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Four months ago, after several hectic years as a semi-hemi-demi-quasi well-known writer I dropped from view. Instead of writing a weekly column and attempting to be semi-hemi-etc. brilliant in radio interviews, I shoveled horse poop, hauled hay, wrote book proposals, swam, thought, baked cookies, thought, walked the dogs, thought, ran my savings down to pennies and wondered how I'd survive to February.
Useful activities all. Horse poop, I can tell you, is more wholesome than political bulls**t. Contemplating one's own economic survival may not be fun, but it's productive--particularly when a looming failure of economic survival is your inspiration.
My time off wasn't merely a long vacation. It was more like applying Drano to the brainpipes. It cleaned out the crud. Got the system working again. Or, if you want a more genteel analogy, it was like applying silver polish to an old vase. Oh, so there really was something pretty under all that black goo...
In short, it was an act of renewal.
With Don and Sunni introducing Doing Freedom!, this may seem a time to talk about brand newness, rather than renewal. Yet to live the life you want in an increasingly statist universe you may need to take time to stop, breathe and shovel some poop from your path now and then, whether you're well on the road to freedom already, or just setting out.
The problem with being a freedom lover is that it's almost impossible to get what you want out of life. Oh, sure, nobody else gets exactly what they want, either. If Cindy Relski hopes to be a beautiful princess when she's really a fat, pockmarked counter-girl, tough. If Gill Bates' aim is to be make a billion bucks and he's not a software geek, a media mogul or a Walton heir, good luck.
But too many freedom lovers find it hard to live their ordinary lives as they wish. Daily conditions that statists or sheeple blandly accept stretch like razor-wire before people who value independence.
Let's see, I want to keep the money I earn on my job. Well, no, that's out, isn't it, Mr. IRS agent, Ms. Social Security bureaucrat...? Well, then maybe I'll just do some contracting work on my own. Lots of people will want to hire me. Uh... license? I need a government license for that? Okay, how 'bout I just quit using that annoying Social Security number for ID every time I turn around? It ought to be no big deal. It's just a dumb little insurance number, right? You mean I need it if I want to get married, go fishing, hook up utilities, open a bank account, go to school, check out a library book? I need it even to die legally, or be born? Well, okay, getting rid of it's a little harder than it looks. Hmm, I think I'll go off and plant a medicinal herb patch in my backyard. Uh... no, not that, either, I guess, Mr. DEA Officer, Sir-or-Ma'am-as-the-case-may-be. You, too, Ms. EPA-o-crat. Hey, wait a minute, you're going to take away my house and car without even a trial? But how will I surv--Well, forget all this complicated stuff. I'll just go out in the woods and do a little plinking with my rifle. Oh, I forgot. They made it illegal last year. Then, damnit, I'm going to leave the country! I'm gettin' on that airplane now. What? Warrantless searches at the airport? X-ray machines that can inspect my testicles? Informant-clerks?
Where do I turn just to live?!
Freedom lovers end up with three alternatives for survival:
In other words, you can't get through a day without either compromising with, actively dodging, or confronting Big Brother.
Sadly, I submit that no freedom lover on the planet can survive without making choices that lead to conflicts and ultimately to the need for compromise--even compromise of principles. (Ack, the very idea of me talking about compromising principles!)
For instance, you might be less free because you allow the state to track you in its database of job-holders. But you also might be less free if the effort to dodge that database consumes too much of your energy. You might be less free because you pay a third of your income in taxes. But you might also be less free if you spend half your life fighting the issue and risking jail and IRS levies.
And, alas, standing alone for freedom can be good for the soul or the ego. But it's hell on your chances for survival if no one else joins you.
Sometimes you just have to decide: What really matters to me? Am I putting my energy and commitment where they're doing the most good? I'm I being effective for freedom--either the world's or my own?
Retreat and renewal can help.
For instance, I wanted to write for freedom, but found that the very thing I most loved to do was putting me in the midst of constant public noise--something destructive to the solitary life I also craved. I also felt my writing, though praised, wasn't inspiring readers to free themselves. The noise itself kept me from thinking straight. Retreating enabled me to consider: Is the freedom writing worth the chaos it generates, or should I become, say, a janitor or a delivery driver and live with greater personal freedom?
I have friends who are making a mental/emotional retreat, considering whether the life they've been leading in the name of freedom is actually free. They're Social Security number resisters--Christian libertarians who believe passionately that the Social Security number is evolving into the Biblical Number of the Beast. True to their convictions, both members of this couple have for years refused to allow themselves to bear a government-assigned number. He gave up his contractor's license when the state began requiring an SSN; she gave up her "legal" business rather than use an SSN--as the IRS insists--to file taxes. Both entered the unregulated workplace.
It sounds better than it is.
In resisting the SSN, they've won many small battles. But the big battles have all gone to Big Brother and his minions, and precious few freedom lovers have rushed to my friends' sides. This intelligent, hard-working, once-prosperous pair have gradually been reduced to life at the margins: no dependable income, no credit, no health insurance, no support from fellow Christians, no hordes joining them in resistance, decreasing options and--they've recently begun to believe--no hope. Their exhaustion is evident in words they recently said to me:
It's clear that no one gives a damn. Most of our fellow Christians are the worst. These 'Christians of convenience' dutifully attend their tax-exempt, government-controlled, perk-seeking, 501 (c)(3) churches and quote their Bibles--even go on about the evils of the Mark of the Beast. But when we point out to them that the prophesy of the Mark of the Beast in Revelation 13:16-18 appears to be manifesting itself in U.S. law and international treaties, they become angry at us--never with their government masters who are marking them with a number without which, just as the Bible predicts, they cannot buy or sell, or indeed, do anything. Even God doesn't seem to give a damn, since it's practically impossible to put three meals on the table--or to even have a table--if you don't give the number. We're both worn down to a frazzle. It's with the support of the people that the government puts a gun to our heads and tattoos us, and everyone who objects is looked upon as a freak or a criminal. If it weren't for the people, this wouldn't be a problem. So f**k them.
These two have been principled. But have they been free? They're now considering "dropping back in" to enjoy a kind of freedom they haven't known in years--that of normal life. (Even that decision, of course, is fraught with Big Brotherly pitfalls. As they point out, "The money Mafia doesn't look kindly on folks who haven't forked over 'protection money' for a few years, and makes it virtually impossible for people to 'drop back in' without unbearably heavy civil--and possibly criminal--penalties, despite the fact that the law validates our position.")
Their ultimate choice remains to be seen. After much deep breathing and s**t shoveling, they may decide to drop back in, continue the fight--or make some yet-unseen choice. Whatever they do, however, will be done with renewed energy, commitment and consciousness.
I've been a loud SSN resister myself. I still think it's the moral course. But it's a course for heroes--and lonely ones, at that. It's a battle--every day, and I will yield before those brave friends do. To survive. But also to fight from a position of strength--not from one of emotional and financial poverty.
Not everybody can create the luxury of a four-month dropout. And who wants to come to a screaming crisis, as my friends have, before creating change? Gotta be a better way to do this, I thought.
I typed "renewal" into the Infoseek search engine, looking for Webly resources on personal renewal. Either the 'net's or the world's idea of renewal has a rather odd bias. The very first site that popped up was Sojourner magazine, a distinctly lefty publication having little to do with renewal. Many more statist political sites followed. Hmm, that's odd, I thought.
I refined the search by typing in the word "spiritual." Sojourner popped to the top again. (Has somebody paid a bribe here?) This time it was followed, more logically, by religious sites like the Casa de Paz y Bien Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona and the Spiritual Renewal Center of the Dominican sisters in New Mexico.
The sisters' Web site was hosted by the monks of Christ in the Desert, whose site--with its modern version of Medieval illuminations--is one of the most sumptuous on the Web. The brothers also have something renewal-seekers might find useful--solitudinous guesthouses, set against the desert rocks of the Southwest.
Oh, there are spiritual renewal centers for all tastes--from the highly politicized Beyt Tikkun Jewish Renewal Synagogue in San Francisco to the exotic Samasati Nature Retreat in Costa Rica and the more accessible Loma Center for Personal Renewal in Issaquah, Washington. But almost no information for those of us who, for the sake of budget or inclinations, want to go it alone as we seek new paths.
Where were the tales of people who've gone on their very own, unstructured, untrendy, unpolitical, unsectarian quests for new paths? Where are the people with their own quiet little transformation tales to tell, their own little Webly signposts to the future? Didn't find a one. Guess we're on our own.
That's not all bad. We freedom lovers are, after all, famously, even crankily, individualistic. No matter what anybody else says, we're going to find our own way. And really, who needs any magical (or high-cost) method of renewal? Simply stopping and listening to your head is a good enough way to begin. Is your life filled with nameless anxiety? Do your choices always seem to lead simply to more hard, no-win choices? Are you personally feeling more unfree because of your efforts to win freedom? Then it may be time to re-evaluate.
If you have some idea of your options, and aren't completely lost and weary, as I was, you could make a list of the pros and cons of various courses. If you're really up in the air about life, that step might come later, once you've cleared your brainpipes a bit. Or you might find you don't need it at all; after a time of retreat, you just suddenly know the next right step to take.
The main thing, I think--aside from the making the initial commitment to re-evaluation and renewal--is to know that there isn't just one path, for you, for anyone, for freedom.
The right course at 20 may be the wrong course at 60. After five years of fighting, you may need to rest. After five years of resting, you may need to fight. After 10 years of dodging, you may need 10 years as a respectable "mole." After 20 years of respectability, you may need to wave your arms and run naked through the field of freedom.
And at each decision point, you may need to drop out of whichever life you're leading and simply stop, think, and haul out the shovel before going on again.
You never know what you might find under the poop. Nearing the end of my retreat, I had nearly made up my mind that janitor was my most promising career path because of the mental freedom the job offered. I was wondering only, "Can I do it without a government tracking number?" Then fate stepped in, just a few days ago, and sent me sailing across country and into an opportunity I'd never dreamed of--an opportunity I certainly didn't know I'd been preparing for. But that's exactly what I'd been doing this last four months. Readying myself to take this unforeseen new road.
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