A new writing project?


423844_10151389824065796_1614054264_nThunderbutt in the weeds


Another new direction. Perhaps. I’ve recently assisted a new friend with a bus project, a converted school bus that someone has more or less abandoned and gave to her for free. This friend lives an alternative lifestyle, and gets by with her writing and house-sitting. A rather precarious existence due to the inevitable gaps that appear between house-sitting gigs, and the offer of a home (plus a place she can park it) seemed a boon almost too good to be true.

Which of course it was. I cautioned her that gift RVs are usually a source of massive expense and enormous amount of work, especially the self propelled type like a bus or motorhome. I’ve polished more than one of these turds myself, and know how quickly they deteriorate when not being used, how expensive parts can be, and how much very hard work it is repairing medium-duty trucks due to the size and weight of components. Finding a gem in the weeds like Thunderbutt is exhilarating, and yet requires one to step back and consider very carefully what they are getting into.

Of course Lorraine’s bus was no different and problem after problem showed up, the dream fast disappearing. She still has the bus, but has decided to sell the usable components like genset and so forth, strip it, and sell the aluminum body for scrap.

But we talked a lot through the process, and she learned a great deal about the various ways of doing this kind of thing –living alternatively on the cheap – that she had no information about. I’ve personally done the living in the RV thing, living in the boat thing, resurrected both types of accommodation, discovered various pitfalls and traps that each provides, and what you can get away with and what you can’t in attempting to live in one in urban areas.

Because it’s easy if you have lots of money and can afford a modern rig or vessel and can afford moorage and RV lots and such, but it’s much more difficult when all you’ve got is a thousand bucks in the bank and can’t afford the ridiculously high rents that are the norm in our cities.

The reality is that you can change that thousand bucks into a home and you can find ways to live very cheaply in many cities, if you know how to go about it. It was my friend’s opinion that I should write a non-fiction book on how to make a go of life in the shadow economy, living mostly off the grid, for those who prefer flying free and independent, who want to spend their lives doing more than just working for a paycheque.

A few years ago I wrote a rough outline of a book I called The Loser’s Guide, which argued for a lifestyle based not on economics but personal actualization, where time is precious and better spent becoming the best person one could be, a person who is a real benefit to society by not following the mainstream. When the struggle for survival is kept at bay and consumerism is rejected, it’s amazing how much more time we have for politics and social activism, to fully participate in society. There’s a reason seniors are the most politically active cohort: they have the time. The problem is too many of their ideas harken to an era long past, an era that in many cases only exist in a fanciful nostalgia, a past that never was.

I’ve spent many years experimenting with these ideas and learned a hell of a lot about what works and why. I’ve had the enormous privilege to do this because my wife chooses a more mainstream lifestyle for herself, which gave me the freedom to take risks and experiment where I might not have been able to if I lived closer to that edge. If I was truly poor, I might have stayed with the first attempt that worked, but my privilege allowed me to change tack when the lifestyle got boring, and to seek out a new way of living.

I’ve done the powerboat thing, the sailboat thing, I’ve lived in motorhomes, mobile homes and trailers. I’ve lived in right-hand-drive Delicas and VW buses. They all have their failings and advantages. Some are more expensive than others, but I can assure the reader that there are a lot of incorrect assumptions out there, and a lot of what they believe they know on the subject is probably wrong.

What I’ve written so far is largely a political, philosophical and psychological examination of the subject, a call to arms if you will for people to abandon the comfort of suburbia for a life more fully lived, where money and security is not the final word. What I haven’t written is how one actually does this.

This is an important omission I think, because it’s my opinion that huge numbers of people chose the safe life due to fear; they see homeless people and believe that unless they labour 40 hours a week that’s where they’ll end up. It’s not at all true – homeless people end up where they are due to lack of supports, mental illness, and addictions – but until you try living independently, how do you know? Few people will find the courage to start from scratch and find out.

A guide like this could help people know that there is a working path, that they don’t have to experiment on their own. Of course it’s better if they did find their own unique solutions, but it’s understandable that following other’s success makes it all so much easier.

Like I said, it’s no problem if you have a lot of cash to make a change, but if you’re like so many others, living paycheque to paycheque and not seeing anyway to escape servitude to a landlord and the high cost of urban living, there are other possibilities, options available to people whose life goals might be more directed towards creating art, social activism, or just living free.

I recall back in the 90s, a book called The Artist’s Way became a phenomenal hit. It was a workbook to help people access their creative side, and folks bought it in droves. That’s well and good, but what do you do with that new creative energy if you’re stuck in a soul-sucking 9-5 just to keep out of the weather?

Perhaps a workbook that explains how to live cheap in an urban environment, off the grid and below the radar of the authorities (who loathe people walking their own path) would be a nice adjunct to that earlier project, one that would take it out of the realm of the middle class.

I’ve got more to think about this, but I do believe the need exists, especially as the world seems to get tighter and tighter for those on the bottom, Where more and more folks are going to want an alternative to a life of struggle, one with so little reward. Hell, if you’re gonna be poor, you might as well be free.


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2 thoughts on “A new writing project?

  1. Hi Nathaniel, Some interesting ideas here. Yes, it is good that you acknowledge that living the way you choose is a privilege because of Tracey working. Another issue is why so much work in soul-sucking for people and how this might be changed in the way we structure work. Learning how to survive on less, whether working or not, is certainly an important issue worth writing about. I look at my daughter’s lifestyle, which is very bohemian and she lives in Toronto on very little money, as do most of her friends. They do some very creative things to make a living and do a lot of bartering of goods and services, so certainly need to develop a larger community to live this way. However, there are also lots of things they have to do to survive which I think can even compromise their own values or risk their health – for instance, one period of dumpster diving for food made me very concerned about food poisoning. Lots of ideas here certainly worth a book or more – I’d be interested in hearing of your own experiences but also the different experiences of others living on the edge and how they not only just survive but thrive

    • How I choose to live is a privilege but not so much because of Tracy. If we weren’t together I’d still live the same way, I’d just be poorer which is no big deal for me as I can live very simply. But living where and when we live is a great privilege, considering how most of the world has to live. But 80% of our lifestyle Tracy and I live now is because it’s what Tracy wants, not what I particularly want. My needs are very minimal. As for your daughter, that’s more a political, anti-establishment behaviour rather than absolute need. There are many other options.

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