“Danthonia” of Bruderhof: a sacrificial commitment

~ DESTINATION TWO: ELSMORE, NSW ~

Serving Jesus to the max

It’s been two days since we left Bruderhof’s “Danthonia” community near Inverell, about 3 hours west of Coffs Harbour in New South Wales. In that time, Heidi and I have had numerous conversations and debates about the place: challenges, opinions and comparisons. bruder-logoThe reason for all this ruminating is due to the depth and complexity that makes up this most intense community. While the point of this blog is to try and explore communities from a non-judgemental and objective perspective, Danthonia struck a chord with us in a variety of deep and personal ways.

Bruderhof is an umbrella organisation for a whole global network of intentional communities whose members live as if they are a single entity – despite being spread across vast distances. From beginnings in Germany in the early 20th century, they moved the community to England, were politely forced out and then found their way to Paraguay, eventually moving to eastern USA and more recently expanding to Australia. They now have communities in each of these regions with members routinely being relocated within the system. One odd feature: most individuals have an west coast American-styled accent, which was a bit bewildering (someone referred to it as the “Bruderhof accent” as it isn’t really specific to a particular part of the US).

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Bruderhof is not easily defined as there is a lot of stuff happening on many layers. But at its core, it is a Christ-centred community, a point which they take very seriously (as in, literally commit their life to). The basis of their faith is largely around following Jesus in the way of early Christians, being people of immense faith, simple living, and “united in a bond of solidarity and equality in which each one says: Whatever I have belongs to the others, and if I am ever in need, they will help me.”

A major stipulation of being a member of Bruderhof is that you dissolve all assets and personal possessions and give them away. That sentence is worth re-reading and thinking about as it is easily one of the biggest commitments that anyone, anywhere will voluntarily make (consider: prospective members who are home owners will sell property, car and furniture, drain bank accounts, sell shares and relinquish pensions. All of it is donated to charity (or to Bruderhof if you desire, but they are quick to say that this is not a requisite. They would prefer that you sort out your affairs before joining)). The reason for this is that in order to fully and completely follow Jesus, the members of the “brotherhood” believe that this is only possible without a way to back out or with potential expressions of individuality becoming a distraction.

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IMG_8538In terms of “authentic community”, Bruderhof takes the concept of sharing to the only logical conclusion given their beliefs, and it is truly impressive. Most dwellings are homes which are shared between several couples, singles and families with shared kitchens and bathrooms as well as modest-sized personal space. Homes are somewhat utilitarian (almost institutional) in their design, outfitted with all the basic needs but not much more than a handful of members’ personal ornaments, books or pictures on the walls. A dining hall furnishes members with at least one shared meal a day. Doors are not locked and money is never exchanged so keys and wallets are unnecessary. IMG_8543-2All clothing is supplied as required and they have largely settled on a “uniform” of sorts: blue jeans and checkered shirts for men, somewhat formless Amish-style long dresses with head scarves for women. Rather than see these as sacrifices, Members embrace them as gifts: a way to keep them focused and pure; a way to keep life simple and sustainable; a way to dispense of the frivolities and unnecessary intrusions of modern life; and especially a way to keep their mind on the task of serving Jesus.

There is a co-operative business that helps pay for ongoing costs called Danthonia Designs, a commercial sign-making shop that does very high-quality products which you can see throughout the region. From a community-and-business perspective, they have nailed this one on the head: the product is competitive in every way with no corners in durability, design or service; it can be staffed by nearly anyone in the community

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Me getting into some sign work

(Heidi and I both paid our way by working there), and that staff doesn’t require a wage; the building is on-site so no rent need be paid, meaning that all profits from very low overhead goes back into maintaining the community. Brilliant.

Initially, I had some real concerns as soon as we entered into this community. I was a real fish-out-of-water in my inability to talk-the-talk biblically-speaking, which can be intimidating in a 300-person community who are all deeply committed to God. Then, upon arrival, when our friendly neighbour suggested that Kito would be fine staying outside in a meter-square cage, I was concerned that dogs were not going to welcomed warmly and our pup might have a terrible week (to their credit, they quickly welcomed Kito into the house when we balked at that, and he stayed in our cozy room most of the time). Concerns increased still as the entire community seemed to be 100% meat-eaters (not so convenient given we are mostly vegan; also a bit hard to understand why the compassion they show through their faith doesn’t extend to animals), although IMG_8547I give full credit for the whole community making a valiant attempt to accommodate us with a vegetarian diet instead (sidebar story: there was a funny moment when a “Tyrolean folk song” about the harvest was sung that featured the lines: “If we raised nothing for people to eat // Then what would they live on if there were no meat? // No roast and no dumplings, for coffee and cream // No eggs and no chickens – Oh what a bad dream!” which had people around us giggling. Heidi and I sang the ending “oh what a good dream!” instead 😀 )

We quickly came to appreciate how hospitality is central to how Bruderhof residents operate, although my fears about acceptance due to my “different” faith were always present.

The Bruderhof has an open-door policy. No matter who you are, we are delighted to meet and spend time with you.

As with most dedicated followers of Christ, hospitality plays a very large part of their lives and Danthonia’s members were certainly no different. Indeed, we were shown SO much hospitality over our 6 days there that we were fairly exhausted by the end of it. Some days, we had appointments for every meal plus afternoon tea, and this was besides the likelihood that most people we came across while walking through the village would stop and chat. IMG_8510Most people that we met started their day before sun-up, so breakfast invitations were a constant source of struggle for me to be ready to talk at 6am. And this wasn’t idle chit-chat; in nearly every circumstance, some deep-down faith discussions were the topic on hand. As I mentioned above, this was something I wrestled with as my spirituality is a complicated mix of things that doesn’t fit neatly into a box. It might seem petty to mention given the extreme hospitality we experienced, but the only thing that bothered me was the level of evangelism that seemed to be happening in numerous visits. I fully understand that if you are committed to your faith and it is supposed to be a joyful centre of your existence then you want to share that, but I certainly felt like we were being challenged and preached to (and me, a little judged perhaps) at times.

sign shop

I don’t want to sound as though I am being too critical though; this community was the most well-formed, connected, cooperative and smooth-running as you’ll find anywhere. In fact, I suspect that by experiencing this before others on this trip, we’ll be seeing nothing like it and will possibly be disappointed if similar unity is not achieved. Members worked side-by-side with ease, played and prayed together, co-existed freely from young to old, broke bread en masse and planned to spend life with one another for now and the hereafter.

Some more stuff we learned and experienced at this unique community:

  • people sing regularly: in the morning, singing can be heard from any window as families gather and sing before a meal or elsewhere on campus. There were never sounds of television or canned music playing (in public spaces)
  • there’s no eye-contact avoidance that you expect in mainstream society these days; people all say hello and will stop and talk. IMG_8540This wasn’t just because we were new; I saw everyone doing the same
  • the system cares for all people: single, families, disabled or elderly.
  • quality education seems to be of high importance (as it should be) with mainstream groups starting to take note at the results coming out of Bruderhof’s own schooling system. The overall impression I got of students and kids in general were a well-behaved, respectful, and intelligent group.
  • At 18 years old, teens leave the community for a “gap year” of sorts, but are usually placed in another community to experience a more independent lifestyle. Many of them stay on and become full members (committing themselves to a life-long arrangement in the community after they turn 21). We met many 2nd and 3rd generation individuals who had never lived outside the Bruderhof system!
  • Aboriginal elders have been very taken with Bruderhof and our hosts spoke of how they have a permanent invitation to Aboriginal lands
  • IMG_8544speaking of our hosts – Bill and Grace Anna – they were incredibly helpful, accommodating and forthcoming with their desire to make sure our stay went smoothly. Bill is soft-spoken with a wry sense of humour and gave us lots of reading material to take with us; Grace Anna was kind and fed us numerous times as well as provided guidance on campus. We are very thankful for both of them and the dozens of others we met and whom welcomed us in
  • permaculture and rejuvenation of the former pasture lands are moving in full-force with widespread tree-planting, soil improvement, cattle pasture rotation techniques resulting in return of birdlife and other improvements
  • the community reaches out to different degrees, from local support for people in crisis or globally with a particularly tight connection with World Vision, among others.

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Overall, you can tell that Jesus is central and community followed in and around that. Most members were happy to tell us that and I believe that this is the only way a community like this can work. People were quick to say that this life isn’t for everyone and that community life is never perfect and can be terrifically difficult at times, but that it was all worth it. Heidi’s faith is more aligned with theirs, but she admitted that she would struggle with a few elements despite the benefits of an immersive Christ-centred community (she can tell you about her impressions in her blog. Her thoughts are far less critical than mine 🙂 ). For me, there are some powerfully unifying things that make this community one of the tighter ones I may ever come across, but I don’t know if I’ll ever have a level of faith that is required to personally commit to this community. Despite this, the people were wonderful and hopefully we’ll be able to keep in touch and visit sometime in the future.

 

For more on the Foundations of the Bruderhof community, check out their informative website.

Bruderhof also has its own publishing house, Plough, which produces a wide range of spiritually-focused print and e-books but that also cover a broad range of topics as well (while there, I was reading an interesting, non-faith-specific book called “Why Forgive?” which was very good). Visit their online bookstore.

As I mentioned earlier, Heidi’s impressions of this community can be found on her blog.

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Strawbales and tipis, native spirituality and hospitality

~ DESTINATION THREE: DAYLESFORD ~

I love being pleasantly surprised…

My initial impression was that this was going to be a very different experience than our last stop at Cornerstone in Bendigo. When researching for the trip, Gentle Earth Walking sounded interesting primarily for the potential for strawbale building (something we were keen on trying) and staying in a tipi. Now that we have left, I am re-reading the entry in the WWOOFing guide about this spot, and while it describes everything that was there in a practical sense, we in no way could have been prepared for the things that actually made it such a rich visit. property wildernessFrom the effortless hospitality of our hosts Sue and Don to the peaceful rhythms of nature on their 40 acre property, we felt welcomed as part of the family with nothing being too much trouble. From the authentic incarnation of indigenous Australian and American spirituality that they practiced to the abundance of interesting ideas and projects around the property, their sense of dedication and care for the Earth and its peoples was clear. And while we weren’t expecting it to have an obvious community element, the outreach to community through creative and intelligent means made us realise that Sue and Don were dedicated to living out their beliefs and lifestyle goals as thoroughly as possible.

A feature of the stay that we quickly discovered was that Sue and Don love to tell stories. We heard a broad array of tales from their lives – learning that they were very well traveled, have had colourful and complex family lives, have experienced some amazing and unusual spiritual events, and are willing to throw themselves into any situation with vigour – all told with humour, trust and openness as if we had known them for years. Granted, at times we felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stories and retreated to our tipi at the end of the night with explodingly full brains, but we continually found ourselves returning and increasingly engaged in their intriguing lives. Given how many dozens of WWOOFers they’ve had over the years, you have to wonder how they tell these stories with enduring freshness!

inside house

Often our conversations were around their dining table which is the centre of a very full and cluttered room that houses all of Sue’s office and computer, the lounge room and tv, the kitchen and pantry, dining table, and inventive clothes and pot racks made from ladders hanging from the high ceiling. In the midst of it all is a pot-bellied stove, continually roaring with flames as the weather was cold these nights (even down to -2ºC one night) while we were there. The room is jammed full as the strawbale house they live in isn’t complete and they have had to pile everything into this one room until another area is ready. Mashing everything and everyone in one place meant it was a cozy place to retreat to at the end of the day, and there would always be something going on like a spirited conversation, visiting family popping in, Don bottling some ginger beer, chooks trying to run inside the back door, Sue digging through boxes to find us books on strawbale building, endless cups or tea and coffee boiling on the ancient stove or Don doing his back exercises on the floor. Part of feeling at home there as well was that they weren’t at all precious about anything: there were no locks on doors, car keys always left in their old cars which we could use whenever we needed to, and nearly everything was a found object or had been reused, recycled or repaired.

group shotThe house is a very solid place filled with touches that indicate that this is a house made lovingly by hand. The bales offer amazing insulation and sound-proofing, looking great in an organic, hand-made kind of way. At about 200 square meters (2000 sq ft), it is a big place, and with the wonders of strawbale building (cheap materials and often free labour or simply less than a typical build), it only cost them about $30K. For those uninitiated with strawbale building, it offers so many advantages over brick or timber construction (cheaper to build, less labour, superior insulation, superior fireproofness, longevity), it’s a wonder why more houses aren’t built this way. Sue and Don have clearly been educating and enticing locals as well, as they are directly responsible for teaching or helping 50 buildings be built in the Daylesford area.Mike rendering

My dreams of building such a home were only increasing in intensity as we began seeing all the potential of the various strawbale projects around the property. And sure enough, they put us to work on a wall that had been half-sealed and needed rendering and repair. We spent the better part of a week working on the wall and it was fantastic getting our hands dirty learning about the craft. Both Heidi and I really appreciated doing the work and didn’t get tired of the labour; there’s something invigorating about working on a project like this, particularly if you are typically used to sitting in front of a computer all day like we are.

tipi at night

tipi in morningA unique part of this experience was staying in a Native American-styled tipi which was as genuine as the original ones found in North America. Ours was a 16 foot style (base diameter, about 5 meters) and about 30 foot high (10 meters) at the peak. The cool thing about a tipi is that, like the original ones, you have a fire pit within. Special wind-control flaps on the outside plus an inner sleeve help control air flow so smoke from the fire is drawn up and out the top of the tipi. We had mixed luck with keeping the tipi from becoming choked with smoke, but when we did get it to work it was a great way to warm it up. And warmth we needed as we happened to hit frigid temps a few nights! I was a bit over the tipi experience by the end mainly because of Kito who was never at ease there and had worked out ways to escape the tipi Kito in tipiwhich was a problem if we were off working. So poor Kito was stuck lashed to a pole with his leash inside the tipi and I felt either bad for him or annoyed as he tried so hard to make life difficult for both of us!

inside tipi

At the end of all the work and life on the property there was Sue and Don, two very interesting, inspiring, slightly eccentric (but wonderfully so!), gracious, trusting, open and hospitable folks. We particularly found Don to be a rare wise soul, someone who projects a feeling of goodwill and joy whenever you speak with him. Nothing is too much trouble for Don and he will embrace the opportunity to discuss a situation or have a laugh. Don steaming woodWe undoubtably asked too many questions as Heidi and I are prone to doing, but neither of them appeared to be put out by it. I aspire to that level of patience – serenity now! With Don, his spiritual journey seems to have led him to a place where he has an easy relationship with whatever life throws at him, with a gentleness, grace and wisdom that is difficult to find these days. We had many laughs at the various stories of people thinking he was a bikie or a vagrant, which again reminded me – as with many times on this trip already – that judging someone solely on their looks will almost always get you into trouble. Finally, they are creative and open to try anything – as their lengthy history of jobs and experiences attest – and for the last 15 years, Don has invested his time into bending timber using 150 year-old equipment and positioning himself as the only timber bending business left in Australia. I spent a day filming and editing the following short video on Don and his work and I think you can get a sense of Don’s passion for the work and how it extends from his passion for the earth as he discusses working with the 4 elementals of life.

What a wondrous and rich exploration this trip is turning out to be!

Also make sure you see another perspective of this experience on Heidi’s blog!

Preparations & expectations

I’m homeless, jobless and about to hit the road with only a Honda Civic filled with the basics needed to get by. The aim is that it’ll be a two-month escapade of trip-carcommunity living, WWOOFing*, meeting like-minded individuals,  learning new skills and awakening the creative part of my brain that feels like it has been dormant for awhile. I can’t wait.

Having become a nomadic person over time, I feel the sense that I am about to get back into my element soon. My wife, Heidi, and I along with our shiba inu, Kito, are about to embark on a (cue Troy McClure type voice) a wacky journey of discoveryness! as we explore the a range of interests close to our hearts: intentional community living**; connecting with folks who are keen on treading lightly on this planet; sustainable practices such as organic farming, off-grid*** living and reuse/recycle/repair philosophies; meeting people who strive to explore and grow in their creative interests, personal, community and spiritual well-being; and anyone who chooses to live an alternative life off the mainstream path. As far as we reckon, those original 60’s far-out-dude hippies were onto something after all! We’ll see if growing my hair out, weaving my own shapeless hemp clothing and foregoing bathing ends up being the “new Mike” upon our return 😛

Truth be told, the traveler, explorer and generally curious information-seeker in me resonates with this type of trip, however the introvert and day-to-day homebody will struggle with aspects of it. I suspect that some of the personal growth I will look to gain could be in improving patience when I feel “people-grumpy”. Also, as Heidi will likely attest in her own blog writings (which I will link from here once she has her blog live, so you can have an alternate perspective of this journey!), a large component of this trip for her is the connecting with people in community, particularly if they are living out a Christ-centred spirituality in that community. kito-ponderingShe too is interested in environmentally-focused teachings but Heidi is more of a people-person than me. And for little Kito, this will either be the doggie adventure of a lifetime (Kito is extremely gregarious and will lap up the attention) or it will be a struggle for him as – like with many dogs – they like home and some regularity –something he won’t be getting much of with all of our moving around. Still, it’ll be great to be able to share the adventure with him and it’ll give him some great stories for sharing with the other dogs around the water bowl at the park.

For now, there is a bit more prep as we shift our lives of relative comfort (where we are house-sitting at the moment has a giant HDTV, all the mod-cons you get with houses these days, is close to North Adelaide’s shops and abundant restaurants, and is great for “lifestyle living”), to bringing only enough to get by, while the rest of everything we own is crammed into a storage locker. It’s a healthy thing to do…I recommend it to anyone. It certainly forces you out of your comfort zone, forces you to assess all the accumulated “stuff” in your life and purge, and gets you realising that life should be about the people (or animals) and experiences that you care about, and not really about how much you have accumulated. You’ll be remembered for what you said and did, not what you bought. In my opinion, life should definitely be about exploring, learning, creating, connecting and sharing….with a freedom from the shackles that either society, government or advertisers would like to lead you to believe you should be living.

So, starting in early April, I’ll be aiming to jot down experiences and share some photos from each of the dozen or so places we intend on visiting. Some places will be day visits and some will be week-long journeys embedding ourselves into an existing community. Follow this blog by subscribing >> or through Facebook with links to entries when I post them!

 

Glossary:
Here’s a couple of the terms I mentioned above; some of you will be well-acquainted with these already, but I have had a fair number of quizzical expressions with WWOOFing and intentional communities, so I thought I’d put my definition of them here!

* WWOOFing – technically comes from “Willing Workers on Organic Farms” which really means that this is a pure trade of skills/labour for food and accommodation. We’ll help folks out with whatever they need on their property and they’ll put us up. Good deal for everyone!

** intentional communities: a group of people or families who often have a like-minded series of beliefs or interests often to do with living simply, sharing resources, spiritual orientation or other lifestyle desires. Many times they are seeking for “true” community which is something that has often been lost in modern society. I wrote this previous full-length entry on intentional living as well.

*** off-grid refers to complete disconnect from city/council services (which are often tied to environmentally-damaging or expensive services that don’t take advantage of natural alternatives). Someone off-grid would have a total reliance on things like the sun, wind, hydro-power, etc. to provide power, composting toilets, harvested rainwater or other freshwater source and would ultimately be a very thrifty user of resources.

 

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Mike and Heidi, as seen before embarking on this journey ~ Mar 2015

 

Lifestyle Report – as of Nov 2013

This is my fourth Report (usually once/twice a year) as a way of assessing my successes, targets, improvements and areas I need to be more vigilant with when it comes to simple, ethical, environmentally sustainable and community living.

It might not be an interesting entry to read but it’s a way to keep myself accountable and constantly improving my lifestyle.

I’ve highlighted positive changes in green and backwards steps red. So, as of today:

ETHICAL/SUSTAINABLE LIVING

• grocery shopping (with % of how often I do it)
— observing a vegan lifestyle (due to my work and my beliefs, I allow myself some leeway but am committed to greatly reducing or eliminating meat and dairy everywhere possible (90%)
— local green grocer for veg (75%)
— leftover bread free at end of baker business day (0% – though eating less bread in general);
— skip-dipping/dumpster diving (0% – slack but they are hard to find and I’m not really looking)
— major supermarket for all else (20% – Coles/Woolies, 70% – Foodland (local);
— Fair Trade where possible (tea, chocolate, recent clothing)
— organic where possible/affordable (25% – food, soap & shampoo)
— use Ethical Guide to boycott bad companies (50% – need more vigilance here);
— boycott GMO foods (70% where possible)
— boycott food with known cruel processes (90% where known)
— food miles, locally produced (50%)
— meat consumption (0% of meals)
— dairy consumption (5-10%)
— toilet paper from Who Gives A Crap (50% of proceeds go to developing countries with poor sanitation to help built toilets) (100%)

• grow own food (10% – tomatoes, eggplant, herbs)

• household shopping: I only buy new from store if I can’t get from op shop or build myself;
— purchased new in past year:
—– furniture (0%)
—– clothes (10%)
—–accessories (15%)
—– car (0%)

• home energy:
— electricity:
—– solar/renewable = no
—– aircon/heating (15%)
—– computer (off at night)
—– fridge (2/5 star rating)
—– dryer (0%);
— water:
—– rainwater tank (0% – no longer have one)
—– grey water for garden (15% – washing machine only)
—– shower avg. duration (5 mins)
—– garden (10%)
—– dishwasher (0%)
—– washing machine (top loader 2/5 star rating)

• waste:
— food scraps (100% goes to compost);
— wasted food (5%);
— recyclables like glass, paper, aluminium cans (95% to recycle bin, 5% kept for food/household storage);
— wasted paper (minimal use of printer, kitchen & recycled toilet paper)
— wood (90% saved for building material); haven’t built much now that I have what I need!
— white goods, electronics, equipment (0%)

Areas to Improve: fewer food miles; support local; buy organic if it makes sense & affordable; grow more of our own food; continue to consume less energy & town water. As it gets hotter, it is tempting to use aircon but we generally don’t succumb until about 35 degrees or more.

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SIMPLE LIVING
• build most of my own furniture (lounge daybeds, coffee table, office desk, outdoor tables & seats)
• other furnishings have been donated (bed, futon, tv & DVD) or secondhand (kitchen table & chairs, office chair, rug);
• buy nothing that isn’t essential to the household or work
• work less, spend more time connecting with friends & family; (has been a very busy past 3 years. Trying to find that work-life balance again)
• spend money on essentials, friends, charities;

Areas to Improve: connect more with real (not virtual) people

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– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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ENVIRONMENTAL
• approx. annual carbon footprint (avg. based on lifestyle as of today): 4.5 tonnes of CO2 (Aus avg. 16 tonnes; world avg. 4 tonnes). This is not including my poor flight behavior below 😦
• car usage per month – approx 400kms ; mileage (approx 10kms/L)
• bus instead of drive (20%)
• ride/walk/skate instead of motor transport (10% – 15min walk to shops)
• return flights in past year – domestic (2), international (2); Unfortunately, the past couple of years have been baaad. This year was a flight for personal and one trip for business.

Areas to Improve: take fewer flights; walk/skate/bus more rather than car; use less electricity; aim for 4 tonnes/yr CO2 including travel

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– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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COMMUNITY
• I now live with my wife so no more commuting to see one another; most friends are the same distance or closer now though
• intentional community living (share house or close living) = no
• share property or resources with community (some household items, driving, food with my wife’s best friend; borrow from other friends occasionally)
• collect hard rubbish from neighbourhood
• engage in conversation or help with mentally/physically challenged people in neighbourhood (0%)
• give to charities (monthly to: 3 x global aid, 2 x animal, 2 x activism organisation, 1 x community fund )
• volunteer with some friends’ and charitable projects
• community gatherings for shared weekly meals and social activities

Areas to Improve: aim to achieve closer and more intentional community; share more resources; be more accepting of minority/disadvantaged; give more to charities; get more involved with meaningful & helpful projects

NOV 2013 SUMMARY: overall, doing the right things still but still not socialising much due to workload. Some areas I can still be a bit more green. Would love to get more friends to jump onboard different aspects of sustainable, ethical or green living but am still trying to take the approach of “be the change you want to see in the world” however it is not always easy not to promote/preach, be judgmental or not be hypocritical. Involving myself in a great deal more research, protests and campaigns and becoming more politically aware. Taking a strong stance against animal cruelty and using social media to regularly drop hints to friends/the public. Trying not to become overwhelmed or too despondent about the current state of the world and others’ apathy to change!

Swirly lifey stuff

I’m on the eve of my tenth move in 2 years, weary at the thought in principle but on further reflection, relishing the idea that I have very little “stuff” to actually move. What a change!

As recent as 2 months ago, I had to haul things I had in storage at a friend’s place in Brisbane over to another friend’s place (bless their hearts for being so kind to make room for my crap) which took a 1 1/2 ton truck and about 10 hours of my time to load and unload. This is of course stuff that I am not using, just towing about from one location to the next with consideration of using it at some point. Meanwhile, I have been successfully living my life for the past year and a half with none of it. Sure, I miss the odd thing like when I say “oh, I have a Breville in storage; would be good to have a toastie right now” or “my golf clubs are in storage,” but these things happen so infrequently as to not recall thinking of them moments later. So when I thought “oh here we go again, another bloomin’ move (substitute “bloomin” with a more colourful term), I was pleasantly surprised to find when I really thought about it, I have about 4 or 5 boxes of stuff, clothes and 4 or 5 items of furniture and that’s it. Easy. Yay!

Interestingly, I’m possibly moving out with my girlfriend’s friend (my beautiful Heidi is old-fashioned so we cannot live together yet and thus the living with her friend 🙂 ) who is very much a simple-living-eco-friendly-sustainability-loving-community-oriented person like I have become, which is a new experience for me. Perusing potential dwellings with someone who heads out to the backyard first to see where the veggie patch might go before looking at the house itself is different but refreshing; I like her priorities! After many years of looking at things through the standard lazy commercialised-living lens as many other people do, I’m truly starting to consider things like: hoping for rainwater tanks and solar panels on the property; how passive heating/cooling will work effectively in the house; what fruit trees exist on the land and how much space is there for growing veggies; ensuring there is opportunity for community gatherings and sharing meals with people; and making sure that shops are walkable/rideable to conserve fuel. Whereby I was quite happy to live alone until recently, I’m now reveling in the opportunity to live with someone else and develop a greater sense of community; something I’ve spoken about but not really put into practice yet. It’s quite exciting!

I’ll update when I find a new place and we’ll see how many of these new thoughts have been put into practice.

All of this moving comes amidst a push for funding on my human trafficking film which we’re starting to work on. My feelings about the environment and climate change became blurred when I was away looking at people dying or screwing up their lives from poverty, but I’ll save that for my next blog entry. G’night! 🙂

Letters of concern

I recently had an email conversation with someone about corruptible actions and thinking in our society and why making positive change in the world is critical, albeit challenging. To me, this type of conversation illustrates the type of thinking that is common these days when trying to get people to consider change. People think that one person’s voice isn’t strong enough to be heard so what’s the point in trying, whereas I believe that change can happen but each individual has to have the strength and courage to move against the trends and face possible backlash for supposed unpopular thinking. Here’s how the conversation went; it all stemmed from my opinion that the whole Royal Wedding is a blown-out spectacle which celebrates the vast gap between the monarchy and celebrity with everyone else, lavishly spending money on a diversion from the UK (and the world’s) much bigger problems (I was probably feeling a bit grumpy to equate these things so adamantly, but I don’t think it’s untrue):

~ Correspondent:

…it’s nice to see some happy news from Britain as they have had lots of negative news in the last few years. Who cares anyway if this is what makes people happy! ….your opinions…makes you sound very preachy/lost your sense of humour…

~ Me:

Just because I don’t agree with the “distraction” of spending huge amounts of time, money and effort on some out-dated show of wealth and pomp doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humour.

This wedding is just another example of how people get sucked in to spending tons of time and money because of “celebrity” and “glamour” which is a HUGE part of why everyone in the Western world is quite complacent that this has become “normal” activity and someone like me is a freak if you think otherwise. I find it frustrating. Had the monarchy said publicly that they were deliberately scaling back this multi-million dollar wedding production so that they could support a good cause with the money that they would’ve wasted on nothing but a showy display of excess, then I would have been right there to support them. But they didn’t and this is just more rich people throwing their money around and giving everyone else an excuse to do the same.

Do you ever just sit and wonder why you live where you do or have what you have while many people – most people – in the world don’t have the same? Should we in the Western world feel that it is our right to be able to live the comfortable life of excess? Why are we so privileged? And yet, that’s exactly what people think; they don’t give a second thought to buying a new giant tv or expensive car because what’s important is themselves. If everyone just shared this wealth around a bit, the world wouldn’t exist with such extremes and so many people wouldn’t be living so miserably.

This wedding itself isn’t just the problem I have with all this but rather the cynical corporate marketing, television and broadcasting, celebrity-idolising, glamourising and bandwagon-jumping that goes along with it. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of problems being ignored because everyone is having such a grand old time.

I guess I can call myself an activist these days as I don’t mind being a bit preachy as long as someone occasionally listens. I try not to be too judgemental, but as soon as you take off the blinkers and really look at the world, you can’t help but feel this way. I want to make a difference. I desire change. I want people to be able to have both personal enjoyment but also really, truly care about their fellow global neighbour and the planet we live on and actually take action against injustices. If everyone did their part, we’d all be a helluva lot better off.

~ Correspondent:

I fully sympathize with your activist stance. The problem lies with the human race itself. If you compare the earth to a healthy cell, then the human race can be compared to cancer, and the cancer is growing exponentially. We are an overwhelming force that is mowing down everything in it’s path and it’s virtually impossible to stop it. The fact is that once those loveable people in the Third World get their hands on the same goodies that we in the Western World have, the planet will start deconstructing even faster than it is now. For the last several hundred years every successive generation has been more spoiled (if you want to call it that) and destructive than the previous one. Concepts such as “religion” and “progress” have driven us down this path.

Anyway, all I’m saying is that I understand the problem but, while I admire the work of activists everywhere, I think that it’s going to take something cataclysmic to turn things around.

~ Me:

The feeling I get from you seems bleak: are you saying that humanity should throw in the towel as we can’t fix ourselves anyway? While it is a challenge to see positive potential from a world that cherishes materialism and rampant excess, I believe we need to use the idea that every lit bit counts and that some of the biggest revolutions the world has seen have come from as little as one person (eg. Gandhi). If we just give in, then we’re all doomed to living a very dark, joyless existence so why not just kill ourselves now to avoid having to live in such a world?

I’m sure you’d agree that there are many wonderful things in the world and life that are worth standing up for and preserving, and it’s that kind of motivated and positive thinking that needs to propagate broadly throughout all people. In order for that to happen, people need to be reminded of their obligations to their fellow humans and to the rest of this one planet we have at our disposal, and start showing respect to it at the expense of some short term pleasures. Sure, they may have to give up the odd possession to ensure that we’re not overburdening our resources, but that gaining back of one’s integrity through self-restraint will ultimately be more rewarding than the material possession. Of course, it’s hard to show someone that money isn’t everything and that they can gain a lot more out of life by looking into other areas.

You might think that the Third World is doomed to making the same mistakes as we have, but I think the opposite: we have a huge opportunity to show them the err of our ways, but it requires each person to make a small sacrifice in time, energy, money and willingness to confront those around them to make the change happen. I really like the saying “Be the change you want to see in the world” as it so aptly describes where those improvements have to stem from: you. And me.

Throwing in the towel in my book is unacceptable if for nothing else than to have respect for this planet. I’m the same as you when it comes to the human race: we are a cancer that has ravaged the planet and who treat each other terribly. I’m not always a huge fan of our species. I have a lot of respect for other species and their ability to not impose themselves beyond certain boundaries. The trouble is, we need to rely on our species to do the hard work to make the world a better place for them, and then, in turn, for us. But like the animals, I believe that there’s a lot of people not being given a fair go either and so I’m a big proponent for equality: for people’s working conditions, wealth distribution, basic needs and well-being plus their general right to have a life filled with security and love.

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What do you think? Am I out of line to press these issues or is it high-time people start opening their arms and embracing positive action and try to make the world a better place? If we stop fighting for something more, something better, then what’s the point to our very existence?

Being poor is good practice

Boy have I been cash-strapped of late; work has been dribbling in at a pace that is slower than my consumption no matter how much I try to make that output as small as possible. There’s some work on the horizon but it’s always just at arm’s reach when I need it in close. Admittedly though, it has been a good challenge and excellent practice at being stingy, creative and disciplined.

The greatest part of my discipline comes into play when it comes to my credit card; it is a necessary evil as I have a great deal of automatic payments that come from it, which is rather thankful as I would be scrambling much more otherwise. However, I have used it exceedingly rarely when it comes to anything that is not a necessity (ie. going out to restaurants, “impulse” buys, “stuff”) which I find is my biggest success during this period of moneylessness. The challenge of course is to maintain this stingy behavior when the cash does start rolling in, and for that I see this period as great practice. For example, I know there are a couple of job-related things coming up that I could use some new gear for, but I have been resisting and looking at DIY alternatives that I can build for much less in some cases. When I have the money, I have to resist just going out and buying those things new and keep on the DIY way of thinking.

Being stingy is actually quite satisfying if it is confined to personal wants and desires but not relegating yourself to never going outside or being sociable. I’ve been guilty of the latter in the past, saying “oh, I can’t go visit friends cuz they’ll all just want to go out and spend money so I may as well just stay at home.” Luckily, I now have a lot more like-minded friends when it comes to living simply and saving money, so it’s easy to just hang out at someone’s place or do something with the deliberate intent on not spending money. My thrifty/stingy attitude extends to groceries and just getting the basics (while trying to remain healthy), driving less and taking the bus or walking more, scraping every last little bit of food from a jar/bottle/box and being more liberal with use-by dates (while not giving myself food-poisoning!). I’m only drinking cask wine and looking for 2-for-1 deals on big boxes which thankfully come along regularly (if I have nothing else, at least I have my grog!). I’m also conscious of things like excess toilet-paper usage, excess shampoo and toothpaste usage, wearing more clothes instead of turning on the heat (it’s been very cold in this house just lately) and feeding the dog slightly smaller portions of bulk-bought food to save a bit (no, I am not under-feeding my beloved pup!)

Creatively, I am managing to look at the cupboard and use what I see rather than just what I want (I know, a lot of my thoughts have to do with food! I do love my food…). This naturally results in eating a lot of rice-based dishes (from my 10kg sack of rice persistently offering itself to me from the corner of my kitchen); a surprisingly tasty dish is just steamed rice, a tin of chili-infused salmon or tuna, some green veg like zucchini or bok choy, and a bit of soy & sweet chili sauce. That’s about $2.50 for a big, tummy-filling bowl, and is pretty healthy too. In addition to food, I am rotating my clothing usage more consciously to get maximum wear requiring minimal washing frequency.

Anyway, tightening the old belt, as they used to say, is not so bad. I like having a few extra frills to make life a little less banal but it really is a good challenge to deprive yourself every once in a while, even if you aren’t financially hard-up. I reckon everyone should sacrifice something regularly if only to prove to yourself that you can, plus maybe save a bit of money/be healthier in the process. It also makes you appreciate all those little things that we all love in life that you tend to take for granted!