With all the talk recently of the VA not paying my medical bills, with the possibility of bankruptcy and financial insolvency looming high over my head, it brings my mind back to a thought experiment I started several years ago but never finished. It is the question of, what would my life look like if I sold (or was forced to liquidate) all of my possessions and became homeless?
I will take some time over the next few months to answer this question, and maybe sketch out a glimpse of life without a house to protect me from the elements, or a car for transportation, or heat for warmth in the cold and rainy months of winter.
Follow along as I explore this idea in the series, Voluntary Homelessness.
Homelessness is probably the wrong term to use in this instance, as I’m not referring to the plight of many who find themselves destitute, without a place to live and no resources to break free of the cycle.
I’m also not referring to the mentally unstable, or those who simply choose to live in squalor, who drink to excess or are avid drug users.
This experiment also does not resemble a lifestyle so often associated with homelessness, whether right or wrong, of trash scattered camps near freeways or in thickets of woods near a housing project or in downtown alley ways.
I would suppose a better term would be HOUSELESS or maybe NOMADIC as I picture being on the move every frew days, utilizing a leave-no-trace approach.
Legality, you ask?
Yes, it would technically be an illegal lifestyle. But, with a little effort, it wouldn’t have to be.
In my individual case, I would utilize a 60 square mile wooded area owned by private timber companies and/or the State (but, not necessarily public). It would include 4 or more recreational lakes, 1 off limits water reserve, an 18 mile stretch of a river, and a patchwork of logging roads.
In addition, there would be access to 2 towns with facilities ranging from camp showers, grocery stores, public libraries, hardware stores, etc. Possibly a 3rd grocery store if I utilized the Native American round approach, moving inland from the coast during the summers for berry picking.
There would also be, of course, the extensive beachfront, with its camping facilities, trail systems, tree islands, and day use areas.
Much of this experiment will be conducted hypothetically, established in a series of posts as “what ifs” or “how tos.” In the end, I hope to present a “how I would do it if” final document, with established research, and embedded sub-experiments to prove assertions as needed.
Though I do not intend to execute this lifestyle in the foreseeable future, it is a fascinating idea that I’ve played with in the back of my mind for many years now. Many elements can be adapted to my current and future proposed lifestyle design plans.
And, as my own life has clearly illustrated lately, you never really know when life will give you a sharp back hand and send your best intentions chattering across the tile floor like little white teeth.
Maybe I will one day enjoy the complex simplicity of voluntarily “house-less-ness.” Or, maybe this series of articles will remain forever an experiment only in my head.
Only time will tell.
What Does it Mean to be Houseless?
Homelessness carries with it a myriad of definitions, and a host of stigmas that are not easily parsed and even more difficult to navigate in first person.
Walking into the local shelter and presenting yourself as down on your luck, is much like surrendering to whatever is available – bad or good – and acknowledging to yourself and the world that something is wrong here.
But, there are also others who live what can be described as “alternative” lifestyles. When aspirations do not align with convention, and the person is thrust out into a strange and foreign world, where people don’t act like they’re supposed to, and people don’t live like social norm dictates.
This is a place where life is truly experienced moment to moment, not passed by in a drug or food or chemical induced haze, without thought to person or metaphysical or physical well-being.
This is a world of fantasticality, of helpless romanticism, of believing while not yet seeing. Imagining into reality what is impossible for the modern human. And, yet, it still is and comes to be.
This is where a person without possession, without home or roof or shelter or warmth or safety, yet still dances at the light of the moon overhead. Still is able to laugh into the darkness, cry for joy at the depravity of make-believe, wonder at the impenetrable depths of the soul of one individual.
Homeless does not instinctively mean loss or deprivation. It is not the necessary script to equal squalor or ruin. In fact, it could altogether entirely mean something transformative, inspiring, and secret, hidden, a treasure preserved for the few initiated.
The Where and the When
In the days and ages of past, voluntary homelessness would often incite in the mind visions of secret monasteries hidden deep in mountain gorges, where unnamed and silent pilgrims marked their remaining time on earth as the world moved around them, unscathed, unfounded, and undisturbed.
Today, those kinds of perplexingly mysterious, mystical, and all but mythical sage types are reserved for the inaccessible regions of Nepal or India, where the West has utterly and confoundedly reduced it’s popes and prophets to shiny business men in three-piece suits.
But, at one time in the past, far and away removed from electronic devices and internet and AI enabled machines, there was once a vocation for those who sought the outer edges of the void, where the life of the common was exchanged, or singed by its own futility, and in it’s pace, a metamorphism arose from it’s ashes, feasting on the bowels, on the entrails, walking and looking anew in the vast spaces of desert and desolate.
There is now no room for such descriptions, such declarations. Now it is constant connection, continually communication, forever with mouths overflowing with words, yet never really saying anything of substance.
Yet, even amidst this lost and fallen and forgotten age, there are some who still venture out into the darkness of what is altogether abandoned, what is now foreign and alien to modernity.
There are those who live on the edges, not out of necessity (which anyone can find and do), but out of avocation, out of aspiration, seeking out that which has been lost, learning from the mother of experience, first hand, not from second or third opinion.
We must surrender that which is common that we might enter that sweet and idealic breech, to emerge on the other side alive and living and well versed with what we’ve seen and heard.
The Weather and the Wind
There is a cold that is not describable. It is not measured only in degree (which, of course, it can be), but in endurability. For, cold in and of itself is neither positive or negative, good or bad, righteous or evil. It simply is.
Match, though, the cold with an individual that must endure it, and you then almost immediately have applied to it a kind of perspective, a reaction, a determination as to its motive.
“This cold is trying to kill me.”
In reality, the cold and the weather has no thoughts of you or I, one way or the other. You can press on, venture through, battle against the rages it puts forth, and survive, or you can lie down and succumb to the elements.
It thinks of you none-at-all.
But, it is the cold, the wind, the rain, the snow – these are the elements that keep more from venturing out into the unknowns, into the wide open spaces where civilization cannot yet make claim. More would, certainly, to the point that the land would be jammed and crammed full of liveabouts, who hang their hats on the nearest branch rather than the usual coat rack just inside the front door.
To be warm, to be comfortable, to be sated with food and brevity, and to know your place in this space of a world, on earth, the pile of dirt we call home – this is of the utmost importance to the species they call homo sapiens.
If we have this warmth and are dry and can continue in it for at least the foreseeable, then we can turn our attention to other, more loftier ambitions. To questions of self. To ponderings of place and time and substance.
But without shelter and shield from the weather that storms and rages out of doors, there is no thing that can remain in the mind of man for any length of time.
This is the downfall of homelessness, and why we have clawed and scraped and dragged ourselves, through the millennia, into the indoors. And, why, there, we have remained.
Homelessness, in and of itself, much like the cold, has no bearing on the worth or character of the possessor. There are as many diversities in and among the dispossessed as there are in any other walk of life.
There are those that make a point of letting you know they are there. There are those who seek to hide their face out of shame or stereotype or self-consciousness. There are others that we never collectively see, for they are hidden from the world itself, sacrificed at the altar to the god of contemporaneity. They linger, rather, in the void, between this world and the one that lies beyond, in that other place, through experiential eyes, through mystical manifest, they walk a tightrope through a maze of their own making.
It is this homelessness from which I inquire. A journey of soul, of spirit, of the dividing of the two. To lay bare that which would otherwise atrophy in the muck and mire of modernity.
Homeless does fail to aptly describe, does it not?
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