The Problem with Van Living Today

You can still do it – I’m sure of that. I’m not doing it though. I’m glad that I lived in VW vans back in the 1990s before there were 80 million retirees downsizing into their $100k RVs. As with most things, I blame the baby boomers. Huge numbers of them decided to stop living … Continue reading “The Problem with Van Living Today”

You can still do it – I’m sure of that. I’m not doing it though. I’m glad that I lived in VW vans back in the 1990s before there were 80 million retirees downsizing into their $100k RVs. As with most things, I blame the baby boomers. Huge numbers of them decided to stop living in houses and in typical baby boomer fashion, they screwed up living in vehicles for everyone else. They ruined the campgrounds with their RVs and generators and satellite TV noise, they drove up the prices in the campgrounds, they took up all the free parking and necessitated municipalities putting up ‘No Overnight Parking’ signs, and since most of them kept their home while they were doing it (just taking a break) they helped drive up the cost of renting or buying a home. I’m glad I was able to live in a VW in the 1990s – that may not have been as sweet a time to do it as back in the 1960s and 1970s – but it was pretty sweet. There were still lots of free campgrounds, the National Parks weren’t very expensive yet, the community of van-dwellers was small enough to be inclusive and large enough to be anonymous but not large enough to make people nervous about vehicles parked on the streets in residential neighborhoods. Unless I have to, my days of Rough Living are behind me. It’s been a long time since I lived in a VW – and I sincerely hope that all the van living I will do in the future will be for short term camping trips with my family. The solution is not to move into a vehicle any longer – if it ever was at all.

The Weight of Stuff

These past few weeks have been difficult. Winter won’t seem to end in Oregon this year – while the weather has never been a big issue for me in the past – this year it has been torture. Last week we had our first run of three sunny days since last October and it was like heaven, but then it began to rain again, and hail, and the temperature dropped, and then it began to pour, and that awful grey light wrapped itself around everything and to tell the truth, the sense of despair was worse than it had been before the sunshine – I felt like one of those poor souls in movies who are tortured and tortured and then they are sure they are going to escape and be free, but in fact, that was just a way of the torturer to push them past the edge. That’s where I was. The sun is shining now, there are patches of blue, I feel okay – but the weather is not done and I know that I am no longer suited for the Pacific Northwest. I am fifth generation born here, but the time I’ve spent in tropical places has ruined me for a winter like this.

And now on to the title of the post – the burden of stuff. My god, when I am depressed, the weight of all this stuff is like that of a planet crushing me beneath it. I am selling what I can when I can. I am using craigslist, Let Go, EBay, and retail. I am going to shows and will be having a big garage sale in a few weeks. What doesn’t sell at the sale will go to the dump or the charity shops. We are trying to sell our antique shop, so it makes no sense to give away the quality inventory yet, but soon I will either sell the shop and everything in it or hang up the “Going out of business, Everything must go” sign. I can’t carry this much stuff any longer.

Obstacles and Obstructions

I have a huge amount of empathy for President Obama. No one let him get anything done. It must have been terribly frustrating. Eight years of not being able to pursue the plan you were elected to pursue. By the same token, I have no sympathy or empathy towards the current CEO of America Corp. – he is facing the same obstacles and obstructionism – but the big difference is that rather than trying to build something and lift people up – he is focused on demolition and tearing people down. I, like everyone, am facing obstacles and obstructions of my own. I had a plan, I thought everyone was on board for it, I started to put it into action and the first obstacle arose – it was the chink in my armor – it allowed those I had to have with me to start second guessing and then the obstructionists came along and started putting up road blocks. Now, my grand idea is in danger of dying.

Since the early 2000’s – my motto has been “All there is to it, is to do it” – it is what has allowed me to travel all over the world, write books, start business from scratch, and survive. It doesn’t work with a group of people that aren’t all in. It’s easy when you are the only one making the decision – you just do it. Marriage, in particular for me, my marriage doesn’t allow that kind of shoot for the moon and damn the consequences action. Maybe every marriage is like that, I don’t know – this is the only one I have and the only one I’m planning to have.

I might have to change my motto.

The sad part is – the only time that I’ve ever really achieved anything – has been when I turned my back on the expectations of life and took a blind step towards an unknown future while trusting my instincts – so the fear is, if I can’t do that, this awful mediocrity that surrounds me is all that I have to look forward to. And of course, the fear of my wife is “What if things aren’t as good as they are right now, what if our quality of life moves backwards?” – even though, the quality of life as it exists right now is nothing to feel very good about – and holds the potential to become worse if drastic changes are not made. Catch-22

I wish I were the type who could simply “Let it go and let god go” but I hear that as more of ‘Let it go and status quo” and I’ve always been partial to the story of one of the Prophet Mohammads followers who lost his camel and went to complain of it to the Prophet “Did you tie your camel?” the Prophet asked. “No, I trusted God” said the follower. “Tie your camel AND trust God” was the answer from the Prophet.

So, once again, here I am stuck in purgatory. I can force my decision to say fuck it and travel the world on my wife and I will have to drag around a resentful obstructionist or I can say fuck it, this plan isn’t going to work after all and keep things as they are. As a Buddhist, I’m pretty sure there must be a third path, a middle way – the hard part is steering past my budding resentment and keeping a sharp eye out for the right trail-head. Because frankly, the two options above both sound fucking horrible.

The plan that sounded good was a united family get rid of everything, leave their jobs, and travel the world playing ukuleles and working with non-profits to make the world a better place and find the best possible place to live the rest of our lives. It only works if the family is united in the desire to make the moves necessary. And that is not the case, as much as I want it to be.

Time for a new motto and a new plan.

The new motto is “Tie Your Camel and Trust God” and the new plan is to do as much of the old plan as possible while keeping my eyes open for a new plan.

Paradigm Shift – Parents No Longer Have Need of Children for Old Age

My wife, being from another country, is often puzzled by the way of life in the United States. Actually, me, being from this country, I too am often puzzled by this way of life. She asks me about these things and I don’t have an answer.

The relationship between parents and adult children is one of those places. I’m not talking about my own relatives here, because one thing I’ve learned through the years is that my familial relationships are not normal – normal for people who are in prison, have drug or alcohol dependency, or maybe even for coworker status – but not normal for parents and children. No, I’m talking about the great majority of American familial relationships – families like our neighbors – families where the parents actually put themselves out a little bit in order to ensure the well-being of their children. I think, perhaps, one of the reasons that parents did that was to build a safety net for themselves later in life when they became old and feeble.

I spoke with my father the other day. He mentioned his cataracts and how his sight was failing. I felt a genuine compassion for him because now that I am in my mid 40s, my own vision has been getting worse – reading has become more difficult and I can tell that the vision in one eye is weaker than in the other – so I felt a sense of empathy…a real connection, I even felt a desire to take care of him because he is my father …but he went on and told me how he went to an eye doctor and paid for a surgery that not only got rid of his cataracts but made his vision perfect and how it has improved his daily golf game. Not only can I not afford to play golf, but there is no way I can afford to get that kind of surgery even if my insurance covered it because it would certainly have a high deductible.

I’m trying to write about how the parents of adult children no longer need to ask their kids for help and as a result, they no longer have a personal need to help their children to succeed. There is no longer a selfish need to protect one’s young to protect one’s future. And, it’s my belief, that as a result, there is no longer a significant even sacrificial investment in the success of one’s children. Further, as a result of that, there is now a hoarding of wealth and the ability to accumulate things like vacation houses and expensive eye surgery and personal trainers and a veritable fountain of youth of products, procedures, and formulations – that the children cannot afford but the parents can – which not only preserves the parents, but allows them to be more healthy than the children and quite possibly to live longer than their offspring.

My dad is 82 and I am 45 and he sees better than I do – I am happy for him and I don’t begrudge him that – not by any means. It wouldn’t surprise me if he lives longer than me. I’m sure he has more frequent dental appointments and he doesn’t live in a molding cheap rental – so his respiratory and heart health are probably better than mine too. There is no real incentive for him to invest in me except for altruism – a trait which seems to be missing from a large segment of our society and which many believe to be imaginary.

It’s my observation that a great many parents (in particular the parents of my generation) went about teaching life in the same way they went about teaching swimming – 1) throw the child in the pool and let them sink or swim or 2) let someone else do the teaching 3) leave it to the child to find a teacher when they reach adulthood. I believe that sort of parenting has led to the broken family relationships we have today.

When my mother was injured, we offered to stay at her house and take care of her. To do the cooking and cleaning, take care of the dogs, and take care of the house. “She’s got a physical therapist and the house takes care of itself,” was the answer her husband gave.

That’s the paradigm shift I’m trying to write about. That’s the thing that baffles my wife because she comes from a country where the parents are cherished by the adult children – and here – quite frankly – I think there is resentment on both sides. Of course in her country of origin, the parents sacrifice everything to give their children a better life and the children understand that when they become adults and take care of the parents – quid pro quo – but it’s not like that here among families like mine.

Granted, my family is an extreme example with divorces and remarriages etc, but I see this sort of behavior happening with a majority of American families – the parents no longer sacrifice greatly for the children and when the children become adults, they feel no great debt to the parents – and the parents seeing this hoard more for their own well being – and the children seeing this feel a growing sense of resentment and isolation. I think that is why we don’t have big family dinners. The parents are scared of being caught in their selfish hoarding, the children are scared of being asked to care for the selfish hoarders, the grandchildren are watching and learning. A family dinner is a meeting of people who could have helped each other, but did not.

I see this daily. When baby boomers come in my shop and talk about their children and their adventures. I see it in the ads directed at baby boomers. I see it in the movies that are appearing. My wife is baffled but it simply makes me sad.