When does the boycott begin? When will other people start doing what I’m doing? Is it wrong that I fantasize about thousands of people, eventually millions, doing what I’m doing? It’s time to reject 90% of the software we use daily. Start with stuff that’s pure entertainment. It’s time to overcome the void. It’s time to wake up in the morning to free-writing and poetry instead of Instagram and email.
Then you too can produce something like this - like what you’re reading right now. Ha! What a delusional trip I’m on, or so it sometimes feels. Let go of everything, your entire life, so that you can have a stupid blog like mine! The product of my work is a crappy little brain on a crappy little display.
But, alas, it feels good to be typing in the morning, over coffee, as I always do. It feels good to be able to be myself, stupid thoughts and all, publicly. And it feels really damn good that some people are reading this stuff. The crappy little brain is real and that’s what makes it good. At least that’s my current hypothesis.
Anyway, the sun is golden orange, leaving long shadows across the Walmart parking lot. Birds are chirping. It will be hot again today. Soon.
I continue to find that it’s easier for me to think about everyone else’s problems instead of my own. So this morning, I’ll use my own failures to pry in. That seems like a good way to figure out why everyone else is so angry and lost. I could start with a list of the things that piss me off. But then again, it’s actually the inverse that I’m after. This: Get a handle on society so that I can figure myself out. Not this: Get a handle on myself, so that I can judge the rest of the world.
One way or the other, the work remains enjoyable. It involves a lot of poetry, which I’m thankful for. I often wonder how poetry got the fair, feminine reputation it has. I have found it to be a bloody sport. Much of it really cuts me up. That’s my favorite part. Blood means we’re still alive. Blood, like sweat and tears, means that the robots haven’t won… yet.
Just for fun, I like to envision a future where average time spent with poetry is several hours per person per day - reading it and writing it. The English teacher’s wet dream. What would that world look like? That stretches my imagination even more than nuclear apocalypse, which shouldn’t be surprising. Nuclear apocalypse is far more likely.
I wonder if people fear poetry even more than they fear nuclear apocalypse. Walk through this with me: One of the scariest things that one can ever think about are their own past mistakes, the belief that you took a wrong turn. We spend a lot of emotional energy trying to make it seem like there wasn’t always a choice. But that’s a lie. There is always a choice and there always was one. We throw sticks and bramble across the other path, in hindsight, in our mind’s eye, to make it look like it wasn’t an option. It was an option. But it hurts to see it that way. I should have kissed X. I should have run away with Y. I really should jump now. Now!
To write and read poetry is to give words - really good ones, carefully selected - to those moments. To confront the jumping versus not jumping. Reading poetry has a lot in common with looking at a tree. It is to meditate on a scientific fact: life keeps branching.
Maybe life itself can be defined as “thing that branches.” I’m talking about decision-making as a metaphor for evolution. I’m talking about being human, being alive.
If writing is a metaphor for life - and of course it is - then poetry is a metaphor for the highly-examined and highly-intentional life. A slow life. A slow, precious life.
With that in mind, it makes sense that many people resist poetry. It calls you to think, critically, about everything, including the scary shit, and a lot of people don’t want to do that, for good reason.
Say you’re forty and unhappy. Say you have a few healthy kids and a wife or husband that you’re still getting down with semi-regularly. (Sweet!) You hate your boss, but whatever, everyone does. You have some savings, but you need more; the kids will need higher education or they’re screwed, or so your think. What makes your lingering unhappiness manageable is that you’re doing it right. You’re following the rules.
But say life still sucks, day in and day out. At least it’s not because you messed up. It’s because society sucks. So blame the system. Blame the man. Blame one of the two political parties. That can work. Really. You won’t have to claw your eyeballs out, commit suicide, get thrown in a loony bin. You can survive.
On the other hand, if you make decisions against the norm, then you only have yourself to blame for any unhappiness you experience.
This is my domain of expertise. Here’s why: I walked away from the opportunity to be staggeringly successful, by conventional standards. It didn’t happen all at once. That’s not how branches branch. It happened over the course of a decade. Lots of quitting “good” jobs. Lots of “backwards” motion. Lots of ruining my resume. I’m not trying to brag, just giving you the most honest version of the way I am personally experiencing my own decisions, my own life.
I was dealt an epic hand. I went to Stanford, where they groom you for conventional success in every single way. Plus, I have the skills (namely: bullshitting) required to be successful in business. Had I played my cards differently, an alternate 32-year old Bill is a millionaire with countless obligations, including several children and vacation homes.
Instead, I’m in my underwear in an RV in a Walmart parking lot.
I’m free as a bird. But, also, uhh… what the fuck?
Did I make the right choices?!
Yes. A million times yes.
And perhaps that explains why I’m into poetry. And reading and writing in general. Since I rejected the safety and comfort of “the script” - doing what everyone else does - I need to work harder and dig deeper to find different kinds of safety and comfort.
Does is matter that Thoreau died in utter obscurity? Of course not. Unless he was full of shit about everything he wrote. In which case, he deserved to die in obscurity. So, regardless, it all adds up.
I love the term “rat race” – the alliteration, the animal, the speed. It’s perfect. But I try to avoid using it in public, because I know that it’s hurtful to many people. In a way, the term “rat race” is a little bit of poetry. And thus, a perfect example of why so many people stay away from poetry.
I’m happier on the fringes. But not always. It sucks to get woken up by a yellow-vested man with a leaf-blower. (That’s what happened this morning.)
Currently, I can’t even afford to stay at campgrounds all the time. Instead, to save money, I switch it up between campgrounds, illegal boondocking, Walmarts, and National Forest Land. Sometimes I love the adventure of it all. Sometimes it’s torture. Sometimes I don’t want poetry, I just want a home, a family, a job that actually pays me.
I’ll get there. Eventually. But I have to do it my own way. In the meantime, my time is my time. And I have enough money for fresh produce, every single day. What a treat! I’ll take avocados over regular showers, any day of the week.
I decided recently that I want properties all over the country - beautiful, untouched landscapes, with pads and plugs and outhouses, so I can pull my camper(s) up anywhere and be home.
And, of course, I want the internet to work. For me, and for others. I know that if I can make it work for me, I’m on to something.
Yesterday, I fell into the web-abyss at the library in Davenport and it basically shocked me how bad it was. Especially compared to all the poetry, essays, and fiction I’ve been reading. (In addition to the second half of The Overstory, last week I read several essays from The Best Buddhist Writing of 2012 and What Should We Be Worried About? I also read the journals of May Sarton and John Cheever. For a while, I was only worried about the destruction of the planet and the erosion of the human brain by addictive technology. Turns out, there’s a whole lot more to be worried about.)
Horrible internet notwithstanding, life is pretty excellent right now. I’m on the bright side. Recently, I’ve been described as “sunny” and “bizarrely upbeat.”
Two nights ago, I splurged on a campsite. I only popped into the campground for a shower, but I saw D’s van and trailor and decided to chill. I felt a little crazy knocking on his door, but he opened it almost immediately, rescuing me from the highest middle-of-the-day heat. If he was freaked out that I followed him forty miles down state, he didn’t show it. Instead, we made plans to bump into each other at Camping World, which ultimately I flaked on.
I might be a below-average friend. It’s a pretty crappy thing to come to terms with, especially since my whole schtick is “being human” and “disconnecting to reconnect.” I’ve even bragged to a few journalists about how letting go of technology has made me a much better partner, son, brother, friend, etc.
Basically, I don’t do well with needy people. I don’t spread myself across a bunch of timezones, trying to “be there” for people who are all over the place. I can only be here, where I am, and I find some satisfaction in that. On the upside, to be with me is to be really with me. I’m 100% present, and full of energy, wherever I am.
At the campsite in Davenport, I hung out with a park ranger who was quite obviously itching to get to know me. I realize now that I was probably looking pretty cool for most of the afternoon - climbing into Sputnik’s engine, then lounging on a blanket under a tree, walking around barefoot in jorts and a greasy tee. Doing your own thing, carelessly and with confidence, is profoundly badass. But I wasn’t thinking that when the ranger was circling around me. I actually thought I was doing something wrong.
When I finally invited him in, I realized that he wanted what so many humans want from other humans: my backstory and my friendship. I happily gave him both. After the sun went down, he drove me to the camp headquarters, a few miles away. Although I was way off the beaten track, far from the other RVs and campers, I still needed to pay for the primitive spot.
He offered to drive me back, but I wanted to walk. I swung by D’s, had a slice of taco pizza and a tall hard peach iced tea, and then reclined near a playground to be happily semi-drunk by myself. The ranger pulled up next to me again and said, “You’re really livin’ the life, huh?”
“Ha! You bet!” I replied.
I spent the next thirty minutes looking up at the stars and squeezing that compliment of all its meaning. You’re really livin’ the life. The more I thought about it, the less it even seemed like a compliment. After all, if we’re not “really living the life,” what are we doing?