From RAN PRIEUR
Ran’s been posting a lot about dropping out recently, so I thought I’d share my own story. I’ve actually been wanting to write something about this for a while, but I have been having trouble organizing my thoughts around what exactly I want to say. As such, this may be a bit long winded and disorganized, but hopefully it’s useful to some on the dropout path.
I won’t go into details about how I got interested in breaking free from the dominant system. I guess I was fortunate enough to read the right things and think critically about my life. In the course of a few years, my whole outlook on life was radically transformed, and there was no going back. Since then, I’ve been working to break free from the oppression of the dominant system.
About a year and a half ago, My wife and I moved to Bellingham, Washington, to a rental house a few miles outside of the city to start our homesteading journey. Our lot was a couple acres, with fruit trees and a grass area around 4000 square feet that we could turn into a garden. When I do something, I tend to go all out, so I decided to have a huge garden that used nearly the whole 4000 square foot area. I was working from home, so I was able to take lots of breaks during the day to work in the garden.
At first, the work was fun. Being outside and using simple tools. Planting and watching things grow. Harvesting and eating the freshest most delicious vegetables I have ever had. And then, it just got old and tiring. Harvesting pounds and pounds of veggies every day. Washing, sorting, freezing, drying, fermenting, cooking. It just became so much work, and I stopped enjoying it for the most part. Not to mention the isolation. We had moved without having jobs in town. Jobs are the main social network for people out of school, so this turned out to make things very difficult. We made a big effort to go to events and meet people, but we always felt isolated living there. The neighbors were mostly nice, but all much older, extremely conservative folks. It’s hard to fit into that kind of area being in your late twenties and extremely liberal.
I’m sure some people will say that we did it all wrong and that’s why we didn’t like it. Maybe we should have moved to some intentional community somewhere to be with more people. In the end though, I think the result would have been the same. If you don’t truly love the homesteading life, I just don’t see how it could work. I liked growing vegetables as a hobby and learning about farming, but it turned out the farming life just wasn’t for me. The fact is, most the people that sit around daydreaming about dropping out have no idea what it’s like to live this way. Maybe they have a small experience living the simple farming life, and assume that doing that everyday would be amazing. Doing something once in awhile, is not the same as having it be your lifestyle.
By coincidence, I ended up following a similar path to Ran, and I think Toby Hemmingway also wrote about this. I bought a house in a nice neighborhood, close to downtown Bellingham, where I can walk or bike everywhere I need to go and have a small garden. At first, it felt like I was giving in. I kept thinking that maybe I just needed to try a little bit harder at the homesteading lifestyle. I think the myth of homesteading is so strong that I felt like it just had to be the right path for me.
I’m so thankful for my year of homesteading. I learned so much in that year about gardening and life. I think it was inevitable that I had to go through that experience to find out for myself that it wasn’t for me. If someone else had written this and I had read it a couple years ago, would it have convinced me not to try? Probably not. I would have just told myself it would be different for me.
I still hear so many people my age talking about saving up to buy land. Certainly it may work for some. I’m not trying to say this lifestyle isn’t for anyone. I just want to point out that it’s not for everyone. You can’t just run away from all the problems in society. Sure, you can hunker down out in the woods with a community of 20 people and be mostly self sufficient, but the world that you hate is still all around you. There are existing communities (towns and cities) that don’t suck, and it’s much easier to become a part of one of them than start your own.
I’ve heard Ran and others talk about depression when dropping out, and this is something I’ve struggled with, and am still having problems with at times. The fact is, it’s much easier to live an average commercialized life and have average happiness. Your life might be more shallow, but you’ll probably be reasonably happy. If you want to do better than this, it suddenly becomes much harder just to be as happy as you were in the crappy superficial life. You now have to work much harder to make social connections and find meaningful things to do. And sure, you may have a much happier and more meaningful life eventually, but it’s like you have to build everything up from scratch. You throw away all the structure that has been given to you your whole life, and you have to start over. I think a lot of people simply aren’t aware there is this aspect to dropping out. I’m finally starting to see myself getting there, but it’s been so slow. Still, it’s definitely worth the struggle.
Trying to undo a whole lifetime of being trained to seek outside motivations is not easy. I used to consider myself a very self-motivated person, but this has been so hard for me. Sometimes I just want to go back, get another office job that I don’t care about, and spend every minute outside of that job having as much fun as I can. The truth is, the happiest I ever was, was when I was working a flexible office job I didn’t care about. I was lucky enough to be able to leave work early most days, and often walked to the park to slackline, play frisbee and just lay about. I worked for the man, but I felt free.
I don’t like to think in terms of dropping out anymore. For me, it conjures up too many images of isolation and all the things that I tried and found not to work. I’m no longer trying to run away from anything to find freedom, but to recognize the beauty and freedom that is all around me. We all have to walk our own paths to freedom. If somebody working 9-5 feels they are free from the system, who’s to say they need to change anything?
It will be difficult for anyone who has grown up in America or Western culture since the 1970′s to just ‘drop out’ and leave all the entertainment behind. We have been taught to desire this kind of stimulation at a fundamental level. I think the best bet for anyone of maturity these days is to try be as flexible as possible in your current situation. Yes, know how to produce/aquire your own food, filter water and build shelter, but also, have social relationships and try to do your best to persuade people away from being shitty human beings. We can’t all live peacefully on our private little homesteads in the wilderness as the world becomes an idiocracy around us.
My story is the opposite of yours. I moved away from a job in the city to homestead with my wife in the country. We saved up our money, bought land, solar panels, and created a garden. I even built my own house with my bare hands from scratch. It’s a passive solar design which is really efficient with heating and cooling. I understand what you mean, since in the begining it was so much work that my wife and I often cursed the day we bought this property. We hated it. I hated the work, the drudgery, the monotony. I would work all week at my city job and then on the weekend drive two hours to my land only to spend my entire weekend doing construction work for 14 hours a day. It was completely miserable. The only thing that kept us going with this project through a very difficult three year period was commitment. We sunk too much time and effort into it to back out. Of course, now that everything is more-or-less setup we absolutely love it! When we were ready, I quit my job (Hip hip hooray!) and we moved to the land full time. I hope I never live in a city (or work at a job) again in my life. It’s too busy and noisy for me. We also enjoy the benefits of being surrounded by nature and being able to work with the farm animals and plants is a joy. But I don’t do it more than a few hours a day. It’s kind of a fun break from my intellectual life. As for neighbors, I’m an ex-liberal so I don’t mind the fact that there aren’t too many liberal people around. My neighbors are wonderful people who have helped me out during some of my rough early days. It sounds like either it just wasn’t right for you, or you just didn’t give it enough time. Sorry it didn’t work out for you, but I wouldn’t draw any general conclusions from the experience…