Not Alone

Some of you I’m sure don’t quite understand my recent personal paradigm shift. I think a natural reaction to my apparent “downgrading” to a smaller apartment, working less and getting rid of the car (incidentally, CAR FOR SALE!) is the thought that I’m somehow retreating, backing down or going backwards on the track of life. Nothing could be farther from the truth. To put it into financial terms (which is all de rigeur these days) what I’m doing is changing my investment strategy.

The typical measure of success in modern western society is in terms of money and property. The bigger your house, the faster your car and the fatter your wallet the more successful you are. There frequently isn’t much attention given to how relaxed you are, the quality of your relationships, your health or your sense of purpose.

I’ve pulled a lot out of the material categories and am reinvesting it in these other, oft overlooked categories of life. Yes I’m getting rid of a lot of THINGS but I’m gaining time, peace of mind and other intangibles that never the less mean something very important to me. What’s more I firmly believe that if I pursue that which truly matters to me and is at the heart of my being that I will find the material success that I need to live in comfort and security.

Something that encourages me is finding that I’m not alone. There are others out there who have found ways to live that are more in line with their spirit than with the dominant paradigm;

http://sites.google.com/site/livingwithoutmoney/

This fellow for instance has lived for the past eight years without using money AT ALL. An impressive feat in this money obsessed world and a great example of the invisible alternatives that are all around us. His lifestyle isn’t quite what I would aspire to, but the very fact that its possible is somehow a triumph.

Another example is to be found here;

http://earlyretirementextreme.com/

Now if this doesn’t make sense than I’m not sure if anything does. Not quite the anti-thesis of consummerism that our moneyless friend champions extreme early retirement seems to be the best way to beat the system without dropping out of the system. Its amazing to think about the possibility of living so free simply by slashing your expenses.

I find all of this extemely encouraging. I’m not terribly interested in a totally money free lifestyle – it necessarily precludes you from engaging fully with mass society and early retirement extreme is for me at least a ways off, but I’m feeling a real kinship with these folks and it gives me an idea of the places I could go moving on into the future.

This lifestyle clearly isn’t for everyone, in fact it will probably alienate me from some people. But that’s okay. We can’t be everything to everyone. I’m not interested in dropping out of mass culture, what I am interested in is dropping those parts of that culture that are diseased and unsustainable. Humanity has so much more potential than what we see today, both on societal and individual levels. If I can I’d like to be part of a movement to change the course of that culture, even a tiny bit towards something more ethical and something more human.

Right now the focus necessarily has to be on myself and discovering how I can live and work in a way that is in line with my ideals and my needs without infringing on those of others around me. There’s a lot to do. Wish me luck in doing it.

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Priorities, Mantras and Habit Forming

No so long ago I was thinking about finally getting a tattoo, something more functional and personal than a skull or some tribal shit winding up my arm. That stuff is aesthetically pleasing, at least until the next tattoo fad hits. I think it was a vague echo of the film Memento that finally clicked for me. A kind of reverberating in the inner ear from years and miles away.

The main character in Memento suffers from short term memory loss – he can’t form new memories. So, in order to pursue his mission – to find the men who killed his wife, he tattoos his body with reminders as to what’s happened and what clues he’s uncovered. The tattoos then become a kind of personal historical snapshot, constantly evolving and referencing each other in new ways. I thought maybe my tattoo should be something like that. Indeed what better reminder or reinforcement than a tattoo? Its always, always, always there, and, put in the right place can speak to the wearer, observers or both.

So I was going to get “Carpe Diem” on my inner arm. So that in all of those moments of hesitation, second guessing and contemplation I would remember the value of “seizing the day.” That was one option. Its briefer than my favourite mantras of “Say yes more often than no.” and “Never do tomorrow what could be done today.” But it seemed somehow not personal enough, not metaphorical enough. Body art should be artistic, not just a statement of value. At least that’s what I was thinking.

Then I thought of using the words, “Its just a ride” in reference to the Bill Hicks soliloquy on life which I’m sure I’ve quoted in this blog many times before. Then I thought maybe just a kind of Big Daddy Roth rollercoaster with Bill Hicks in the front car, or something more Steadmanesque.

In the end though I’m not sure that I really need a tattoo, I just need to set priorities, form some good habits and keep those mantras in my head where they belong. So…

The mantras you already know – “Carpe Diem” “Say yes more often than no.” “Never do tomorrow what could be done today.” and “Its just a ride.” Plus a couple of secret ones (secret because they’re sacred, not because they’re dirty).

So, Priorities and Habits.

A top, top, top priority is Discipline. In order to be self-supporting with my artistic and community building activities I need to be highly disciplined, otherwise things won’t get done. This needs to be deconstructed more into its componant parts. Its all there, the details just need to be teased out.

People is another one. I like people. I am working to improve ALL of my relationships with honesty, with time, with listening (both passive and active) and with good old fashionned fun. Friends, family and lovers are what makes it all possible and worthwhile. Plus a lot of my ideas and projects are impossible to bring to fruition by myself, and I enjoy creating in groups (more on this later, ask me about the Jazzfest cameraman).

Self-sufficiency. I want to be rid of my debts and obligations, at least my institutional ones. Debts and obligations to people are fine so long as they’re properly managed. Debts and obligations to institutions are a waste of my time, energy and resources. So pay off debt. Disentangle myself as much as possible from the machine without forcing myself to endure unnecessary hardship. Not quite a drop-out hippie, but getting rid of the dirtiest connections and dependencies.

Experiment, play and explore. Big. BIG. BIIIIG!!! I love to learn, to play, experiment and grow. I haven’t been doing very much of that lately. Here and there sure but I could do much better. I was so much more voracious for knowledge and experiences back when I was in school or travelling. Time to allow my wonder to blossom instead of just allowing brief breaths of air before forcing it to dive again under the icy sheet of practicality. This also means accepting whatever comes out of it. I shouldn’t be afraid of failing or of succeeding. I shouldn’t have expectations, just the experience in the moment. Who knows where it will lead, perhaps to…

Art. Very much related to exploring and playing, in fact there’s a lot of overlap. Art is taking the experiments and experiences above and turning them into tangile artifacts or experiences for others to share. With any luck they’ll be moved, or at least mildly impressed or entertained.

More to come…

Habits

There couldn’t be a better time to work on forging new helpful habits and squelching old bad ones. Moving into a new space means new routines, environment, everything. This is a time to be very conscious, open and careful to the ways that I spend my time and interact with my environment.

For instance, my apartment doesn’t have a washer and dryer, so I’ll have to go to the laundromat once a week. Where some might see this as an inconvenience, I see it as a great opportunity. I could read a book or a magazine. I could edit photos or video. But I’m thinking of doing something that otherwise I don’t do nearly enough of these days. Write. A screenplay, a novel, poetry – who knows. But I think I’ll write.

Daily meditations/thoughts of the day are requisite I think, along with daily walks perhaps along the canal, the railroad tracks or up into Westmount to gawk at the (glorious yet terrible) excess.

Pack a lunch.

Actually eat it.

A game plan for the day.

Including breaks.

Podcasts during the commute to/from work.

Exercise – capoeira, fire spinning, yoga, climbing, parkour…

Okay, that’s enough goofing off at work. Time to pretend I’m working a bit more…

Distractions Begone!

A persistent problem I used to have in my life was distractions. Every report card I got as a child included the phrase “Easily distracted” and “Has difficulty finishing assignments.” This followed me for a long time though its exact form has morphed and changed over the years. The Internet while an amazing resource for communication and a great repository of information is also perhaps the world’s most effective distraction machine (aside from girls playing tackle football in school uniforms perhaps, but then I’m sure you can find that on YouTube).

Another thing I found problematic was framing my self-image in an affirmative rather than a negative way. Ie; the difference between saying “I am easily distracted.” vs. “I was easily distracted.” The distinction here is an important one, because our thoughts create our reality. If I say I’m easily distracted, well then, I will be… distracted that is… what?

On the other hand saying “I was easily distracted.” doesn’t deny the previous behaviour, but it makes a positive, affirmative break from it. I was. Not anymore.

So, putting these together I arrive at the here and now. A less distractable me. Let’s take a look at how its done, starting with that damned Internet.

In the past I would obsess over three things when online, email, facebook and chat. While the Internet’s ability to connect us is wonderful, it might be at times a bit too much. There is always someone I know online somewhere in the world. It was very easy then to spend a lot of my time chatting with people near and far about things sometimes important, but more often than not, kind of frivolous.

One of the simple things I’ve done is collapse the chat tab in my Gmail and other Google applications so I can’t see who’s online without clicking. This reduces a lot of temptation and sidewards glances. I’ve also shut off the notification of people logging in and out on my chat programs. I don’t need to know whether or not you’re sitting in front of your computer, nor need I feel compelled to chit chat with you just because you are.

I’m doing similar things with my email and RSS feeds, keeping them accessible, but making them less visible, taking up less space on my desktop and less of my attention. facebook use likewise is on a “diet” of sorts where I just do what is healthy and no more.

Given the choice of continuing my Internet service at my old address until the 20th of August or cancelling it now provided a great opportunity to make the change. Now I can only access the Internet at my new apartment.

Another thing I’m doing is re-introducing my Top 5 board. The Top 5 board is a dry erase board that will go on the door of my new room as soon as I move in. The rules for the board are simple. There can be only 5 tasks on the board at any given time, and a task cannot be removed unless its completed. This way, in order to add anything new, an old task has to get done. It provides focus where a long list would only cause distractions. Its placement on the door ensures that I see it whenever I go in or out of my room.

A set of daily routines is another thing that works well for me. When I get up I read a daily meditation from the Internet or my Dali Lama calendar. Then I go for a nice meditative walk outdoors. In the evening before bed I prepare for the following morning by making a lunch and consulting my calendar for the day’s happenings. Soon there will be other daily and weekly routines to keep me on track such as yoga and capoeira training.

Essential to all these things are pacing. As I read on the blog Zen Habits its important also to take breaks and take care of oneself. So, I am doing that. I focus on one thing for 30-90 minutes, then give myself a 15-30 minute break.

Ultimately who I am and what I do has a lot to do with how I perceive myself and also how I organize my life. These changes are making it possible for me to be who I truly want to be rather than submitting to the random eddies and swirls of life. I am still open and free to the powers of the universe and I embrace chaos and change, but I don’t allow them to trap me or compromise my vision. I choose what I take and what I let go.

Carry On

As a mental exercise to start working out what exactly I’m going to do with my three years of travel perks I’m creating a list, here, now, live.

<The studio audience roars.>

So here it is, an ambitious mental exercise. Reducing my worldly possessions to airline carry on limits.

Originally I was going to go with what I could realistically carry, which would be a giganto 80L expedition pack plus a smaller daypack and maybe a third small bag. But compressing and simplifying down to something even more basic not to mention more comfortable seems both more practical and more daring. I mean in this culture stuff is everything. What happens when we barely have any stuff?

So here’s the breakdown, and I’m getting really specific because… well its an interesting subject – what do I really need?

Pockets:

  • Wallet: bank card, driver’s license, health card, SIN card, credit card, phone card, business cards, cash.
  • Keychain: carabiner, keys, bottle opener, *Swiss Army knife (knife, scissors, file, flat head screwdriver, LED light & pen), LED light, USB key
  • Lighter
  • Change
  • Notepad
  • Pen
  • Cellphone
  • Mints
  • Condoms
  • MP3 player/recorder & headphones

Watch

Manpurse:

  • Knife, fork & spoon
  • Granola bars
  • Notebook
  • Post-It notes
  • Pen, pencil & marker
  • Camera
  • Batteries
  • Band-aids
  • Tape
  • Canteen
  • Flashight
  • Cell phone charger
  • Mini tripod
  • Passport pouch: Saint Christopher, passport, tickets, important documents & emergency $50USD in a sealed envelope.

Daypack:

  • Notebook/sketchbook
  • Laptop (sometimes), charger & cables
  • Extra clothing layer
  • Gloves
  • Assortment of pens, pencils, markers, chalk, etc.
  • Towel (ahem, got totally distracted by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy links for about 15 minutes)
  • A good book
  • Canteen
  • Rope
  • Glowsticks
  • Headlamp
  • Lunch?

Backpack (this backpack will have an extendible handle and wheels and a lock):

  • 1 man tent
  • 1 light sleeping bag
  • Clear waterproof toiletries bag: toothpaste (under 100ml), toothbrush, razor, extra razor blades, floss, nail clippers, soap, ColdFX, pain killers, anti-histamines, band-aids, antiseptic swabs, flask, *Swiss Army knife & condoms.
  • 2 pairs of pants (one formalish, one cargo pants)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • Swimsuit
  • One short sleeved shirt, one long sleeved shirt, one button up shirt
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • Jacket
  • External HDD
  • Copies of all important documents

That seems decently exhaustive, though I’m sure there are more odds and ends that will fall into the various pockets, folds and compartments. An interesting exercise, particularly with respect to thinking about the kinds of situations I may face. The Burning Man and urban exploration aspects along with the photography/film/video stuff.

Wow. That’s kind of liberating. I look around my apartment now and it doesn’t seem so bad, the thought that soon I’ll have to get rid of a lot of this stuff. ’cause frankly I don’t need much of any of it. I genuinely could live with just this stuff for a year or more. Sure there’d be other stuff, but it would be short term stuff, things that I only keep with me so long as I’m in a particular location. Lots of useful stuff can be easily dumpstered or thrift shopped at little or no expense to cover those needs.

I’m feeled pretty great right about now.

Name that blog

So I’ve decided to take the plunge and quit. Exact details are fuzzy, its all very new, but the air is electric with possibility. Electrons sparking at the slightest provocation, the angle of the lightning’s course impossible to predict. A few things that I do know…

I need a mantra/context/purpose. Something to guide me when choices present themselves. This is the true challenge of true freedom, the beastly visage of infinite possibility. When anything is possible its doubly important to know what you want. So that’s a major project.

I am going to blog as I go. Writing, photographing, videoing, maintaining old connections even as I create new ones. Unfortunately the blog name I wanted, Standby is taken on WordPress. So, do you have ideas? Let me know. My inspiration;

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure. –  Helen Keller

Thrummmp Thrummmp…

My heart is palpitating from the reverberations of my previous posting and the possibilities that it creates. Its goddam scary, incredibly so. But sometimes, not always certainly, but sometimes fear means you should jump, right into the heart of it, the flashing stripes of the tiger’s cage. Kind of like when I jumped off of that cliff into the lake in Yellowknife just a couple of weeks ago. In fact just like that. Scary as hell, but fuck, so refreshing, and once you’ve done it once, hell…

So, scary. It is there, thrumping and pumping right under my sternum, trying to punch its way up my throat and into my head and give me a good punch in the brain. The heart is a kind of emotional and impulsive guy, more reptile than mammal really. And he’s wearing a business suit.

“Think about money / Just think about money / Because…  / Some people have real jobs / Some people have real jobs / Some people have real jobs / Oh I wonder what its like / I can only imagine! / I had an imaginary boss / And imaginary clocks…” – Kris Demeanor, Real Jobs

So money is one of the excuses. Another is Montreal and everyone and everything here. I’m kind of thinking that the only intelligent way to take advantage of three years of travel perks and no time obligations to the company would be to travel A LOT. So I’d miss all this. But shit. Montreal’s not going anywhere.

The deadline to ask for the departure is August 15th, so I have some real work to do between now and then. A heaven wrapped sabbatical? A globetrotting adventure? An artistic pilgrimage?

One thing I’m thinking about is getting the book The Artist’s Way, and maybe one or two other inspirational tomes, and commit a block of time to myself, truly to me, developing me, exploring me. Seems like a good thing to do in your 30th year of life.

Maybe I’ll volunteer abroad, maybe I’ll take a course in something, maybe I’ll open an etsy store and start living off of art. If a teenager can get almost a grand for a steampunk keyboard – well anything’s possible.

It feels like a big fork, but this path would certainly lead to CHANGE which is unknown and scary true, but there could be such amazing things out there. This prong I’m on now… I get it. I can handle it, its easy. Too easy. It puts me to sleep.

Goddam I’m talking myself into something CRaZy…

Begin addictive link hopping here at Career Break. Then think about what it would be like to Work Less yourself….

Free Like a Bird?

Now this is interesting, very interesting indeed.

So the economy is in a slump, and one of the sectors most hard hit is the airline industry… which is where I make most of my coin day to day. Its not a particularly fun or fulfilling job, but it pays the bills and more importantly, it gives me the priviledge of being able to throw some clothes into a bag, jump on a plane and touch down in a completely different part of the country or the world on a whim and a bit of change from between the cushions in the couch.

So… what if your employer told you that you could quit, and keep those flying benefits for the next three years? It saves them money, and it allows me to maintain the one, most beautiful, glorious perk of working in the industry. Wings to fly upon whenever I please.

I have to admit its a tempting proposition. I don’t know what else I’d do for money, but I do have a decent nest egg invested, and really do I plan on staying in this industry that much longer anyway?

Of course being a recession another job might not be so easy to find, that and my French, while good certainly isn’t up to par with that of a native Montrealler – I’m at a disadvantage here to get another job facing other fully fluent candidates. But the temptation is real, I see a lot of opportunities out there. Travel perks without the work obligation. Is this some kind of a dream?

Time for some serious thinking, budgetting, plotting and yes, feeling. How does it feel?