Monday, September 21, 2009

the hermit temptation

I get like this periodically.

I look at what's going on in the world, what's going on in politics, what I perceive as a growing division and incivility of life* and I want to withdraw.

(*And yes, I realize that in politics at least, it's probably just my perception; it's probably no uglier than it ever was, it's just we hear it more now)

I think about all of the back-to-the-lander books I've read through the years, ranging from the (fanciful) "My Side of the Mountain" that I read multiple times as a kid (Seriously, I wanted to be Sam. Or at least be his girlfriend.). And all of the how-to books. Stuff like "We Took to the Woods."

And I admit, I think about it. I think about just withdrawing as much as possible from society - going off the grid, participating as little as possible in the consumer world, making myself as invisible as possible.

(The invisibility is the biggest draw. I don't like the thought that some people think of me, apparently, as a racist because I disagree on principle with some of the things Obama want. I don't like the thought that I'm being seen by some as potentially "dangerous" because I'm not willing to roll over and let Congress do what it wants. It's the old, "I'm gonna take my marbles and go home, then" feeling).

What I fantasize about - and I realize this is in no way realistic, for many reasons - is buying a very large plot of land outside of town. Choosing one still in "semi natural" state, with trees and grassland and maybe a stream running through it. (But NOT on a flood plain, that's for sure). And then choosing a good spot and building a small house on it. And working it so I can have a well and a septic system - so I don't have to be tied in to city water or sewer. And getting solar panels and maybe a small wind turbine so I wouldn't need to buy electricity. And, if it works the way I think it does, having geothermal installed to heat and cool the place. (because where I live, cooling would be a necessity).

I'd still want, I think, Internet access. I could probably do without television if I had to. I'd miss it for a while, I'm sure, but I'd adapt. But I don't think I could do without the Internet - if, for nothing else, for weather forecasts.

And I'd probably need to have at least a cell phone - maybe I could have that and only turn it on certain hours, and my family and friends be the only ones who know the schedule on which I turn on my phone.

(Years and years ago, I wrote a story about a schoolteacher who got entirely fed up with the stupid bureaucracy at his school, and the petty politicking, and who ran away to an old hunting cabin his dad used to own - and how he spent a summer winterizing it, chopping wood, etc. One of the features was that he had a phone - he had taken up writing as a way to earn his living - but he only turned the phone on for two hours a day and his agent and a few relatives knew about that, the rest of the time the phone was off. So that's where that idea came from)

So I'd probably have to pay somewhere on the order of $100 a month for that, but those would be the only "on grid" things I'd have.

As for food - well, in my fantasy, I'd grow a lot of it - some of that "grassland" on my property, I'd plow under (yeah, I guess I'd need either a rototiller or a mule and a moldboard) and plant beans and squash and other things that kept well.

And I'd buy dry beans and flour and cornmeal and stuff like that. Live a bit like the Ingalls family, I guess. It would get monotonous, the diet, but then again, monotony is the feature of most "successful" diet plans that women in "society" hew to. So maybe I'd also lose weight out of sheer boredom. (Well, hell, I probably would anyway with all the physical work).

I'd keep all my books, of course - they now would be my nearly-sole source of entertainment. And I guess I'd keep a radio, though most of the stations around here suck eggs. And my CD player - I own a LOT of CDs, a truck load, and I don't listen to them as often as I should. (But I fantasize in my cabin that I would).

I can imagine the, sitting, by a small lamp (maybe with an LED bulb; they cost a mint but draw very little power - important if you're on solar - and last a long time), next to a little wood stove (if it's winter) reading a book and listening to a CD and feeling quiet and content. And not knowing what's going on politically. And not caring.

In the extreme case, I could imagine buying a safe, taking my money out of the banks (well, I'd have to keep a small account open so I could cash my paychecks), keeping it there, getting some in the form of gold, you know, just in case. Getting a rifle and learning how to shoot it - with the stated reason that I might want to go deer hunting some day, but the real reason that there might be varmints of another kind I would have to scare off if things got really bad.

Yeah, I know. Dangerous fantasies and there are probably some in Congress who would argue I should be locked up for thinking like that.

But there are times that I think things are gonna get really bad, really fast, and the best way to survive is to, well, know how to survive - know how to grow your own food, or, failing that, subsist on food you can store for long periods of time. Knowing basic first aid. Being able to make do with less. Being able to mend stuff - in my fantasy I'd have far fewer clothes than I do (because my work would be different; I wouldn't have to dress up to teach). Having some cash ready to hand, you know, just in case.

I'd also work differently. I've done some "free lancing" of a sort lately - mainly proof-reading/fact-checking textbooks for companies. It's very sporadic work; I guess several of the "big" texts are preparing new editions because I've had a bunch of requests to do this in the past few months. (It pays anywhere from $75 to $200 a pop, depending on how high-level the material is, and how detailed the information they want). But if I could parlay that into semi-full-time - or so I think with my fantasy brain - if I could get one or two of those a week - well, I could make enough to serve my fairly meager needs (the Internet connection would be all the more a necessity then). Or I could maybe write some articles as a freelancer. But most of my days would be spent tending my garden. Or chopping wood. Or planting trees. Or doing something to maintain/enhance my property and my home.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons I couldn't do this in real life. The biggest one is that I do need to be around people. I get weird and obsessive when I am by myself too much, even I recognize that. And I suspect that the cost of building a house, drilling a well, putting in geothermal, buying solar panels, and all that would cost a lot more than what I have, even if I sold the house I own now and lots of the stuff in it. And it's probably not really a good thing for me to "hide my light under a bushel" - I am a decent if not great teacher, I do a lot of other stuff, and it does seem petty to pull out from all of those responsibilities because I am fed up with the talking heads on television.

But I admit, it's a nice fantasy - sort of a pressure valve when I start to get down because one of my colleagues is loudly spouting ill-formed political views, or when people in one of my women's groups start sniping at one another...the thought of just running away, of putting up lots of "NO TRESPASSING THIS MEANS YOU" signs on land I owned, of locking and bolting the door on the outside world, and only letting the thoughts and concepts in that I want to let in, is appealing.

It also doesn't help that I keep getting catalogs from back-to-the-land-y places (not sure how I got on their mailing list, but whatever) that advertise things like solar panels and composting toilets (though I wouldn't quite go there, I think) and hand-crank operated radios and such.


The Morning Sun said...

It is an appealing thought. I do that too. My "survival fantasies" (for lack of a better term) are slightly different (I couldn't give up television), but somehow it makes me feel better to kind of go over a "worst-case" scenario in my head. I talk myself through it, then I don't feel so freaked out. And sometimes, the "worst-case" scenario, is even more appealing than the status quo.

(P.S. I don't know how to get in touch with you, so F.Y.I., I was formerly known as Maggie May).

Mr. Bingley said...

I dream about that too.

But then I remember that i would really really miss Twinkies.