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02/20/2004 Archived Entry: "Escaping the job trap and the art of nothing"

I'D NEVER HEARD OF TOM ELPEL until Misfit linked to his web site from The Claire Files forums. His "thing" is primitive living and primitive survival skills. Which isn't my thing, no way.

I lean toward simple living. But I've never leaned that far. I like my turn-a-knob heating and broadband Internet connection too much to want to live in a cave and grub roots, thank you. Not to mention I'd probably grub the wrong roots and die three days later, writhing in agony. So I'm somewhere between folks in a fast-track rat-maze and those who sleep under a shrub but have 24 hours a day of glorious free time. (I picture the shrub-dwellers spending all that time figuring out how to keep warm, dry, and fed, and occasionally picking scorpions out of their knickers.)

Nevertheless, wuss-hermit that I am, I discovered Elpel with delight.

Here. Read this if you're tired of making $100k a year and still never having either money or free time: "Escaping the Job Trap." Elpel's thesis is that if you're willing to spend a mere year or two living primitively while you keep that hot job, you'll be able to save yourself many years of debt and labor later.

And this one ... well, just about nobody wants to live this way in 21st-century America. But it's a great think piece on how we value our time (and even how we driven, work-ethical Americans hilariously blow our own experiments in simple living): "The Art of Nothing."

Twice in my life I've made big changes to simplify living -- in each case, cutting my income but moving toward a much more aesthetically, temperamentally, and spiritually pleasing life. But each time I've also brought along a load of my own self-defeating patterns -- especially work patterns and a few spending patterns. Eventually I feel that, although life is far better than it was back in the days when I was trapped in the outer offices of nasty, demanding clients at 1:00 a.m. still waiting for my 6:00 p.m. appointment or sweating frantically over a drafting board for 24 hours just to help some conglomerate sell soap, my life's still not quite what I've been reaching for.

And so I reach again.

Lately I've realized I'm approaching another of those points. There are things I want to do -- with my writing, with my mind -- that I'm not doing, out of the sheer necessity of maintaining life as it now is. I might be up for some changes. I found Tom Elpel inspirational.

If there's one message I hear from a lot of correspondents, it's a message of frustration: "I'm trapped here and I want to get out." The frustration might be political. It might be economic. (Or in these days when moderate prosperity is punished by immoderate taxation and regulation, probably both.) It might be more personal -- a crappy marriage or such. But the frustration boils. It steams. And it darned near always has some huge bit to do with money, jobs, and costly lifestyles. And our love-hate relationships with them.

A lot of people seem ready to make changes. Or at least ready to look around and see what changes are there to be made. Might be you'd find Tom Elpel inspirational, too. Even if you never hanker to shoo rattlesnakes out of your authentically native primitive bed of dirt and de-spined cactus pads.

Posted by Claire @ 08:42 AM CST

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