"Suck it up. This is life. Grow Up!"

This is the latest blog from a favorite site of mine called, No Impact Man. Some of you might find yourself in agreement with this guest blogger (Sean Sakamoto) who just posted about escaping the 'rat-race'...

Heaven Knows

My friend Sean occasionally writes for the blog. For a long time, he has been searching for a way to live that makes him truly happy. He doesn't believe in the rat race. He wants to find a way to live that doesn't rely on stuff and corporations but on people and community. His thinking interests me because he, like me, believes that if people look for a way of life that is truly good for them, chances are it will be better for the planet too. Anyway, here's Sean's latest.

“I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows that I’m miserable now...”
That line is from a song called “Heaven Knows” by Morrissey, the king of adolescent angst. Every time I listen to it, I burst out laughing because I completely identify with the sentiment. I need to work, but I don’t always want to work. I want to spend time with friends, I want to take walks, I want to enjoy life. Who doesn’t? I want my work to be part of my life, but not the end of it.

In the past, whenever I dwelled on this my solutions came in the form of stern commands to myself, for example, “Quit whining. Suck it up. This is life. Grow up,” etc. And for the most part, that’s what I did. I showed up, I made a buck, I did what I had to do. I got a job that wasn’t perfect, but it paid the bills. Then I got laid off. I was scrambling, and my wife was working long hours to keep us afloat. That was a couple of years ago, and as I faced looking for a job, and then maybe finding a job, I realized I needed a major change. I applied for a job teaching English in rural Japan, and I was lucky to get it, and so I left my world behind.

In my time in Japan, I’ve learned two very important things. First, I realized that I need to be around people like me. I love Japan, but boy do I get lonely out here.

Secondly, and just as important, I learned that I don’t need much to be comfortable. My wife, son and I live in a small apartment. I take home about $2,000 a month, much less than we did in New York, and we never go without. We don’t count our pennies, we don’t feel as if we’re making a sacrifice, we take little trips and we buy what we need. The thing is, we just don’t need to buy much stuff.

So, now that I know I don’t need much money, and I want to be near friends, what to do? I read that the healthiest lifestyle involves low intensity exercise throughout the day. I keep having these crazy fantasies about getting some land, putting some shipping container houses on it, and living with friends on the cheap. A place with gardens, bike paths, and always someone to talk to or start a project with. I have some savings, so this dream isn’t completely impossible. The hard part is convincing others to join me.

I’m not talking about a commune, or even an active rejection of modern life. I’m just talking about a way of life that puts having some fun at the center, a way for people who want to garden, to make music, to play games, or to just have a good conversation, and live cheaply enough that we’re not working all our waking hours to pay the bills on a lifestyle that keeps us in our seats, dreaming of a better life. As I contemplate a return to the US, I realize that I don’t want to return to a life of scheduled exercise, paid for entertainment, and constant worry about the rising monthly costs on a life that I’m barely living. I want to live with friends, have fun, and enjoy this midlife crisis I seem to be having.

In short, I want to make a retirement community for people who want to retire from the rat race, but not from their life’s work. I want to find a way for people to make what they really care about the focus of their life. How would we make a living? I’m not sure. I do know I don’t need that much to thrive and I like to move around during the day. What do you think? Am I just dreaming, or can this be done?

Do Check out the INTERESTING Reader Comments HERE:

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Replies to This Discussion

I agree with Sean and I found the comments in "No Impact Man" cogent and to the point. Life is not escape, but the rat race of getting more money to consume more is not life or fulfilling either. As the one comment noted, highly skilled people don't want to do gardening all the time, ala most communes?? I would love to have more free time to think but also to pursue things that are skillful, productive, life affirming, and even technological. Too many of the escapist venues seem to be non-skill centered, anti-tech. We need the modern world, just not it's economic growth oriented consumerist and ecologically unsustainable path.
Hi, Jean Marie, happy you have returned to us : )

Your friends have chosen a lifestyle that few can or would, but they are remarkable people, true individualists. At this later stage of my life, I know that their choices would not work for me, but they do set an example for many things that I would like to implement, and do hope I will once I relocate and reinvent the next stage of my life...

Many who think about 'escaping' think that they will have to give up their connection to society, perhaps creating their own community, or imagine having to live in isolation. Your friends have remained connected to the world, love their jobs, and have that community of like minded friends who share the same lifestyle. Growing most of your own food is a daily grind, which leaves time for little else other than hard labor. But when the growing season ends, time is returned to them, where they can enjoy the fruits of their labor, and concentrate on all the other projects and interests they love. They make a fine pair.

What is your escape dream? Have one???
All points well taken Vespertilio and not disputed one bit. But I have one little insignificant life and I want to feel that I at least did my part, lived well, loved many, and if at all remotely possible left a small piece of this world just a wee bit better than I found it... Extinction of our species and most life forms on this planet is to be expected at some stage, and probably sooner than later, but I'm still kicking, and it hasn't gotten that bad yet, so I plan to enjoy and contribute for whatever few years are left to me.
I couldn't agree more except that I'm more in line with Ray Kurzwiel that all of this will happen in a few tens of years and not centuries. So what is our fate? Surely humans as they exist today will be no more (no Star Trek - 500 years in the future with the same humans as now), what will we become? To paraphrase that evil old book the Bible, we as a species are passing through the eye of a needle. Either we will transition to some higher form of intelligence or we will descend slowly into extinction. My politics and environmental concerns/actions stem from a desire to see us (or at least my children) make that transition to that future. To much of the environmental movement would see us go back to some type of agrarian nirvana that never existed. I want technology and see it as the way to some type of future for whatever humans become. However, to ignore the environment now is to make our lives and the future far less viable and likely. So, what is the way forward?
"And no, Sydni, they do NOT spend the bulk of their days gardening, at all!!! and are less than 10 years younger than you. They are NOT kids!"

From everything I've read about sustenance farming, it is damn hard work to grow enough food to feed yourself year long. To can and freeze one's harvest is intensive work as well. Perhaps your friends enjoy some home grown vegetables but also purchase their food during the year?

Here is a very interesting NPR show that is actually quite humorous about this guy who knows nothing about growing a garden and attempts to feed himself and his small family for only one month, from a 'farm' that he created in his small Brooklyn backyard.

Listen To:
Living Off the Land
- Tuesday, July 13, 2010 - WNYC

Check Out This Book On Amazon:

More to read:

The 5 All-Time Greatest Books About Farming.
Not everyone is disagreeing with you Jean Marie, I'm certainly not. I just assumed that since your friends were so 'low impact', so to speak, that they also tried to grow most of their own food as well. You better clarified their situation quite well. I admire the heck out of them. They seem to be extraordinary people who are living the lives that they have chosen, rather than feeling trapped in their lives, as so many of us do.

One of the biggest reasons that I am moving to Ithaca, NY is because of it's natural beauty. It's up in the mountains, with many lakes, waterfalls and many scenic natural parks that I look forward to exploring. I also hope to plant a vegetable garden next summer, if I can manage to put up a fence high enough to keep the deer out.

Here is a picture that I took of a deer just hanging out on someone's side lawn in my new neighborhood.

Take a peek at a few of the photos I took of my new home and other interesting sights in Ithaca - Link

You and others might be interested in this discussion that Adriana posted, Money Make You Unhappy, in The Thinking Ape group. It relates quite well to this discussion.
You made me laugh Jean Marie... Yes I have been deprived of nature, and I desperately want and need to be close to a more natural environment to soothe my urban 'soul'.... (there I said it! And said 'soul' too... Oh my) The only 'nature' I have much experience with is the manicured suburban landscape. It is going to be a whole new world for me, in so many ways.

(need I say more?....)
Jean Marie, the deer do eat everything in sight and that is a big problem. My neighbor has a large vegetable garden but has an 8 or 9 foot wire fence surrounding it, to prevent the deer from devouring his vegetables. Anything lower and they can easily leap over and gobble it all up... No flowers around the neighborhood either, which makes me sad. Maybe I can make some flowering hanging baskets that are out of reach? I suppose if we have taken over so much of the deer's habitat that they are forced to move into ours, we have to just adjust to living with them. I do have a bit of a worry about deer ticks and my dog hanging out in the backyard where the deer will also visit...
I can say the I am 'escaping' from Long Island, and although I have old friends here that I dearly love, we are also very different. As much as they mean to me, they are not enough for me to remain and not escape to a place better suited to me. We can't choose our family... Some might be lucky enough that their family ties remain strong all through their lives, but that isn't the case for me. I'm not escaping to live in a commune, or up on a mountain top in a yurt, but I am escaping a 'suburban wasteland,' which I'm sure I don't need to further describe the isolation that I experience here. I'm risking a lot by escaping, but as long as I'm breathing, walking and thinking the adventure of living is still worth exploring and experiencing other options... Live and learn.
Japanese people aren't like the author.
It has nothing to do with race (necessarily) and everything to do with culture.

I'm an American that packed up and moved to Thailand for four years. And you know what? It is lonely. At least it can be. Even when you immerse yourself in a foreign culture as completely as possible, there is still a sense of isolation. The food is different, the entertainment, the social navigation. Always, in the back of your mind, you have to constantly remind yourself to do things THEIR way. (Because it's THEIR country, and you are a guest, no matter how many years you consider it your home.)
Especially in Asian cultures where so much focus is put on 'saving face.' Interactions become familiar, but they are still different. They can be frustrating, because nothing is direct. You always have to be aware of cultural issues, your own facial expression, ect. It's hard to relax and just be yourself.
Even simple things become melancholy after a while. One thing that bothered me so much was the lack of sarcasm. Polytonal languages rely on tone and prefix/suffix for meaning, so you can't say a phrase in a deadpan way, because that will change the literal meaning. Sadly, most Asians, even those schooled and fluent in English don't grasp sarcasm. When there is a divide in something so integral as your sense of humor, it is easy to get lonely.
Have you ever traveled for an extended period of time, Jean Marie?
Have you ever made your adult home in a very foreign culture?
It's offensive to me when people try to candy coat cultural differences. I know it comes from ignorance and the optimistic ideal that we are all one people, one world...but the truth of the matter is that isn't the case.
I feel (and I believe the author was also trying to voice) that the Japanese weren't like him, because they simply are not.
There is nothing wrong with saying it, either.
He (and I) made no claims that either culture is better than the other. Can you point out to me a place where is snide? How about contemptuous? Did he ever say that his homeland friends were smarter or better or more loyal than his Japanese friends?
He said he was lonely. And sometimes the only way to alleviate that type of feeling is with something familiar, something that you can understand fully. Something that you can be yourself around without the fear of offending someone else that comes from a different background and will construe your actions as offensive.
"I have also always had a diverse group of friends, from everywhere, and am close to them, close enough, if there is a misundestanding, we could talk it out. And we did learn some things, back and forth."

That was one of the things that frustrated me about Thailand the most.
In the Thai culture, you do not discuss things that upset you. No matter how calm and rational, uncomfortable topics are still seen as complaining, and that causes the other party to lose face.
You never discuss anything that's upsetting. Not even to ask a legitimate question or gain insight or understanding.

See what I mean? The very thing that makes you feel close to people in the U.S is further isolation elsewhere.

Living inside your own country, no matter how diverse your friends are or how many times you move, it still cannot be compared to being in a totally alien culture.
And keep in mind, just because your friends didn't talk about their feelings of isolation with you did not mean that they weren't feeling them.
Another huge factor is how different the culture is from your home. Not in terms of distance, but in terms of differences. When I lived in Scotland, it was enough like America, I didn't feel isolated or lonely at all. I did sometimes feel misunderstood, but that's because of my accent! :)
I guess it would also depend on the length of time away from your home, too. The first year in Thailand wasn't bad, because everything was so new and exciting, I didn't really have time to feel lonely or homesick. Also, I think if I would have lived in the Thai culture from a very early age, I wouldn't have felt that way, either. It depends on when you immigrate.
Those are just a few reasons why you might not have recognized such feelings in your friends, or why they might not have had those feelings at all.

Again, it's just my opinion, but from my perspective and what I read in that article, there was nothing racist or offensive implied.


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