Have you arrived yet? In this sense, does "having arrived" mean at the gates of hell?
The shower water here doesn't get very hot. Hot enough, though, so that when I poured a little dishwashing liquid onto the pile of pants, socks and workout gear, I got plenty of suds. I danced around on top of them the old fashioned way that folks once tossed their shoes and mashed grapes for wine.
Like that, only fewer pips.
My duds got cleaned in the suds, though. Then I rolled them all in a thick towel and hung everything out on wobbly plastic chairs to dry in the Colombian sun.
My house has been up for sale for a few days now. If there had been offers my agent would have told me, so I may be in for a haul, given the interest rate hikes. Still, that big, pricey, lovely and complex house is now largely empty.
Here in Manizales, I am getting ready this morning to head to Viterbo to reunite with my guide for a day. Then I head to Pereira, and then Bogota, to head back to the US. It's just about 4:30 am.
The local roosters are crowing. Since we had rain last night, the tree frogs are singing. One reason I am singing as well is that my life has gotten a great deal simpler in just a few weeks' time. That makes me rich beyond measure.
Yesterday morning I read an article on Medium by fellow writer Jason Weiland. He deals with mental illness, lives in the Philippines, writes about blogging and a few other topics with considerable frankness. This particular piece is relevant for you and me in that he addresses the sickness that the American economy banks on, and from which, if we are ever to have any kind of happiness, we must extract ourselves.
Here is his article:
Like Jason, I too acquired and acquired, never happy or satisfied with what I had, and in the end, had vastly more than I needed. None of it added to my joy. If anything, the constant buying and getting was a great distraction from what was really causing me internal harm. These last few weeks since June 14th, the day I returned to the US and began stripping my home and life of all the crap I've bought, have been full of prime-time lessons.
I wasn't, as they say, living beyond my means. In fact, here is a nifty little Marketplace piece which rips that argument to shreds for many of us, particularly the thoughtless Boomers who love to blame younger folks for financial woes. It's far more complex than that:
My hosts here in Colombia have a decent house in a rural part of the city of Manizales. It lacks a great deal if you compare it to a typical American home. Lots of goods from China, some of the furniture wobbles a bit, there are few appliances and conveniences that you and I take for granted. I am in a room Piedad wants to rent out for AirBnB use as her kids are largely out of the house.
There is nothing like adapting swiftly to having far less to remind you of how much you and I don't need.
Piedad is an actress. Her boyfriend is a terrific cook. Each day it takes a good long time for him to gather all the materials and make a fine meal from scratch, a process he takes on with considerable delight. Cooking is a celebration here, as any good chef understands. The time it takes to cut, slices, sear, boil, stir is part of the joy of it. The kitchen is full of noise and laughter and the sounds of cats scrapping for scraps.
What we have in this house in abundance are generosity of spirit, lots of love, great and healthy food, and that wealth of spirit people have when grasping and greed don't infect their lives. There are furballs who purr like Evinrudes who curl up on my head in the mornings, and a battle-scarred dog who protects this house and its inhabitants like the soldier he is. He has come to love my attention when I walk out to pet him.
These folks are far more wealthy than, I would posit, most ridiculously rich folks in America are. Nobody's sick with loneliness and longing for mas, mas, mas in this home.
I come from a long line of proud and stoic men who sacrifice their health and bodies so our families may live a good life, and it is doubtful whether I will change anytime soon.
What defines a good life, anyway? I guess that depends, doesn't it?
Even as he lives in the Philippines now, he continues to strive for more in that way that it sucks the lifeblood out of him, his marriage and his family life. The scam I am calling out is that the American productivity porn machine is immensely seductive. It's that "waking the giant within" Tony Robbins poisonous Koolaid: if only if only if ONLY you and I would work harder, deliver more, get more money, the elusive bluebird of effing happiness would alight on our punkin heads and we'd be oh, so happy.
It's a SCAM. I bought into it, too. Nobody gave me a hero button for killing myself at work. Too many folks die a few months into retirement. The gold watch somehow doesn't replace life.
I had the house. The gorgeous house I'd always wanted, and I wasn't happy at my core. It was a lovely place; I had fulfilled a dream of living in Oregon. Much of what I experienced the last two years gave me joy, but ultimately the dream backfired as our economy went into a tailspin.
I finally saw that the demands of upkeep and costs of never-ending projects would never stop. The constantly- changing and utterly unpredictable income fluctuations from online writing meant that in order to keep said house I was tied to a yoke, and even then it would be impossible. I wrote two to four articles every single day most days for four and a half years. Did very well for a while, then I ended up making pennies an hour, and finally lost the house.
That was the real gift.
I've written elsewhere about this madness, but here's the piece that really brings it home. In that all-out push to have have have, I DID have. I DID get the house, but with it came unbelievable costs to maintain, no time or funds to do what I loved most.
Weiland points to how much he already DID have, but ignored in the wanting of more more more.
Before this, it was a push to get the body. I had the body. Didn't get me love. Got me assaulted, and jealousy from others not willing to put in the work. I had a lot of things that were presented to me, and the rest of us, as the way to happiness, joy, respect, blah blah. None of it delivered as advertised.
Yet, like Jason, I kept right on acquiring, or trying to, for the dangling carrot was always and forever just out of reach. That is the American scam machine. There is a lot to love about the USA, but this isn't part of it, at least for me.
My big house was a custom place with so many conveniences, like a hot water dispenser in the kitchen sink. Oh my, how can I live without one now?
Easily. The same way that I can do the boogie on my Outdoor Research hiking pants and hang them outside to dry for the day. There is much I don't need. And even more I no longer want. In those shifts, costly as they may have been, lies freedom.
Weiland's article brings home beautifully the kinds of questions we might want to be asking not only as we age, but also as the country many of us call home (or at least used to respect) is imploding in a thousand ways. That's a good thing, albeit certainly terrifying. When a relationship, a life, a country, any living thing goes awry, it has to die before it can resurrect and rebuild itself. America is in that process right now. It's very difficult to both watch as well as live there to negotiate a fast-changing environment.
The economy America has built has trashed both our culture and the rest of the world, and is utterly unsustainable. Better writers than I have long pointed this out, and too many of us, including me, didn't listen.
Not too long ago I wrote an article that called out the ugliness of women who are so caught up in how they look while they work out that they have turned their gym duds into a competitive sport. One older woman was castigating the housewives who showed up in sweats rather than spending $150 on a pair of leggings. Not only did I find this personally offensive, but where does this stupidity stop? Are we going to start expecting the guys who work on our cars to dress up in their Sunday best, just to get all greasy?
You get my meaning. Dressing well can give us pleasure. But it doesn't guarantee us much more than a fleeting moment of joy. Then we want more in the very next second.
What costs is the need to feel superior based on how we've draped our bodies or what we own, which owns us rather than the other way around. That's indentured servitude to the economy, not an untethered life.
Years and years of travel have exposed me to how those with comparatively nothing live vastly happier lives, a lesson that I saw but didn't see for myself. People with tool boxes would walk through my home duly impressed by how grand it was. What, that was supposed to fulfill me? I was lonely, isolated, surrounded by beautiful things and conveniences I had barely imagined. And realized finally this year how pretty a prison I had built for myself right about the time I most needed freedom and friendship.
For example, my lovely fireplace insert, worth six grand, was problematic,and cost two hundred bucks every time a repairman walked in the door. Holy crap.
In this simple bamboo house in a suburb of Manizales, I have been happier and more content than I was for two years living what I thought was my dream. While I will miss the Oregon coast when I finally move, the simple truth is that by letting go of stuff, a process which was at times deeply painful, I have created room for people, friends, new families, lots of animals, experiences, and a great deal of laughter.
I wept with joy sitting on a lovely horse, winding my way to the top of a mountain to view a waterfall, the sweet and fragrant rain dousing my senses and mixing with my tears.
In our wholesale need to acquire, I feel we have hung ourselves. Not all, most assuredly. I can only speak for myself. The never-ending search for an "it" bag or That Perfect Blouse or whatever the hell the ads told me would complete my life, make me popular, win me the man the love the body the whatever the hell is over.
What I am in the market for right now is a very simple life. The less stuff I have, the smaller place I can live in. That allows me freedom to travel, ride, play and explore, which in every way was the hope I had back in 2020 when I bought my place. I was wrong. Spectacularly.
What I didn't know was that a small part of me reveled in having such a gorgeous showcase to fill with so many trophies. Proof, I thought, that I had arrived.
Perhaps by the typical American standard, I had "arrived." Proved to my long-dead dad that I was not, in fact, a loser.
But I was. I was losing life by choosing to chase trappings of a life. Oh that hurts to write. The truth so often does.
You and I know already that we never arrive. Weiland can see it but the hooks are still in his cheek. We are never free if we are always being driven to get more, be more, have more. That is the fundamental scam.
It's very American. Much of our economy is based on it. Just look around.
I have no clue where things go next. Yesterday my hosts and I spent another day looking at pueblos and meeting with two ex-pats who have found a home here. There is a lot of work still to be done. A new president who may change immigration laws. So much hanging fire. I have no clue what will happen.
But I am unburdened, having released so many things, so many belongings, so much STUFF. Now there is room for people, puppers, and places to explore.
That indeed makes me happy.
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