(Oops, sorry. Another wall of words. I swear this is becoming a year-end tradition around here. I don’t do it on purpose, sometimes I just blather.)
It’s a beautiful clear morning here at the Gulch. Weather’s been shit up till yesterday afternoon and it’s supposed to go to shit again for a couple of days starting this afternoon, and it well may – a few really nice days in a row are a cherished rarity this time of year. But it hasn’t been very cold, the firewood is holding up extremely well, and we’re past the solstice! From now till Spring timing the appearance of the sunny spot on the wall will be a morning sport. (8:05 this morning.) Earlier and earlier, until we’re not lighting fires in the dark to keep away the cold! Only a few months, which is easier to say when you’re in a nice snug cabin than when you’re shivering in an old RV or a drafty OSB box. This is among the very few things I know for sure.
Just to introduce a note of materialism into this homily: I have something to look forward to. A Generous Reader has apparently gone and done something quite generous indeed, and somewhere in a UPS facility between its point of origin and my maildrop there’s some sort of new coat. I’m not really in any danger of freezing to death for lack of coats to wear, but I do confess the ongoing and mysterious disintegration of my
favorite only canvas chore coat has brought a note of “how on earth will I ever replace that” to my morning ponderings. I patched it across the middle last Spring, but now it looks like something from a Freddie the Freeloader costume. Still works, but patches everywhere and more holes every week. And now somewhere out there is a replacement, which will hopefully make that admittedly small problem go away.
This blog turned eight years old a couple of weeks ago, which constantly surprises me. It wasn’t supposed to be anything more than a way to get through a long dark winter that I expected – with justification – to really suffer through. Didn’t expect to keep it up, didn’t expect for there to be a reason to. Readers and commenters gave me the reason; you guys became part of the show, and though in meatspace I really am not exactly Mr. People Person you guys have been a consistent bright spot in my otherwise mostly solitary life.
Solitary, but far from unhappy. And honestly, that’s the biggest surprise of all. Somebody asked me, way back when I was noodling the idea of shrugging off the city and doing something really stupid, “What do you hope to find?” And the only answer, back then, was “Quiet.” Joy was out of the question, it was not conceivable, except in detonative flashes mixed with terror on occasions like childbirth I didn’t know what joy felt like.
I find, now, that joy is a lot like freedom: Maybe I can’t define it, maybe yours is completely different from mine, but I know it when I see it. And I find that joy has something else in common with freedom:
Joy, like freedom, is a choice you make for yourself. You can’t be granted it by some wise ruler. You can’t attain it in a revolution. You can’t buy it no matter how rich you are and it can’t be taken from you no matter how poor or oppressed you are. You can only give it away. Joy, like freedom, is a thing you make for yourself. You either carry it with you or you don’t, but the choice is only yours.
A trick for attaining it lies in recognizing and overcoming one of the great pitfalls of the freedomista: All the negativity. A commenter I regretfully don’t see around here anymore once said,
Accidentally stumbling on that site [Survival Blog] was what got me going down my freedom oriented road… I stopped going after a while as I found it’s the sky is falling, general fear mongering of “every frickin thing on the planet” everyday a wee bit too much for my tender self, that and the constant gun talk that was making me sick. We are going to be sitting here with our mighty dogs, bows and cans of bear mace to stave off the hoards post SHTF, Egads.
A friend once astutely suggested that a sign of maturity in these matters lies in the question of whether you define yourself by what you’re against or what you’re for. Do you just rage against Leviathan, or do you really seek freedom in the life you have now? Really contemplating that question, and acting on the answers you find, can have a startling effect on many aspects of your life.
It’s hard at first, it’s very hard to think that far outside the bars of the cage. People have criticized me for advocating a hermit’s life of scrounging and solitude: “I’ve got family here, I’ve got obligations. Easy for you to say.” But I’ve never said anything of the sort. The particular life I lead would make most people completely miserable no matter how positive they tried to stay about things. Only an idiot would proselytize a cedar rat’s life. It would be like that guy in the Who* album* Tommy, about a deaf, dumb and blind kid who becomes a wizard at pinball*, attains enlightenment, then tries to spread the joy by removing people’s ears, eyes and tongues and teaching them pinball. Short version: It doesn’t go well. Yeah, Tommy meant well but he was an idiot.
In eight years and just shy of 6500 posts I don’t believe I’ve ever suggested that anybody become a desert hermit. If I ever did it was a misstatement, and if I ever do please feel free to slap me down for it. It would be an epically dumb thing to say. I’ve got the things that make me joyful, you’ve got the things that make you joyful, and they’re probably not the same things. Once I spent decades trying to live in such a way as to make somebody else happy, and all I accomplished was to make us both miserable. No more.
I digress: My point is not embracing desert hermitude but thinking outside the box. Anyone who thought I advocated a rusty trailer in the desert as the only path to freedom was missing the point, looking for a leader, not thinking outside the box at all. Joy, like freedom, is a choice you make. Nobody else can make it for you. I’ve met people who made the choice to be miserable, and to make everybody around them miserable. And they seemed to have no difficulty doing it. For some reason joy, peace and freedom are harder. But they start with looking inside yourself, at what you need. And then finding ways to do that. Don’t live for yourself, necessarily. But always be true to yourself.
Life is not made only of the things you do every day, or mine would consist of keeping chickens and dogs content. Once I would have said my life was sitting in a grey cubicle and watching a clock. No wonder I was miserable. Joy is accepting all the things that make life: fear, courage, loneliness, union, hope, patience, uncertainty, fortitude and sometimes terror. Life is a gestalt of pain and ease, sorrow and ecstasy, and never getting so wrapped up in any one of them that you can’t see the other side when you need to.
You know you’re getting it right when getting up in the morning seems like a good thing to do, and you’re interested to see how the day goes.
And if none of that makes any sense, all Joel’s blathering having been spent, go read this instead.
Withdraw your consent. Stop cooperating.
You have no obligation to bear all the world’s pains. You have no duty to accept whatever’s imposed upon you against your will. The only obligations you must carry are your self-obligations — and with creativity they may be made lighter.
You owe nothing to those who want only to use and abuse you. You owe everything to your highest self.
Keep open to it. Don’t let the world you’re in grind you down; you can be abrasive right back at it, if you choose to.
It starts with a single thought. And then it grows.
*Kids, ask your parents.