It’s a contentious topic these days, isn’t it — this whole security business.
I’m not talking about bouncers at a nightclub. I’m not talking about guarding your PIN codes, or protecting your email accounts from hackers.
No, I’m talking about security of the most important thing we have…life.
The problem is we live in a world where monetary wealth and certainty of your next paycheque are deciding factors of whether you’re succeeding or not. Like in the Game of Life, you trundle down the path determined by the rulebook, pick up a full-time job (which you ultimately change once or twice, at most) and a house, chuck a spouse and kids in the back of the car, and eventually veer off towards either cheap or lavish retirement — again, a move that’s decided for you.
Moral of the story: you have money = you win.
But what happens when someone questions this system? What happens when someone looks at a luxurious property and thinks, It’s just a concrete shell filled with things. Why am I going broke just trying to afford the right to live in this? Or when someone considers the pile of notes in their hand and realises, It’s only paper…scraps of paper with numbers on it we’ve decided, somewhere along the line, we’re to live and die for.
These things are constructs. There’s actually nothing that makes us go out and throw wads of paper at a glorified pile of rubble, except ourselves. There’s nothing written in the stars — woven into the very fabric of nature — that determines one part of town is “better” to live in, or that one person is “better” than another because he’s some kind of paper merchant.
So why…when did it ever become shameful — or, heaven forbid, insane — to live our lives largely free of the influence of these constructs? When did choosing spontaneity, independence, trust in strangers, freedom of location and being free of schedule ever get trumped by security? (Oh, that word…)
I don’t mean for this post to become a rant. I don’t judge people who choose to own houses, or have children, or fashion nest eggs of cash for their families in case something goes wrong. (In fact, the latter option is quite sensible, to a degree).
What I do intend is for people to just consider, even for a second, that this is not the only way to live. I would like you to take a moment to deconstruct security and question what it really means. How would you feel if you woke up tomorrow and learned there were no longer such things as retirement, pensions, cars, insurance, stranger danger, stars on hotels and Michelin hats on restaurants, colour wheels and thread counts, working hours, exchange rates and stocks and down-payments?
(You may laugh, but humans made all these things…we could just as easily tear them down again).
Does security mean having all of these things in your life? More importantly, does it mean me having these things in my life?
Generally, the word homeless has negative connotations attached to it. But what if you choose to be homeless, not because you can’t afford a home, but because you don’t want to live in one place? I first started thinking about this when I was hitchhiking around Europe last summer. People would ask me, “Where do you live and what do you do?” I would tell them, “I live right here and I do this,” which translates loosely as, “I am homeless and unemployed.” Some people thought this was wonderful, but most cringed at the notion.
— Jamie Bowlby-Whiting of Great Big Scary World — My Homeless Life.
Oh, deary me, how I’ve been able to relate to this of late?!
This entire paragraph makes a lot of sense to me, sure — but I’m mostly referring to the final line; the idea that many people actually have to stop themselves from cringing when you describe a life without the influence of constructs. Hell, some don’t even bother to hide their reaction, and use the opportunity to turn a cringe into a scoff.
Cringing, scoffing…as though I have, Jamie has, or anyone who’s ever contemplated an alternative lifestyle has blurted out something terribly embarrassing or crude. I’m sorry — did we harm you? Did we insult your parents? Did we steal from you, lie to you, wish ill on your children, trip up an elderly person on the sidewalk, or knock an ice cream cone out of a child’s hands?
Those things merit a good cringe or scoff. Our decision…my decision to choose freedom, rather than acknowledge confinement, does not.
When love and non-conformity collide.
Now, let’s consider the less arrogant side of the coin: when these doubts come from a position of concern and love, directed by the caring people in our lives. Our family, friends, mentors, teachers etc. will, at times, respond to unconventional choices with anger, worry, sadness, or denial, because they cannot always know what’s going on in our heads. They do not always know how much we know, and how far we’re prepared to go.
I understand this — I really do. They’re only human, and they love us.
For them, I’d like to deconstruct my resistance towards the traditional career trail, or complete refusal to accept that money makes the world go round — though I’ll begrudgingly acknowledge that it does, unfortunately, play a small part. But only a small one.
I’d like to do this by first asking where the fear is coming from.
Pursuing a less certain lifestyle can, naturally, bring about a number of unsavoury circumstances: I could wind up with no money whatsoever, as opposed to the meagre amount I currently have. I could hitchhike to save myself paying extortionate amounts on cross-country transport. I could end up sleeping beneath a bridge, or dumpster diving just to get something to eat. I could have an accident out on the road where no one can help me. I could die in a far-off country, from which it’ll cost a fortune for my family to repatriate my remains.
I could get ten, twenty, fifty years down the track and realise I have no savings, no support network, no plan, and am now too old to climb out of the hole I’ve dug for myself.
These are the conclusions I draw when trying to empathise with my loved ones, about why they might be responding with fear instead of joy regarding my life choices. I understand, but pose this alternative scenario: I could get ten, twenty, fifty years down the track and realise I lived not primarily for love, adventure, culture, trust, world travel, simple pleasures, and pure, unadulterated passion; but scraps of paper, concrete, plastic, processes, tireless routine, rules, restrictions, and, finally, the expensive right to die with regrets in my heart and no stories for my nearest and dearest to tell.
It sounds kind of stupid when you put it like that, huh? But really — really — that’s what the material world is. It’s made up. It’s all a construct. It’s secure because we’ve told one another it is.
And that’s security’s dirty little secret.
But…but but but…I’m not an anarchist. I’m not inherently a rebel. I’m not bitter towards society (well, much) for imposing these restrictions on my life; and for that reason, I’ll play by some of the rules, as long as everyone else will not judge me unfairly for my right to choose.
Tearing down the fear.
Now, let’s address these fears head on. Consider concepts like hitchhiking, sleeping beneath bridges, and dumpster diving, and why they’re regarded as shameful, desperate things to do. A rich person might say, Why would you do that when you can pay for finer things? Okay, sure, I hear that…and I also think you can find wheels of camembert cheese in bins. I left university years ago, but still think I’m a student at heart; and really, I get much more satisfaction from “finer things” when I know I’ve wrangled them for free.
The best things in life really don’t cost a thing, and any idiot can splash cash — I mean, billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer is spending millions on building “Jurassic Park” and Titanic II, when he could instead be funding…well, almost anything else. Go figure.
What’s the real issue, here?
Is it leftover traces of class warfare? Fear of mass rebellion? Either way, whatever old-fashioned propaganda drives modern-day prejudice towards minimalist living has no business in the 21st century.
As I don’t care much for rich points of view, I’ll once again try to channel the concerns of my loved ones. Okay, what if I were to end up beneath a bridge, or on the streets? From a survivalist viewpoint, I’d possibly be cold or hungry. I’d potentially be susceptible to harassment. I’ll admit, this is an unnerving prospect, and one I have trouble properly grasping because I’ve always been fortunate enough to have a roof over my head and all the sustenance I need.
If this is the case, I can only point out that I believe in the goodness of people, and my ability to survive, because…well, what alternative is there? I simply refuse to let this fear trample my desire to at least try.
What about hitchhiking, or dumpster diving? My ideas regarding the former have, so far, been met with resistance by my family and some friends. And heck, I used to bag two of my friends in particular for their, erm, forward-thinking attitude towards food wastage. I made fun, but when you really think about the sheer amount of food wastage in the world, while millions go hungry — it’s disgraceful. I used to work at a bakery, where entire trolleys full of good food would be dumped instead of distributed, for fear of being sued for contamination. I imagine this happens all over the world, and it needs to stop.
In terms of the hitching, I’ve read articles about (safely!) catching lifts in New Zealand, Malaysia, and even Iran (as a young, white woman, mind), and I’m sure I’ll read many more. It’s just not as threatening as it’s made out to be, like many things related to travel. Pure and simple. But, for the sake of letting my parents sleep at night, I’ll appeal to someone’s good nature and implore they hitch alongside.
Moreover, I take out travel insurance, despite the dent it always puts in my budget…because I’m capable of being a little sensible.
Basically, these doubts can all be cured (somewhat) by logic. This makes me wonder whether there is an underlying issue here that doesn’t correspond with primal instinct — and no matter how I lay it out, the facts all lead back to that word. But, in this case, it takes the form of several words.
We just want what’s best for you.
This is a beautiful sentiment. It really is, and I adore that my parents and friends love me so much that they would stop thinking about themselves in order to ponder what I should get out of life. It’s selfless and kind.
However…what’s best for me can only be decided by me.
And despite my shortcomings in life (and there are as many as there are not), I’m old enough, researched enough, and thankfully, idealistic enough to not only determine my wildest dreams, but eventually accomplish them. That’s what this less certain life I’ve chosen is all about.
Actually living the less certain life.
How is it working out, you may wonder?
Well — quite simply — it’s everything I dreamed of, and more.
It’s not all fun and games, of course. I’m currently relying on the good will of my loved ones to get me through my rougher financial periods — unfortunately, both careers in arts and travel are experiments in feast-or-famine, and right now, I’m definitely feeling the famine. I can’t buy a lot of the things I “need” to, and I have to be very careful of what I spend. I find myself being much more of a tight-arse than usual. Work is thin on the ground, and I’m extending lots of feelers in the hope that they will, in the coming weeks or months, bring me back some hot leads, and finally, the holy grail: success in turning my less certain life into a less certain life that pays.
I don’t have days off anymore. I wake up every morning and set up by the laptop with my breakfast, work until lunch, work after lunch, and often after dinner, too. I work from about 9am to 9pm, almost every single day of the week. And I love every single second of it.
I love the flexibility, I love the unpredictability, and I love love LOVE being able to document the fascinating stories of people and places all around the world. I get to spend all day correcting typos and sentence structure — an English nerd just can’t pay to have that kind of experience. In fact, it pays me. Fuck, I get paid to professionally run away from home, and sometimes, I get paid to run right back home again.
I’ll be damned…but this less certain life is going to work for me. I just know it. I’m more confident about this than I’ve felt for anything else, ever. I’m happy. Oh dear god, am I happy — even when things don’t always go the way I want them to, or when I get judged. At this point in time, it’s par for the course.
Though, if enough people start challenging this constructed notion of security (I think it ought to be made a swear word), then maybe — just maybe — we can all start feeling like we’ve won at Life.