It is not always easy being a passive vagabond.
Life is uncharted, it follows my whims. It sometimes feels “too good”; how long can this possibly go on? I spend my days as I want – a healthy balance between domestic tasks, solitary rumination, time wasting, lucrative work endeavors, writing, eating and exercise – and sometimes I look around and think, Well fuck, this is exactly what I always wanted.
Yet it seems like a trap. And my possibly-more-hypochondriac-than-I-originally-thought brain is really good at figuring out what lays on the other end of this vagabond steel wire jaw. I have been extremely lucky, blessed, fortunate and all other manner of good tidings. Yet knowing intrinsically, inherently, that life is a cycle of ups and downs, high points and low points, financial struggle and financial surplus, it makes me wary since I have been relatively ‘in the green’ for some time now. This green period of course followed a dark red period – thousands of dollars in debt, constantly treading water, always wondering when I’d finally be able to ‘get ahead’ – and so, in my metaphysical-spiritual understanding of the world, it stands to reason that soon the red will stain my life again.
This is why passive vagabonding is sometimes not easy. It is akin to poverty.
Hold up, scratch that – it IS poverty.
My concept of creative living/living off the grid is, when boiled down to its basics, glorified international poverty. I am living without health insurance, with minimal savings, paycheck to paycheck, abstaining from big ticket purchases, using public transportation, and making well below poverty-line income; the only difference is that I’m doing it abroad.
My life of poverty is great. I must make this clear. First-world poverty is way different than third-world poverty, and I must make this abundantly clear: I’m talking first-world problems. I do not suffer in my daily life. I have water that is clean. I eat what I want, when I want. I can splurge, but there are also times when I need to borrow money. I save for when I need to visit a doctor or dentist, and have to remind myself that going to a bar more than twice a week is hard on my wallet. My life of poverty is great because I have clearly defined priorities: quality life experiences, maintaining nourishing relationships, making rent, feeding myself, visiting home, and occasional travel. I do not have debt. I do not want or own a car. I do not buy expensive things. I do not pine for a flat-screen TV. I do not have cable.
These differences are just that: differences. Not better or worse than people who DO prioritize televisions or fancy cars. I don’t buy new pants; I get shoes when my last ones are worn through. I buy second-hand, I dumpster dive, and recycle the shit out of anything that comes through my door. But I keep certain expenses pushed way down so that other aspects of my life can be flexed and inflated.
Sure, some say, If you didn’t spend all that money on flying back to the USA every year/living abroad, you’d have so much more money! Maybe so. But what’s important to me is the quality of my life, measured by my personally-set wishes and preferences. I want to live abroad and visit home every year—among many other things. It’s what I want. So it’s what I do.
And while I am able to save money, I am not protected against legitimate devastation. (Although I think that emergency travel policy I have will fly my remains home if we ask nicely.)
When I was in the deep red period from 2009-2012, it felt like every couple of months a new devastation cropped up, in the first-world sense. A car accident, worn brakes, an unexpected necessary dental procedure (or two), or even just an accumulation of disposable income expenditures that got the best of me. There was always something new that drained my bank account, just when I’d started to save up, and pushed me firmly back to Square One.
Since making the decision to step off the grid, other aspects of my life aligned in what must have been a cosmic shake-up of circumstances that allowed the snow globe particles of my life to settle pleasantly around me. Something clicked. And while I’ve successfully eradicated the previous obstacles to my financial freedom – my car and its insurance, debt, extravagant purchases – there always lurks the fear of devastation.
A broken bone and costly medical expenses. An untimely robbery the one day I’m carrying all of my money, emergency credit cards and my passport. Poor planning for my taxes as a self-employed consultant that results in double my expected pay-in. Jaw cancer. Lung cancer. Skin cancer. Liver cancer. My front teeth falling out due to a gum tissue infection and needing to pay for fake ones. Unexpected prison time in a foreign country due to wrong-place-wrong-time scenario. Dismemberment for any reason in any situation. Losing my job.
These threats lurk in the recesses of everyone’s minds (I assume, at least – maybe I’m totally wrong). And if they don’t, they’re all possibilities. Things that could happen.
While I don’t live my life neurotically planning for all the things that could go wrong, I am aware of them. I try not to let them rule my life, but the fear is there. Some days it’s stronger than others, then it disappears for a few months, latent yet lurking, waiting for the lapse in my mental immune system to creep out from the woodwork and manifest for a few days.
I think it’s important to be aware of potential snags, speed bumps, unfortunate incidents and setbacks. While I welcome and encourage a life of fulfilled freedom, creative aspiration and passionate forward-motion, I don’t welcome recklessness. I believe in aggressive and open-minded pursuit of dreams tempered with healthy planning and resources.
Devastation can be relative — what devastates one person might not be noticed by another. The dental surgery that pushes Bill into debt is what George ignores for two years. The bills that Suzy stresses over are what Lillian lets slide into default without worry. What is normal for me, as I say, may make some recoil in horror.
But I’m willing to bet that at no matter the socio-economic level, we all suffer from fears of devastation. What amount of money, insurance, savings and otherwise can protect against the Unknowable? There is no algorithm for this, no way to effectively cover all your bases when you don’t even know what the playing field looks like. Protect against skin cancer to suffer a devastating car accident. Eat organically to get fucked by the aluminum in your deodorant. Live responsibly and honestly to have all of your possessions stolen in an instant in a bus terminal in Honduras.
My point is that there’s no way to protect against everything. And while these fears lurk, it’s important to plunge ahead: intelligent, aware, ready, and willing to confront whatever may jump, fall or otherwise stumble onto your path. To be able to say confidently and authentically that you are capable of handling whatever devastation may come your way.
This was the difference between Pre-Grid Life and Post-Grid Life. I felt like a victim. I allowed these events and shifts and incidents to not only consume me, but to affect how I saw other events, to affect my expectations of life in general.
I said things like, Christ, that figures. Isn’t it always like that? Just as you get ahead, this happens. Perfect timing, just in time for me to go broke. Fuckin A – thanks a lot, Life. I don’t like any of those sentences anymore. I don’t think that there’s a conspiracy against us, I don’t think that financial hardships are “the only constant” of life. I think that what IS the way of life is our personal perspective – after all, it’s the only consistently identifiable thing at the root of all our experiences. I think that hardships are for us to overcome, available as teaching tools and timed so that things may unfold as they do.
This overarching spiritual jibber-jabber is all well and good, but it doesn’t eradicate the fear of devastation. Eradication is not the goal, though. Coping is. Overcoming is.
I don’t know what lay around the corner. Nobody does, or can know. But I do know that I plan to breathe deep and remain calm whenever the next struggle or obstacle comes my way. Whatever may happen, I’m capable of finding a way out of it, around it, to move on, or otherwise adapt.
That is the only thing I can know in front of the Unknowable.