Saturday, April 26, 2008

Advice to my kids

One of my daughters just turned 21, and I wrote her a list of things I hope she won't have to learn the hard way. In no particular order:

Your life is going to unfold in unexpected and unforeseen ways. Your path will be smoother and lead to a better place if you can take some advice:

Spend your time and money wisely. 

Don't be a joiner. 

Leave people knowing that you may never see them again.

If you don't have anything to say, don't say it.

Occasionally survey your life with an unforgiving eye.

Call your grandparents once in a while. That's all it takes to make their day, and it will be too late pretty soon.

Shared labor builds a sense of community. If you see your neighbor digging a hole, grab a shovel and help. Many hands make light work, and camaradery can make work fun.

Don't confuse your career with your life. Choose where you want to live before you choose your job. Why work fifty weeks a year so you can spend two weeks where you want to be? That's just "Feeding the Beast" - paying more taxes than you have to. Is that unpatriotic? Well, here's how governments work: They take money - by force if necessary - that they don't earn. A 50% cut pays for the "administration" of it - the legions of bureaucrats - and then almost all the rest is wasted. 

Be selective about technology. It has a hidden cost. It often only displaces labor rather than reducing it. Use it to make your life simpler and easier, but don't let it own you. Computers and cell phones are double-edged swords, both great time savers but also great time wasters. Technology worth having: Cameras, window screens, mosquito nets, hot water, canoes, bicycles, mask/fins/snorkel. Technology not worth having: Most things with motors, single-purpose kitchen gadgets, plastic crap from China.

Question accepted practices. Do you need a lawn? Why? What is it's purpose? Is that a valuable enough reason to justify the time, expense and ecological damage done as you fertilize it, weed it, cut it, throw it away, and start all over again? If this were your last day on earth, would you regret not having put more broadleaf killer on your grass? "I only wish I could live long enough to get rid of those dandelions." 

Don't trust religions, governments or big business. No matter how attractively they package their messages, they only want your obedience and your money. Don't let anyone tell you what gods want you to do. You needn't look any further than your own conscience for approval or to know what's right or wrong. 

Become a determined ascetic. The American disease is wanting things you don't need. Our economy runs on debt and consumption. Most of us are wage-slaves, spending our lives in cubicles in order to buy anything cleverly marketed to us. Without considering the irony, we drive cars to work in order to earn money so that we can walk on treadmills at health clubs. Escape from that mindset.  Waste is anathema. Improve the quality of your life by dramatically scaling back consumption. Stay out of debt. 

Don't be a slave to comfort. Most of your friends hermetically seal themselves away from nature. They go from home to office to automobile to mall at a constant 70 degrees. Sometimes they want to escape the monotony and go camping, but then they do it in a tent with a floor. Get outdoors for fresh air, exercise, and natural scenery. Find simple, healthy, inexpensive, non-destructive ways to have fun. Walk, snowshoe, bicycle, swim, snorkel, plink, wander.  

Live with the seasons and the sun. Why try to make the winter warm, the summer cool, the day dark and the night bright? Live a simple, elemental life. Participate directly in it by growing, foraging and hunting some of your food. Enjoy the fruits of your own labor. Garden, keep a few hens, have a woodlot. Strive for self-reliance.

Sit around a fire once in a while. It's a wilderness TV. For hundreds of thousands of years, it was the only channel and everyone watched it. Your brain has evolved to need it. Sitting around a fire poking it with a stick will connect you to your primal, caveman roots as much as eating bugs would, without the cultural prejudice to overcome. Or the flatulence.

Go barefoot. Walking is what makes you human. Your brain stem needs it. Walking without shoes will teach you to ambulate properly instead of clopping around like you're on stilts.

Live near water. Even if it's just a brook or spring. The mixture of chorine and urine we call a pool doesn't count. 

"My religion is kindness." The Dalai Lama

I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor - such is my idea of happiness."
- Leo Tolstoy, "Family Happiness"

... companionship on the trail, the thrills of exploration, the impact of silence, vastness, and infinity, the good feeling of doing something for its own sake without the spur of reward, the physical satisfaction of using bodies as they were meant to be used, and moving under one’s own power, the complete naturalness of living out of doors.

-  Sigurd Olson, Songs Of The North

1 comment:

Leonid said...

Beautiful. I'm enjoying reading through your blog.