First update of 2016 and a few reflections – better late than never!!

It’s been a while. I see I last posted in late October – it was the first draft of a section of my PhD study. For some reason I never returned to post the section on the Zeitgeist Movement that concludes that chapter, which I finalised shortly after the previous post. Strange! I’ll post that section soon.

It dawns on me now that I simply wiped the blog off of my list of priorities, and I did so purely for practical reasons. It’s nice to be able to do that and not feel like I’m neglecting a duty of sorts; says a heap about the changes I’ve undergone, because several years ago I was fairly obsessive-compulsive about such things. Anyway, you’ll see from below that the previous months have been really busy, but all in a positive way, and looking back I wouldn’t change anything about them.

‘I wouldn’t change anything about the past months’ – It feels great to be able to say this at this stage of the journey, a journey that started definitively with the quitting of a life-consuming job that felt compulsory, and thereafter starting a lifestyle project that I actively chose. The going was extremely tough for the first year – almost to the point of things falling apart because of the height of what seemed like endless hurdles in front of me. I say ‘me’, aware of the fact that there are two of us tackling what has become this phase of our lives – but Emma seems to have by default been way more capable of dealing with the odd-balls that life throws at us, while I needed some serious practice in this regard.

The second year was also very tough, but I saw that it was less tough than the first; and the third year less tough than the second – a basic system of amenities had been constructed during the first year, so in the second year certain stresses were factored out of the equation: not having a roof overhead, not having a kitchen, no hot water, no toilet, no food-storage, etc. During the third year, what was laid down in the first and second years was built upon and tweaked and expanded a little. The systems that have been established are very rustic, but they are in place, and with a little (okay, a lot) more sweat than average, all of life’s practical needs are met. Things balance out though, because a rustic system is cheap to maintain and run, and less money is needed compared to orthodox lifestyles, so like us, one can work part-time and have more time available to provide the sweat that powers the rustic systems. It must be said though that the idea is eventually to have to sweat less after self-sustaining systems have been established; we’re working on it!

During the third and now forth years (we’ve been doing this for just over three and a half years) things really started to show signs of synergy. Perennial garden plants took root and the trees that were planted in years one and two got noticeably bigger, with micro-climates gradually strengthening. Annual edibles still take a lot of hard work, and luckily for me Emma sees to this side of things while I tackle structure building and maintenance, while we both tackle a variety of other ongoing chores necessary to keep the homestead going. With the perennials in the beds, something is always growing, so the place looks better and better and one can actually stop for a brief moment and appreciate the beauty of the gardens that are slowly being established .

What happened since my previous post is quite illustrative of the flexibility afforded by this lifestyle that has developed. A semester’s worth of part-time university teaching ended in October, leaving final admin and exam-marking to be tackled in November, during which time I also focused on planning my next chapter of my PhD study. I also started planning for a new ‘cabin’ 3.6m by 3.6m in size that will feature at ‘the Gorge plot’ – but more about that plot in another post. The planning phase for the ‘cabin’ took a lot more time and focus than I thought it would; I also spent a lot of energy and time acquiring the materials needed to build the cabin. Before I knew it, November was over.

December then appeared and I am again glad to be able to say that I could actively choose how that month would unfold. From previous years’ experience I had realised that Port Elizabeth is descended upon by all the once-locals who now live either elsewhere in the country or abroad. Realising the unquantifiable value of spending quality summer time with good friends, I chose to have the flexibility of schedule to be able to socialise with them, while simultaneously having the cabin-building project to work on for the rest of the month.

So every day during December – a brainfryingly hot month – I prepared materials for the cabin, which involved mostly pre-painting the wooden beams and panels and making the base frame. Quite a task, I must say, in 30 plus degrees C – one learns how to make depleted energy-levels go as far as they can; can be quite meditative, eventually. Then a friend or friends would pop-in and, having been productively focused on a specific task, I would easily find the headspace so that I wouldn’t be left thinking I needed to be doing something else while they visited.

The cabin was assembled with a little help from friends who I roped-in for the task on boxing day – appropriate, seeing as we constructed a big box! It took another two weeks after boxing day to get the cabin to a point where it could be slept in, which was necessary because Emma’s mother arrived early in January and the cabin was really the only way to accommodate her comfortably.

So that’s the story until early-mid January, at which point I had to dedicate most of my time to my PhD and to planning for the academic year. I started lecturing at the start of last week again, so the schedule has been tight. Emma has likewise started her term of teaching at Rhodes university, which requires her to be away from home for much of the week – we have become used to this necessity.

I pick up hints that some people hear about us working part-time and having few expenses due to the lifestyle that we’ve created and they think that life is easy for us – that we’re ‘living it up’, whatever that means. But there is no time to ‘put the feet up’, so to speak. Yes, we fit in our exercise and the odd social occasion, and we get to the beach when we can – which was quite often during November, December, but I think this is a justified activity considering the freely-chosen relative austerity of various other aspects of our lives. We have almost no ‘buttons to push’ and instantly gratify us around here: life is work.

But I am very, very happy that life has mainly become work, and that paid work has become a part-time aspect of life. I don’t feel like a slave to a job, even though I am almost always focused on doing something that might look like work. When I do work in the sense of working in the context of a paying job, I feel like I’m choosing to be lecturing or preparing lecture materials – okay, with maybe the exception of marking essays! And then at home, when I’m carrying buckets of water around (due to a lack of a conventional sewer system), starting a rocket-stove fire for cooking, washing dishes or clothes by hand, dealing with the compost toilet, etc., I do so knowing that I’ve chosen to do these chores manually and thereby free myself from the orthodox methods of dealing with such chores – methods that require money to install and use, which in the long run means the need for a full-time job.

Looking back at my full-time job in the UK, I see now that what really got to me was, first, not being able to do anything non-work related without work demands robbing me of focus on, attention to, and appreciation for pretty-much all other aspects of life. Second, what also got to me was being forced to rely on the switches and levers of orthodox mainstream living that give us water and electricity and that make our wastes disappear, while I increasingly knew that these systems are very unsustainable. But the full-time job left no time to do things differently. So the job had to go, even if it was at the risk of certainty of income and the safety of the familiar routine, even if it meant a couple years’ worth of finding my feet in a new situation.

But I did find my feet, and I think I’ve learned how to walk the new walk quite well. To continue the metaphor, I’ve also learned to look around a lot and enjoy the journey while walking the walk; several years ago I was quite a destination kinda guy, and I tended to rush the journey. I now see that for me there is no destination, that what may appear to be a destination is just a temporary stop along the way. Might as well enjoy the ride – even if literally this translates into learning to enjoy doing lots of physical chores.

I would have stopped this update – these reflections – at the end of the previous paragraph, but as I was proof reading this, my cat made a raucous and I heard a hissy/puffy sound – yip, I guessed it, puff adder. I got there in time to kick the cat away, but the snake snuck under ‘the shack’, but with patience I managed to locate it, get it into a bucket with my DIY snake sticks, and then decapitate the poor thing. Initially I released them into the wild, but there is a real problem with an over-population of these deadly creatures and I have had to accept that there is no other way. In hindsight, releasing them into the wild meant making them someone else’s problem. I mention all this because the deadly-snake encounters are one aspect of the lifestyle that I am not happy about; I would not have chosen these encounters as part of the journey I have taken. Isn’t it funny – moments after I have written partly about choosing a lifestyle, an aspect of the lifestyle that I did not choose and would not choose slithers out onto my path! Very grateful for the cat – early snake-warning system.

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