sustainable, energy-efficient 500sf home built using local, healthy, natural materials into the side of a woodland hill in Wales
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When you begin to get free, you will get depressed. It works like this: When you were three years old, if your parents weren’t too bad, you knew how to play spontaneously. Then you had to go to school, where everything you did was required. The worst thing is that even the fun activities, like singing songs and playing games, were commanded under threat of punishment. So even play got tied up in your mind with a control structure, and severed from the life inside you. If you were “rebellious”, you preserved the life inside you by connecting it to forbidden activities, which are usually forbidden for good reasons, and when your rebellion ended in suffering and failure, you figured the life inside you was not to be trusted. If you were “obedient”, you simply crushed the life inside you almost to death.
Freedom means you’re not punished for saying no. The most fundamental freedom is the freedom to do nothing. But when you get this freedom, after many years of activities that were forced, nothing is all you want to do. You might start projects that seem like the kind of thing you’re supposed to love doing, music or writing or art, and not finish because nobody is forcing you to finish and it’s not really what you want to do. It could take months, if you’re lucky, or more likely years, before you can build up the life inside you to an intensity where it can drive projects that you actually enjoy and finish, and then it will take more time before you build up enough skill that other people recognize your actions as valuable.
When I read this, I shuddered. This is exactly what I have been going through since my retirement from paid work a few months ago. As I mentioned in my last post, all my wonderful, ambitious intentions for model-building, activism, and even personal reconnection sit unrealized, either because I’m still too exhausted to commit myself to them, or because they’re not really what I want to do. And I suspect it’s the latter.
When I wrote the chapter in my book on how to discover what you really want to do (for a living), I adapted or invented a whole set of exercises that readers could use to hone in on the work they were “meant to do”, work the reader had personal passion about. Recently I’ve been putting myself through some of these exercises:
- The “three circles” exercise, to iteratively explore my gifts, passions and purpose and where they intersect
- Recalling the moments in my work and personal life that filled me with the greatest sense of accomplishment and joy
- Writing my bio, as I would like it to read by the time my life is over (i.e. personal obituary exercise)
- Summarizing who I really am (not what I do, or my titles or roles) in 50 words or less
- Making a list of the things I really care about
- Writing a future state day-in-the-life story about me, doing what I’ve always dreamed of spending every day doing
They’re a valuable but frustrating set of exercises, and they’re hard work, even when (perhaps especially when) all the restrictions (time, money, family obligations, work and other commitments) that I used to be able to use as excuses for the gap between what I really want to do, and what I am actually doing, have disappeared. My June 7 post re-explored my “three circles”, and it really was an exercise in going in circles. The problem with the “list of things I really care about” is that, when I look more closely at the list, I discover it’s really a list of things I think I should care about, or used to care about, or think someone needs to act upon (but not me, since I don’t have the right competencies or capacities). Or they’re so vast that they’re unactionable, or at least I have no idea where to start.
In preparing my 50-word “who I am” summary, I started with who I was as a young child and went through all the damage that was done to me, all the gunk I took on, all the things I pretended to be because it was expected, or was easy, but was not me, before I came up with this summary:
vegan, earth-loving, earth-grieving, idealistic, poly, unsociable, unschooled, self-dissatisfied, nudist, intuitive, corpocracy-hating, anarchist, doomer (about industrial civilization), optimistic (about post-civ society), radical, wounded, hedonistic, impatient, easily-discouraged, overly-analytical, generalist writer, dreamer and imaginer of possibilities
I picked these qualities to describe me because they’ve been emergent and persistent — as I get older they get more pronounced, more entrenched as part of who I am, such that it’s hard for me to imagine myself stopping being any of these things.
So, trying the 24 elements of this description on for size, seeing them as a part of my skin that I expect to wear more-or-less permanently, I then wrote a short day-in-the-life story of me being these 24 things, doing things I think I enjoy, practically, in the future. The difficulty in really believing this story is that it’s predicated on me finding the people I’m meant to live with, my intended (if not intentional) community. I’ve been looking so long that as I re-read this story I could hear myself saying “well, that’s never going to happen.”
But here’s the story anyway. Not world-saving or world-changing or even altruistic. Just me as I think I am becoming, or perhaps always was, and forgot, doing what I love:
The community is made up of a series of small but airy huts built by us collectively, into the mountainside, gently enfolded by rainforest and a short walk to the ocean. We each have our own hut, made (surprisingly easily and quickly, from my perspective as someone who had never built anything before) from local materials using a compressed earth block machine. The common areas are in separate huts, and all the huts are connected by a series of halls and tunnels. There is art everywhere, most of it our own.
I wake up late (some things never change), and spend the end of the morning walking, running, or meditating, usually alone, just being present with the abundance of wild life around us. Our lunch and dinner ritual is to forage in the Edible Forest Garden that surrounds our community, that now (after 20 years of work) sustains itself without the need for human labour, chemicals or water. We then sit and eat in community, together, exchanging ideas and asking the rest of the group questions about whatever creative projects we’re working on, or about philosophy or whatever else we care about, or how we might better model the world as it could be for all humans, or convey this possibility better to those still caught in the maw of industrial civilization. Eating and bathing have become, for us, communal activities, and if there’s a lull in the conversation someone will tell a story, or play music.
The early afternoon, usually, is our time for learning, and most of the time now we learn from each other, by watching, by doing, by practicing, rather than by reading or Internet browsing the way we usually used to learn. I’m learning to recognize the birds in the rainforest, by sight and sound, from one of our community members, and learning to draw pencil sketches from another. In return, I’m teaching the others a bit about song composition, and mentoring the community’s unschooled children. These learning hours also accommodate discussion of community matters needing consensus, conflict resolution, or personal commitments to be made, though our community has self-selected and taught itself so well that this is rarely needed anymore.
The later afternoon is mostly for more personal work projects and practices. Sometimes I write — mostly plays, film scripts, songs, poems and short stories these days. Sometimes I draw, or practice some of the other skills I’m learning. Often I just relax and daydream. My sexual fantasies are very creative, but they’re private. I’ve reached the age at which the objects of my desire are not interested in me in that way, so since my desire hasn’t abated I look after myself, even though the members of my community kid me about this (“that’s not poly.”)
Evening is time for community play — invented and rediscovered games, musical and theatrical improv, and rehearsed group singing, dancing, theatre and story-telling. Later in the evening, when only a few of us stragglers remain, we may discuss what’s going on in the rest of the world. Many of us have liaison responsibilities we’ve volunteered for — mine are with the international Transition Movement, the Unschooling collaborative, and the Dark Mountain artists’ cooperative — and the late evening discussion gives us a chance to brief each other on these extra-community activities and capture information and ideas to report back to our counterparts in other communities.
My day usually ends in the communal hot tub — hot water seems to stimulate my creativity — chatting with the other late-nighters and jotting down notes for the next day. And then more dreaming.
It occurs to me that this day-in-a-life scenario is probably not terribly different (except for a few convenient new technologies) from the life of prehistoric human rainforest dwellers. Community-based. Collective eating and bathing and play. Time for art and reflection and for private projects. Lots of learning-by-doing. Comfortable subsistence with minimal work.
Is this what I will, eventually, want to do, once I get tired of doing nothing? Maybe.
I know most of my readers do not have this freedom, and if it is annoying to have me moping about the fact that I do, I’m sorry. If you do have this freedom, or can imagine yourself having it, what would you see your story being, once you got tired of doing nothing?