week I drove up to Mt.Pleasant, ready to move there instantly if I liked it. But I saw that a small town plus a college plus a food co-op does not equal a thriving post-industrial community. I saw a dead downtown with a lot of night-alcohol-drinking businesses, and the occasional other customers in the co-op were all 40-65 years old and looked at me with mistrust. There was only one ad for shared housing on the bulletin board, and only one or two total that were hand written by human beings and not mass-duplicated by businesses.
These are the kind of rationalist tricks I use to help me make choices. I seldom feel like I'm on an exciting life-changing adventure; mostly I feel like I'm flailing desperately in empty space, with nothing to grab onto or push off of. I'm furiously envious of people with strong intuition, who just feel what to do. I would put a hole through my head with a power drill if I thought it would give me that power. But as long as I don't have that power, I do rationalist tricks.
I found a great site on the internet where you can plug in details about where you like to live, in any combination or relative weighting of 63 categories, and it will rank 300 metropolitan areas by how well they fit your values. I plugged in high humidity and thunderstorms and moderate winters and cheap housing and low cost of living and low unemployment and looked at about fifty lists, and I got highlighter pens and marked the winners in my road atlas -- best cities in yellow, food cities in green, hostels in purple. There aren't many hostels where I'm going. I plan to take one big swing down through Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennesee, Kentucky, and Indiana, sleeping in my car and checking out the towns, and if nothing falls into place (or no place falls into thing), then I'll get beck to Michigan -- which scored very well even with the cold winters -- and try to get a place by December.
I may not be intuitive, but I'm lucky. I believe that if there's a place out there where I fit, circumstances will take me there -- or sometimes I believe that, and sometimes I doubt it. Since I switched my major out of engineering eleven years ago, I've taken leap of faith within leap of faith within leap of faith, and I'm still free-falling in darkness. What if I don't land softly on the invisible plateau, and the safety net does not appear, and I don't build my parachute in time, and I land hard, in an expensive apartment in a cold city, alone, broke, sick, forced to hide my education so they'll hire me at Burger King, and I'm still there when I'm fifty years old, and then I die of cancer?
What I do is, I accept it! Or, I imagine my worst fears, and then I imagine how I could be happy anyway. If I can do that, then I have no fears... It's November 10 in this paragraph, and you can't see it, but I'm writing in blue now. Years ago I hated blue ink and would write only in black. That absurd restriction is now finally all dissolved, because Kmart was out of black in the pen brand I use. It was either more pen-shopping chores, or accept blue. I suspect I'm going to do the same kind of thing in a month or two, when I start looking for a job.
Outside the window in Winter Storm Early-Mid-November '98. I think there are going to be a lot of big storms this winter. It's been blowing hard out of the south all day, as if fate is defying me to go there. Fate is in a funny mood lately.
My thinking the last few weeks has been overwhelmingly influenced by a book that my luck dropped into my hands before I left Seattle: The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment, by Thaddeus Golas. Thad says that all entities are exactly equal -- so people who seem "lower" or meaner or stupider or narrower than me are just (my words) playing games that I don't appreciate, but behind it all we're all perfect and already enlightened and totally in control of our realities.
I feel enormously liberated when I reason equality one step further: all my potential selves in my potential futures are equal. My lonely menial worker future and my land-owning author future are exactly as "good" -- just different. And I don't have to declare one option "better" to make a choice. Whatever I choose is fully justified by my act of choosing it.
Michigan or south? Originally I was just pausing here and then going south. Then I was feeling great about moving to a small town up here. They disappointed me and I was going south again. Then I gave in to the idea of just staying around Lansing. Then my family bought me a plane ticket to visit Seattle for the holidays; with half of December back there, and one more leg of travel now, I could stay off rent until January. So I got back on the computer for more city research. Two areas came into focus -- eastern Tennessee, and especially around Roanoke VA. I got all excited about Roanoke and played with the city rankings -- if I just plug in the exact numbers for Roanoke, where they were something I might reasonably have asked for anyway, can I make it come out #1?
Guess what came out #1? Lansing! In two minutes I had turned back the other way -- let go of the exhausting road trip, accept the cold winters, and settle here, now! The next day I drove up to the university area to look at the shared housing postings. There weren't many, but I picked out three -- an opening in an eco-puritan collective that's dirt cheap but I'd have to live with control-obsessed people who think they're free and tolerant, and eat my organic beef in secret on a camp stove in my room; and a somewhat cheap room in a house in the country, where I eventually want to live anyway, so hey, I'll start now; and a medium-priced room in East Lansing, where I could walk to a job.
I called the ecopuritans but they wanted a woman to maintain strict mathematical gender balance; the country house had two openings and seemed certain, but they called me back and said the whole situation was canceled; the other room said ASAP and was likely to have been filled already, and they didn't call me back.
Keep in mind that wherever I settle now, I plan to get a job and build friendships, and the climate and economy will already be what I choose, so I'm very likely to stay there for seven years, and I'm somewhat likely to buy land and stay there for life. I got out my road atlas and my lists of city rankings and food stores, and I got all excited again about the south.
The phone rang. It was the third house -- the room was available, and the woman sounded pleasant, and I could drive straight up and look at it.
I got all excited again about staying in Michigan -- or not exactly excited, but content and relaxed to be done traveling and living near family in an area I knew. I drove through the leaf-blown streets of East Lansing, waiting for my house to come into view.
You've guessed it: it was awful, not a group house at all, where the people are friends and hang out in the common areas, but effectively just a crappy apartment building with tiny rooms with numbers on the doors and a dead living room and a kitchen at the back of the basement and no yard.
Today (11-11), I was going to flush my radiator and change my oil and pack up to leave tomorrow. Actually I was going to change the oil yesterday and leave today, but circumstances are delaying my use of the floor jack, and last night the electricity went out, also killing the well pump, so there's no water to even flush the radiator.
I'm tired of fighting it even as little as I've been fighting it. I'm practicing going limp in the hands of fate.
Back On the Road
It's Sunday November 15, almost dark. Last night I slept in a rest stop near Bowling Green Ohio, and tonight I'm near Portsmouth, on the banks of the magical Ohio River, in a rest stop where I'm not allowed to stay the night but I think I'll try anyway. I'm into a part of the world that I like -- the houses, the shape of the land, the trees. I drove by a house with a sign "for sale by owner $15,000." But I didn't see any evidence of "my people."
Do I even have any people? Am I tribeless? Earlier today I was in Columbus and stopped at two food coops and saw people with the same cultural training as me -- the clothing and grooming and facial expressions and discussion topics that I've been comfortable with since even before I went to Seattle. Do all of those people want to live in cities and pay rents over $300?... Do I even really like those people? Don't I think they're shallow and insulated? Isn't that why I left Seattle? What do I think I'm looking for?
On one level, I'm looking the the midwest/south for what I saw in Olympia WA: a great food store plastered with postings for $150 rooms. If I don't find it, I might just go back to Olympia.
On another level -- or from another angle -- I'm looking for people. I feel like Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, drifting between the islands of the rednecks and the super-rich. Or - excuse me - like a Jane Austen protagonist, looking for another good person in a world of idiots.
More deeply and widely than either of these, I am choosing the challenging and adventurous ambition of reinventing my reality: pioneering a world where people do more traveling and more hanging out at home, and are less imprisoned by the job world -- or, if I don't inspire other people to join me, I will at least persist in doing it myself.
Monday 11-16. Thick fog this morning. It's night now, and I drove a lot harder than I planned, and got less far, later. Now I know why there's a toll freeway in the rural part of West Virginia -- because I drove the other way on 52, the hilliest, curviest highway I've ever seen. There were opportunities to go into fifth gear, but there was never any point. Sometimes I would drive for half an hour through one-dimensional towns -- fifteen miles long and two buildings wide, one on each side of the highway. All the people I saw were white, and then all of a sudden, near the end of the day, they were all black. I noticed that the black people looked healthier.
I have now totally burned out on the romance of cheap, run-down small towns. I may still move to one, but I won't be romanticizing it and then getting disappointed. And I'm almost over my guilt about delaying the drivers behind me.
I'm at a very nice rest stop near Princeton WV. I feel deeply grateful that no do-gooders have got around to stopping the abuse of rest areas by people living in their cars to avoid rent. But why aren't there more people doing it? It's so obvious and so easy. I think I see a lot of people using rest stops as meeting places for hidden dealings of one kind or another -- two cars stop close together, nobody goes to the bathroom, and in ten minutes they both drive away. Where are the people with their cars full of stuff, cooking on a camp stove in the back seat, staying from dusk to dawn, washcloth-bathing and shaving in the bathroom sinks?
I did dread going back on the road, from a 4000 square foot house to a 40 square foot car. But it's like jumping into a swimming pool -- a moment of shock, and then it's fun!
Wednesday morning, and I'm at a river wayside near Roanoke, giving the sun time to unsteam my windows. At 3AM a cop visited me. He was really friendly and said there was no problem with me sleeping here -- he was just making sure everything was OK. That helped my faith that the wider Universe is gentle and likes us after all.
I'm practicing being happy where I am, or loving It exactly as It is. If I'm ever exactly where I wanted to be, then I'll still be where I am, and if I don't know how to be happy where I am, I won't know how to be happy when I am where I wanted to be. I'm playing with the belief that I always am where I wanted to be: this right now is exactly what I wished for -- it's just that a lot of my wishes were on levels of mind that I didn't notice.
I could go buy a lottery ticket right now, and win, if it was really what I wished for. But it's not. On deeper, stronger levels, I want the challenge and adventure of poverty. I want to play the thrift game; I want to feel the tension of wanting things that I can't have; I want to be surprised by where my next money comes from, and when; most of all, I want to learn raw skills of navigating this world that I could never learn if I could just buy my way through. It's (psychologically) easy for a poor person to become rich, or for a weak person to become powerful; but once you're rich, or powerful, or knowing, it's very hard to become poor or weak or ignorant. It took an enormous amount of work for me to get all the way down here; I'm going to get everything out of it that I can before I go back up.
From one perspective, this trip is a disappointment at the bottom of failure. For years I've been losing money, friends, health, not getting the jobs I occasionally wanted, and not getting my writing recognized. Then, based on what I saw in Olympia and San Francisco and Moscow Idaho, I drove across the country expecting, at the very least, cheaper organic groceries, and in smaller cities, cheaper rents. But everywhere I've been, the food has been mostly more expensive with less selection, the rents have been high, and the rooms have not even been available.
But every time the Universe says no, it shows you a yes. No computer job: leave Seattle for better climates. No money: live in my car and it's fun. No sleeping at the rest stop: sleep by a river. No place for me in Michigan: go south. No place in Roanoke: travel more!
Do you still call it paranoia when you think the world is secretly conspiring to help you? What do you call it? I'm trying to steal the signals and find out the plan. I had to see great stuff in Olympia to seduce me to leave Seattle. Now, I have to see bad stuff to keep me moving. Incidentally, today or tomorrow I expect my odometer to go over 100,000 miles.
When You Come to a Fork In the Road, Take It!
It's Thursday 11-19. Yesterday, after I'd found nothing in Roanoke, I drove back into Blacksburg, on the advice of a woman in a natural food (supplement) store that had appeared unexpectedly right in my path. I'm gradually learning how to "go with the flow." She told me there was a college and housing and computer jobs there.
I got into Blacksburg and almost every detail was what I had asked for at one time or another: two OK food stores, a small town with urban culture, and a university housing office with several listings at $200 or less and even a free local phone to call places.
The wider Universe knows my narrow interests and uses them as bait to lead me wider: There was a woman in the housing office, also looking, and when it closed, she sat where I would also have to sit to wait for a return call on a pay phone. It occurred to me that she heard me make the pay phone plans and, on a level certainly well beneath full consciousness, she chose to sit there. If I hadn't liked the way she looked (and if I hadn't expected to stay in town) I wouldn't have bothered to start a conversation.
We talked for an hour, and after it was clear that I had given up all intention of being with her romantically or even ever seeing her again, she even let her voice get sexy for a few moments, and dropped mentions of old boyfriends. She looked something like John Waters actress Mink Stole.
Anyway, by the time we finished, I saw that I had been forcing and rationalizing and fooling myself into the idea that I wanted to live in a small town. I wouldn't last three months there. What was I thinking? It really hit me when she said "some people really love it here" and then said why: kayaking and I forget what other outdoor games in which I have no interest.
I see now that I don't even want to live in a rural commune. What I was thinking was: natural food, plus cheap, plus some kind of vague romanticization of nature or small towns, or some barely examined prejudice against cities.
But small towns and rural dystopian communities are false compromises between the two things that I do want: One: to live on country land that I own, so that I can leave the grass uncut and build primitive houses and scream as loud as I can and set hot pans straight on wooden tables and have no doors on the cupboards and mix different breeds of chickens and paint rooms chartreuse and hot pink and make slides and poles between floors and farm weeds and invite all my friends to quit their jobs and live with me rent-free, and otherwise to create a life and a personal space that no one can take away from me or throw me out of if I don't tiptoe around their insane sensitivities.
Two: to live in a big city, not like Seattle, which is just a tight-assed small town with high rents and bad traffic and sports teams, and not for the symphonies and museums and controlled preserved culture, but for the living culture: real ethnic people who haven't gone to college and been made white, and really vigorous homeless people, and noisy voices and music, and graffiti art.
I love graffiti art! Yesterday, driving through the country, I stopped for a train, and instead of gazing peacefully at the trees and fields, I stared ecstatically at the passing art. Somebody probably broke twice over the private property laws that stick our society in place, shoplifting spray paint and trespassing on railroad-owned space, and got away with it, and made a beautiful tangle of shapes and colors that says: I'm alive! Someone is alive here! And massive engines pull that underground billboard a hundred thousand miles through the cities and lands of this country, spreading its message of incomprehensible life and love, before some guy who hates his job paints over it. But not before he's seen the message! Someone is alive!
Friday 11-20. I stopped writing there because it got dark. Yesterday morning, instead of staying in Blacksburg as I had planned, or going SW to Johnson City Tennessee as I had planned before that, I drove NE toward Washington DC, specifically toward a couple Maryland suburbs that Liz recommended.
I got on the Blue Ridge Parkway just to see what it was like, expecting to drive hard to a rest stop mear DC. But I love the Parkway. It goes in a convenient direction, so I thought it would be packed with normal traffic, plus tourists, plus maybe I'd have to pay. None of it! It's free and totally deserted and scenic and a good road. And there's an adequate handful of out-of-sight places to park for the night. So I stopped in mid-afternoon, my odometer at 99,990.6. The sun has just risen, and I think I'll stay here another day and night. What a relief to live in my car where there aren't people and cars going right by all day. I'm invisible from the Parkway, where anyway there's only about a car every twenty minutes.
I am astonished that, out of the tens of thousands of drivers over on the interstate, few or none want to get to the same place a little bit later on a beautiful, empty highway. If they like driving, why don't they want to spend a little more time doing it, on a more likeable road?
If they want to get where they're going sooner -- that is, if they want to spend more of their lives at one place or another and not driving between those places -- then they hate driving. Then why have they chosen a lifestyle that includes so much driving?
I'm playing dumb. They love tension, hurrying. They love the game of trying to get from one place to another in as little time as they can. Right on! I play that game myself sometimes and it's fun. But what depresses me is that the game is so seamless and universal, that there's so little sign of anyone breaking out of it. Even the other people I've seen on the Parkway, without exception, have been either doing jobs for the park service, or perfect hypno-tourists, stopping the minivan at the turnout, getting out, taking pictures, and driving away 4 minutes later.
I don't really want to say that these people are not as good as me; but they seem not as good for me. I live my life to maximize unstructured time, where I'm free to improvise and be surprised and notice new experience; other people live their lives to minimize unstructured time, to always always have something that they're supposed to be doing, or be in some pattern that they're used to. Even on the fringes of society, it seems like everyone's stuck in the comfortable pattern of some kind of substance abuse. The effect is, I have no friends.
Or, that's the cause: I want to experience social isolation, so I choose a life that no one will share with me. Or I want to bring the Universe into balance by living however it is that no one else is living. Excuse me, but I enjoy admiring myself as some kind of cultural pioneer, navigating the trackless frontiers of lifestyle.
Doesn't it bother me that I'm driving hundreds of miles, opposite my planned route, just on the advice of some random person? Aren't I not in control of my life?
First, a plan is not inherently better, or more "in control," than improvisation -- it's just more or less fun, depending on your perspective
Second, "random" is what we call an order that we do not presently understand. Every little event is mindful. As Thaddeus Golas says, Love never loses control, and that person and that advice were explicitly chosen for me by my wider self.
That doesn't mean the advice was "right" or that I "should" follow it. I am free to choose whether to follow it because, third, we are all always in control of our lives
When we feel not-in-control, it's because we are uncomfortable with the choices we are making, and that's typically because we're making choices out of fear, and not really facing our options, or not accepting our situation.
Maybe you feel forced to have a job. I feel forced to get one soon. But we are both totally free to say no. Of course, saying no will have a lot of consequences that we fear. But we are still free and in control. If I put a gun to your head, you are free to say no and be killed. But whatever choice you make, if you don't make peace with it first, you will feel not-in-control. And the important thing is not what precisely you choose. or what then happens, but how you feel about your choice. A choice that you feel good about, maybe by definition, is one you will still feel good about no matter what happens.
Saturday. I'm getting refined with this car-living thing: tonight I drove more than ten miles out of my way to sleep at a nicer rest stop, the Maryland welcome center between DC and Baltimore.
I feel more excited about DC than about any previous option on this trip. In hindsight, things fall into place: one person after another, going back months, has recited for me, with fear or awe or, usually, sour-faced disgust, one angle or another of the American Urban Hell myth: a vaguely imagined land of unsanitized physical space and menacing social space -- crack houses and drug dealers and gangs and drive-by shootings. And my emotional reaction to these recitations was always somewhere between "I don't care" and "cool!"
I'll tell you a secret: crime rates are lower now than they have almost ever been, and most violent crime is within the outlaw community. The crime scare is all media hype, orchestrated by me so I can live in a big city and still get cheap rent. Don't tell anyone, OK?
Oh, I know that if I live long enough in a "bad" enough area, I'm very likely to get robbed or beaten a couple times. What's the big deal? Being beaten up is more interesting, over much faster, and ultimately less physically damaging than working at a high-stress job. And the total dollar value of everything that will get robbed from me in a high-crime area, over what would get robbed from me in a low-crime area, is a tiny insignificant fraction of the difference in rent money that will be robbed from me by the property-owning system between those two neighborhoods
Furthermore, if my CD's get stolen, they will be sold to a music store and someone will buy them at a good price and get at least as much listening pleasure from them as I would have, and the money made by the robber will go to buy drugs and help to make the lives of drug dealers and drug lords more extravagant and interesting, and create exciting jobs in the underground economy. Whereas my rent money only lets some boring fart landlord buy a new car every three years instead of every five, multiplying industrial pollution and resource consumption and creating tedious dominant-economy jobs.
This rest stop has something I love as much as graffiti art: feral cats, climbing fences and diving in and out of trash and recycling cans, feeding off the surplus of this fecund society and generating raw life! I've calculated my parking space so a bright light comes right down through the back passenger side window where I cook and write. It's just occured to me that when I'm ready to sleep I can just move to a dark space.
Tomorrow I drive to the edge of DC, where, after recent experience, I will not be surprised if circumstances push me on to another month on the road. I expect to get close enough to see the Washington Monument, reminding me of that great scene in Logan's Run, where it's a magnificent overgrown ruin.
I drove into the city and got lost a couple times and, of course, when I was most discouraged, I hit the hip little retail area in Takoma Park with its huge food co-op. A little later in the day, I stumbled on a hip urban neighborhood around 16th and Columbia and walked around looking for shared housing postings. They were missing, and the local alternative/yuppie weekly paper was hard -- too hard -- to find. I mean I found it, but I saw that I was going against the flow. I'm willing to stubbornly defy the flow, and I have done it many times, but I don't think it has ever worked, and this time...
I'm sick of contriving little arguments and justifications for my decisions. I just didn't feel like settling in DC. That's all there is.
Meanwhile, I was really feeling weary after a week in my car, and my mom gave me the number of her old friend Kathy in Rockville. I'm always terrified to make an awkward and restricting social connection when I can just stay alone, but...
You know when you make a bad decision, and you think back and say "I knew I should have..."? If you knew, then why didn't you do it? Because you weren't quick enough. You didn't notice the knowledge and get ready to act on it until it was too late. At least that's how I feel. But I'm practicing detecting my "know I should" knowledge and acting on it in time. It's part of my monumentally difficult crusade to learn "intuition" -- that is, ways of knowing and ways of choosing other than detached rational thought.
So I knew I should call her, so I did. She put me up for two nights and we got along great. In a year she plans to retire from her school cafeteria manager (lunch lady) job and travel and visit people like I'm doing. She's not the first or the last person I've met who simultaneously admires my traveling, and wants me, instead of traveling, to have a job.
I have to remember -- now, dealing with get-a-job pressure, and later, if I ever get money and am tempted to subsidize the joblessness of others -- I have to remember that I'm an anomaly: in general, in this society, so far, joblessness does not mean frugally paying your own way with saved money, and relentlessly challenging or advancing your life in non-job directions; it means draining other people's money and going into debt and drinking and watching TV all day and stagnating and decaying. Even most people who have known me for years still think about my joblessness in that context. The best I can hope for is that, because of my example, in the future, some people like me will be respected or even encouraged in thier joblessness.
And even the jobless who do seem to stagnate and decay -- how do you know they're not "going somewhere" or doing something immeasurably valuable on some other level that you don't understand? If you don't want to be around them, or give them your money, that's your choice to make; but you are in no position to say that your way of living is any "better" or more valuable than theirs. I suspect that the seemingly lowest and most worthless person in the world is secretly contributing exactly as much to the wide Universe as I am.
I'd love for somebody to say "I think it's totally cool what you're doing, and I hope you live under a bridge and eat from dumpsters before you lie about your passions or take on some degrading chore just because you need the money."
Anyway, just when my time was up in DC, and my friends in Boston were to busy to take on a visitor, and I was faced with going south again to kill 3 weeks before I can fly back to fisit Seattle for the holidays... another door opened! Kathy's daughter Tara in Fairmont West Virginia invited me to stay at her place while she's away at her dad's wedding. So I've lucked into yet another house-sit.
go to part 2