November 30, 2012 § 6 Comments
Our friend Ryan lives in a run-down travel trailer set deep in the woods at the end of an unplowed town road. It’s not far from here, although it’s impossible to get there without feeling like you’re far from pretty much everything. He’s modified the trailer a bit by installing a wood stove and cutting a hole in its roof in order to access the second floor he built atop the trailer with rough logs and salvaged lumber. He has no running water or electricity, although he does run a light, a radio, and occasionally a laptop off one of the two car batteries he swaps in and out of his old Toyota in order to keep them charged.
Ryan has little interest in money, nor in working for money. He is clearly not lazy; in fact, he is almost always laboring, usually on the trailer, or on the pole building he’s constructing, or on one of his dilapidated vehicles, or tending to his copious gardens, carved out of a stony patch of wooded soil. He maintains just enough employment to ensure just enough income to cover the basic essentials of his survival. He’s not picky about what he does: Construction, farm work, car repair. I once asked him how much money he considered to be an adequate safety net. “I like to have $300 saved up,” is what he told me.
At this point in my life, I could not live as ascetic a lifestyle as Ryan does. Actually, that’s not quite true: I’m sure I could. I just don’t want to. But I appreciate what he’s doing, not so much because I think there’s anything noble or enviable in the rustic particulars of his life, but because I think there’s something noble and enviable in the ethos of living the life that nourishes you, even when (especially when) that life is far outside the boundaries of contemporary American expectations of success. When viewed from a certain angle, Ryan is not successful and might even be a failure. But when viewed with an understanding that success is a word and an idea that need not be bound to material goods and monetary wealth, that it can be as much about happiness and simple contentment and autonomy over one’s days and life, well, then, I’d say Ryan’s about as successful as anyone I know.
And simply for that, for choosing to write and more importantly live his own definition of wealth, when there is little-to-no acknowledgement or support for this definition in modern America, I admire the hell out of him.