TRAVEL vs STUFF
August 7, 2008 by admin
I’d like to share something I wrote in my journal on July 12, 2002. I was living in Aspen and already thinking about an around the world trip, which didn’t actually happen for three more years:
Sometimes I conduct little imaginary conversations to any naysayers in my family who might think that I’m being irresponsible and not “saving for the future,” by spending my money as I get it on something as ephemeral as travel. Nobody would bat an eyelash if I spent the same amount on a mobile home or a car. You couldn’t get much of either on what the year of travel is going to cost. And those things require constant investment and upkeep. I have learned that its very easy to find a place to live when one needs that, and transportation is always available, in some form or another. I don’t need to own it, at all.
This is a secret that Americans don’t know. They think that their identity comes from things. That their security comes from things. And the accumulation of things is approved; but the refusal to accumulate (even money) is looked upon with alarm and disapproval. Maybe behind that alarm is the fear, or dread, that this family member without things, may someday land upon the one with things, and use up some of theirs. Whereas, with this taste that I’m developing, and finally feeding, for freedom and adventure, nobody’s things are ever going to look very attractive to me at all.
If it ever comes to that, I would much rather be feeble and incapacitated in some nun-run jungle hospital, letting my life take its appointed course, seeping out in a proper way, than be shoehorned into someone else’s charity. As a matter of fact, most of my contemporaries, who are in their sixties, have already spent tens of thousands of dollars on rebuilding their bodies. One friend must have used up a hundred grand of hers, or Medicare’s, money on hospital bills, just in the five years that I’ve known her. If they’re not fixing their body parts, they’re fixing their wrinkled faces with cosmetic surgery.
Oh, and now the news is full of stories about the worthlessness of two medical procedures that millions have sworn by: atherosclerotic surgery on the knee or shoulder, and hormone replacement therapy for menopause. Neither does much good at all, though both cost big bucks and have been sworn by for years. Then, there’s the vast amount of money that has simply disappeared from millions of American lives through their faith in the stock market. So many retirees, or wanna-be retirees, are broke right now because their pension funds have evaporated in these scandals and the bursting stock market bubble. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal featured a “poor couple” whose net worth has fallen from $750.000 to $550.000, so they are not spending even a penny and fear for their future.
It’s such a different mindset. Of course, they are two, and they have this huge need for expensive stuff – houses, cars, vacation homes and medicine! They can’t feed their lifestyle on only half a million dollars, and they can’t afford to prolong their lives with artificial body parts, once they start dying.
That’s what it’s all about. These American Expectations of The Good Life! So, meanwhile, they sit among the large accumulation of the possessions that they do have, feeling like paupers and afraid to spend anything. Afraid, afraid, afraid! That’s what everyone is these days because of the economic changes. They’re not the fat cats that they thought they were. And, meanwhile, there’s me, skimming along on the surface of it all, carrying no expensive baggage. I get to stay in fancy hotels, eating wonderful cuisine, and loving every affordable minute, because I’m not drowning in the strange psychology of this society. I’m also not spending a penny more than life would cost me if I stayed in one place and just existed.
I find it so hard to believe that it was only three weeks ago that I was first back from Europe and starting back on the job. It feels so long ago. That’s because of the sameness of the routine. Nothing here has essentially changed since I arrived five years ago. It’s a time warp sort of feeling, as if I’ve been doing this forever. Same motions, same surroundings. So, stepping back into it, I sink back into the same old jelly mold and the days become monotonously alike.
This is the way many humans live their lives. This is what normal feels like to them. One friend has been doing the same thing here for over thirty years, often with the same objects. So have her friends and neighbors. I step away for a year and a half and then come back and catch them in mid-motion of some familiar activity. This is life for 99% of the population.