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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wanting what you already have.

I feel strange saying this, really I do, but I don't want more. I don't want more money, though the comforts of it brings could be nice. I don't want more friends, but I welcome them when the come and cherish deeply the ones I have. I don't want fame and prestige. Frankly, I am tired.
I have worked since I was 13 years old, first as a helper setting up job sites, packing tools, and moving sheetrock. Then I was a burger slinger under the Golden Arches, complete with a clip-on tie when I made swing manager at 16. I got a taste for the service industry and ended up working 2 jobs in competing restaurants after I quit school. Tips were great and life was good. I filled my life with things: Walmart kitchen gadgets, accessories for the tricked out '93 mustang convertible, and gold chains to match the gangster getup. I wanted more, every... single... day. I could not be satisfied. The rat race caught up to me of course and by 19 I had hit rock bottom.

Eventually I ended up in college, first for chemical engineering (I thought I'd be rich!), then for education (not sure, don't ask). Graduating, landing my first job, and still bar tending on the side, things were looking up, but I wanted something else. I was confused because there were people around me that made 3-4 times my salary and still had more debt than I did. I could see the greed of consumerism in my colleagues and community (Louisiana is famous for fancy cars parked in front of houses that cost less than the auto loan).

The next event in my life was serendipitous, I think. It was one part natural disaster, one part adventure. I packed my things and moved to Bush Alaska. Selling everything you own is entirely underrated! Landing in Togiak with only a few suitcases to my name, spare a few boxes at the parents' house (all forgotten now), I felt so free. My first house was a furnished duplex, complete with 30 years of pet stains (averaging 2 years, the tenants of district housing typically don't take care of things as well as their personal property), a ratty armchair, and greasy couch. The view, though... the view was spectacular. Sunsets on the Togiak Bay are world class and my window framed them nightly. Right on the beach, this community relied on the Bay for fish, sea mammal harvests, and birds for protein. There were herring eggs on kelp, bird eggs, and clams galore, too! I wholeheartedly, though clumsily would be a better adverb, jumped into the subsistence lifestyle. With so much protein to choose from I nearly bored myself with moose, caribou, and rabbit recipes...

I wonder what I will think one day when I have to go to the grocery store and choose from 10 packets of ground chuck made from thousands of different hormone and toxin-laced animals for weekend BBQs. Will I appreciate the flavor of hot baby back ribs more than that of never-been-frozen-thirty-minutes-ago-running-across-the-tundra rabbit fricassee?

I'm not sure if I'll mind, but I want my children to experience this feeling. Life, nature, being part of the ecosystem. I am reading a fantastic book about modern consumerism, waste, and excess right now. It's one of those books that sucks you in with great characters and leaves you with soul-searching questions that rock you to your very core. Jonathan Miles' Want Not is definitely a must read for freegans and dumpster divers, hippies and hipsters, Prius drivers and even environmentalist, but most of all, normal people like you and me. Here is an excerpt from a Thanksgiving conversation between the character who seems to have everything figured out and a new acquaintance:

"Yeah we don't go in for all the isms. Once you're in ism you're political and that's a dead-end. The labels are just another domestication device. Look at environmentalism. Everyone's favorite pet ism, the golden retriever of isms right? I guarantee you that someone right now, maybe even on this block, is replacing an incandescent lightbulb with one of those compact fluorescent ones and feeling all nicy and righteous because they're helping the planet. And at the same time right now someone else is buying a hybrid car because they want to save the planet. And think about that word man buying. You just have to sit back for a second and think about the whole psychology there. They're paying their money they're doing their part. They can go to bed tonight knowing they're like on the side of the Angels. That there the good guys---" ~ "they're meaningless things. They're meaningless tools that the system has devised to make people think that they're doing something and to get them to buy something at the same time. It's like, okay this architect who got this big environmental prize from the president or something, is putting this so-called living roof on a freaking truck factory in Michigan. Planted native grasses and s**t up there called it a songbird habitat. I mean Jesus, just roll that around in your head for a while. Our environmental heroes are the a******* designing truck factories. I mean my fingers can't do those stupid air quotes fast enough." ~ "what I'm saying is that you can't fight the system or even change it if you're part of the system, if you're beholden to it. Because the only weapons the system puts in your hands are different lightbulbs and cars. Chemicals in the same bottle with a green label and flowers on it. The same old s*** with a different label. They comfort you by saying the way out is through non-systemic change. That's the whole Al Gore thing right? That we can all modify the system to quote, unquote, save the planet while maintaining the status quo. But it's b******* man it's beyond b*******. The status quo isn't sustainable. Non-systemic change doesn't help when it's a system that's the problem." ~ "Civilization is like like some drug that we can't get enough of can't resist that were helpless without. But producing that drug requires a systematic destruction of the planet. Every ounce of civilization requires like 100 pounds of soil and air and water, and then generates like 50 pounds of waste that math doesn't work, right? It's simple: at the end of the equation there's nothing but waste."

I have had the 9 years since arriving in Togiak to try to figure out what I want and have the scars to prove it. One year I tried to live off of $500 worth of groceries! I was a monster in the gym that year and lived off of protein. The really profound part of that year, though, was me taking from the land what I needed. Just like the taste of my first tips twenty years earlier, I wanted more. I wished I could live in a cabin off the grid. I wanted to be clean and pure, without chemicals and waste. I was dreaming. I could never do that, and neither can the people who now inhabit Bush Alaska.

I have heard many a crude remark toward "outsiders" and have been the butt of hundreds of racial slurs. We've lived here for thousands of years without "x," is a a common statement, but I fear that way of life is long gone, impossible in a global world. The fact that my cell phone buzzes between trips to another village or while hunting tells you something, doesn't it? The grid cannot be escaped.

So what do you do (I mean besides daydreaming about your zombie apocalypse team)?
What I've learned is simple: Want what you have, don't try to have all that you want.

I want to live a balanced life of minimalism. Keeping up with the neighbors, buying junk for my kids because the Saturday morning cartoon brainwashes them, and digging myself in debt are not my American Dream. I admit it: I cannot fix the environment, but maybe I don't care. I will affect change in my world and maximize happiness for me and mine. I bought a hybrid and biked to work before... maybe I'll do it again. Don't get depressed, just understand your limits and live within them. Admit it and move on. Acceptance is not acquiescence. There is a difference.