Ken Ilgunas lived in a van while a graduate student at Duke University.
Naturally, he wrote a book about it. It’s titled ““Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road From Debt to Freedom,”Which confused me, primarily because of this paragraph:
“My secret was making it impossible to make friends, I was sleeping in temperatures as low as 10 degrees, and as a bachelor living in tight quarters, I was constantly inhaling air riddled with strange odors. Worst of all, I felt a terrible loneliness settle deep into me. To compensate, I began to sing and talk to myself with unprecedented frequency. Walking back from the library one night, I spotted a few mangled slices of pizza lying in a box on the lawn. A savage hunger roared in my belly. Has it already come to this?”
When did freedom for the Western world become defined as being cold and lonely at night and only being able to eat rice and vegetables for dinner? Isn’t this the stuff we’re trying to rescue the third world from with our micro-lending programs and innovative recycling inventions?
Perhaps it was the retelling of this moment that pushed me over the edge.
“Knowing that my tax refund was coming, I slackened my Spartan standards: I bought a case of beer, I dined at a restaurant twice, and at the field station I slept in a heated room on a comfortable bed. But treating myself made me feel a strange sense of guilt, as if I’d cut some corner I promised myself I wouldn’t cut. During my third night at the station, beleaguered with self-reproach, I dragged my sleeping bag outside and slept on the pavement under the stars.”
He was too guilty to sleep in a bed he had already paid for.
It’s possible I’m just sensitive to the word ‘guilty’, with my religious history and all. If he had said, ‘I just preferred to be close to the ground and sensing the real world around me instead of a bed’, I wouldn’t have minded so much.
But he was too guilty to spend money to sleep comfortably and warm?
Other people sleep outside as well. Society tries to help them.
It’s like he has swapped the burden of consumerism and the need for stuff for the burden of asceticism and needless misery.
I’m all for anti-materialism. I feel as sick as the next person about the lines for the new iPhone 5 and people spending $500 on a pair of shoes.
But… have we gone so far in attempting to compensate for our ridiculous excesses that we now don’t even appreciate basic standards of living?
Surely what we aim for in a society is for every man and woman to meaningfully contribute, that is, to swap their labour in return for life-enhancing goods and services, with enough time and resources available to enjoy whatever their passions are; children, reading, philosophy, travel, adventure, the beach…
Every other website I come across these days is decrying this ‘awful regular life of 9-5’ work, stuck in a job with a mortgage, paying for stuff you don’t need.
All those people buying the books the websites sell are doing it with money they earned from a normal job. Same with the people paying to listen to the talk about some latest adventure climbing up a mountain. There are gymnasiums for this guy to shower in because someone started a business. People can only offer a room to crash in for the evening on bucket list trips around the world because they took on a mortgage.
What annoys me is the self-righteous rhetoric about how ‘free’ his life is compared to all these other normal people with a mortgage and stuff. These people made it possible for him to live that life. If everybody did as he did… well, not everybody could do as he did.
And that’s the point. I disagree with any philosophy on living that is not applicable in it’s entirety to all of humanity. I throw the same accusation against this ridiculous receipt which is at the other end of the spectrum.
Forsaking relationships to have $12million in the bank is as destructive and selfish a philosophy as forsaking having a girlfriend and your own shower to live debt free off other’s utilities out the back of a parking lot in a run down bus.
Society has come a long way and while we don’t need a new iPhone every year, for most people, coming home after a hard day’s work to cook a delicious tasting risotto before opening a good bottle of wine with a loved one is just the stuff life is made of. Maybe if you’re in India it’s a curry.
It’s not excessive. It’s just good living.
As a bonus, within limits, this can be done by the majority of the population without the economy collapsing. *thumbs up* Living in caravans isn’t the answer, thank the stars. Something like the below video maybe?
But when you look ahead there isn’t a bread crumb in sight – there are just a few shrubs, a bunch of trees, a handful of skittish woodland creatures. You glance from left to right and find no indication of which way you’re supposed to go. And so you stand there, sniffing at the wind, looking for directional clues in the growth patterns of moss, and you think, What now?
– Ana Patchett, What Now?
Where did this thought come from…?
That success was a process of building, one after the other, step by step, block upon block and that if you miss one, you have no choice but to simply accept the fate of your tower of accomplishments being a little bit less than the others who didn’t get it wrong the first time.
Because it’s not true.
Well, okay, it is true. It’s true in the sense that most people you meet who seem to have a comfortable life have done this very thing. Worked their way up a ladder of some sort, moving companies maybe but taking their time, year on year, project by project to secure the next level of accomplishment.
I’m not talking about that sort of success though.
I’m talking about the sort of success that gets you invited to do Commencement Addresses. The sort of success that’s built from changing things or making a difference. The kind of success that on your death bed you know was worth all the effort and sacrifice.
I reckon that at least 90% of these sorts of people (note: very scientific survey done there) had at least one, if not two or more, times in their life where they were completely lost. And not just for a short time.
Ellen DeGeneres didn’t get work for three years after she came out as a lesbian.
Bobbi Brown (of the make-up variety) didn’t get started until she was 34.
Suzanne Somers (you may remember her thighs from the thighmaster) sat on the couch for a year after she got fired for asking to be paid the same as men.
We all know JK Rowling’s story…
And then there’s the famous Steve Jobs getting fired from his own company. He was also a University drop-out.
Every single one of them points to these times as the foundation of personal traits that made them successful. The place where they lost their fear of failure, learnt about what was really important in life and found strength within themselves to keep going against bad odds.
Being uncertain, unsure and insecure is not an indication of future failure.
Being lost is essential to discovering your own path.
I’m just going to write that sentence again because I need to hear it:
Being uncertain, unsure and insecure is not an indication of future failure. It is essential to discovering your own path.
Sometimes not having any idea where we’re going works out better than we could possibly have imagined. – Ana Patchett.
This moment then, this sitting alone in a cafe in a random city in Spain, feeling hopelessly lost and confused, a ball of uncertainty about the things I’m saying in (an admittedly small) public arena, an empty notebook of ignorance about life and myself reflecting an unmerciful glint into my eye, simply possessing an insatiable curiosity and a desire to be productive, to create and to contribute in some way that comes from in me instead of dictated to me is, actually…
…the very stuff Life is made of.
Follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, and then by all means you should follow that.
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“Mum, Dad, I’m An Atheist.”
Well, I didn’t say it quite like that. Atheist is still a scary word, really. But I recently came across David G McAfee’s blog and his new book “Mum, Dad, I’m an Atheist’ giving advice to people on how to ‘come out’ as a non-believer to their fundamental families. It made it think about my own ‘coming out’ moment.
I believe I used the words, “I don’t think I believe in God anymore…“. It must’ve been odd for my parents, considering we were only able to meet up that evening because I’d been flown 1000kms to the north of Brisbane by my employers – the church – to attend our National Annual Conference.
To be honest though I said it in revenge. Handing the menus back to the waiter, I was just settling in to the sound of waves on the beach a few metres away, when mum gleefully announced that I was sharing in their ‘Separation Celebration’ dinner.
Yep, I said ‘Separation Celebration’ dinner.
Tomorrow they’d be taking their rings off after 26 years of marriage. Only a year ago I’d taken them through their 25 year vow renewals on a beautiful day in front of a host of friends… and now I was supposed to celebrate it being over. But that’s their story…
My story is that the cavalier announcement of their upcoming separation gave me the, er, movtivation to talk about my own deviance from the truths we’d all held onto for dear life for the past two decades; like belief in a God who needed us to ‘save’ humanity, like No Sex Before Marriage, like No Divorce – ever.
I said, ‘Well, I have something to tell you as well.’ and the anxiety just about washed me off my feet. Seeing them sitting there expectantly, their faces always the place I came to for unconditional love and soaring pride, I didn’t know if my next words were about to take that all away.
For anyone out there who has ever ‘come out’ as an atheist or a homosexual or pregnant when you weren’t supposed to be, kudos to you. I did it in an environment where my parents, confused as they were, could only say ‘well we love you unconditionally’ and get on with the matter of their completely-unallowed divorce. My sister did it as a 17 year old unwed soon to be mother to parents who, even after the baby was born, made her and her boyfriend sleep in separate rooms when they came to visit.
Who knew backsliding would be so difficult? I was always told it was easy. So easy you had be wary of it, like falling off a cliff while mountain climbing. The truth is, no one goes through these moments unless there’s a good reason.
Reason is a damn good reason, people.
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To My Family: As batcrazy as you all are, I couldn’t live without you. I’m so glad we all got divorced and confused about religion around the same time, haha. Luv you all dearly, even the new ones. Xx