Before I start rambling I want to say/share three things up front.
One, I am glad there are ALL kinds of people in this world. I would not want everyone to be, think or see things as I do. I recently heard of a young man who walks across the country. That's what he "does". Sometimes he works odd jobs for cash and sometimes he is graced with the kindness of strangers who help when he is in need, And you know what? I think he is as important to our world as the doctor or the sanitation worker or the teacher because, like all of us, his story can inspire. It can ignite an imagination. It can offer hope for those who feel like they themselves are an outsider or a little lost.
Two, I do NOT believe I have the answers for most young or aspiring artists. But I DO believe the way Sofie and I got "here" can be as inspiring and offer a glimpse into another way to live life. Choices that can be made today. Especially in a world that seems hell-bent on sinking everyone into debt, identity crisis and existential despair before they are 25. It's still about choice. And, since we are here to say "Look, we are doing it!", then I think it's worth hammering that point home sometimes.
Three - My Zen teacher used to say that our ambitions and pursuits in life are akin to cupping your hands together and then having someone pour cups of sand into them, each cup representing a different undertaking or passion. One cup at a time, for each new pursuit, passion or focus you take on. At some point, the only way to take on another half cup of sand, a new pursuit or passion, is to let go of some of the sand you already hold or the newly added sand will fall off the sides. Or you can fill your hands by only adding a part of, say, 6 or 7 different cups instead of at the whole of 2 or 3 of them. In addition, some of the sand in your hands also will likely leak out as you try to open your hands wider to hold/make room for the new sand. . . now you don't have a full grasp on any of those passions. . . that simple visual, and recognizing it was perfectly indicative of my own way of trying to do or take on too much, always made me smile.
Anyway, on with it. . .
One of the things I love about writing little stories, and now a novel about a fantasy world, is that it requires me to get out of my own world. Literally to step, thru the senses and experiences of the characters, into a place foreign and unknown.
But in many cases the inspiration for what I create DOES come from this world we live in, though it may be, as in my case, from another time.
This week I was writing a scene where my character needs to travel quite a distance in one chapter to make some deliveries. I was halfway thru when I realized that I had no idea exactly how far some of the places she needed to go were spaced from each other. They were there on the map, of course, but the terrain, the roads etc had only been lines on that map til then. She had a full basket to carry or barrow to push. Though the light is longest this time year in the story, it seemed a long way to travel . . . at least by our modern ideals.
So I turned, as I always do, to a very detailed book of life in and around early Victorian London. And what I find when I do this sort of research is exactly how far we have come, and how far we have fallen back, in terms of what we are capable of and/or willing to do in our own daily lives.
Reading about Victorian London market vendors who did not live in the city proper, but who came in from the surrounding countryside, and how they would rise in the middle of the night and start out for the city by 2 or 3AM. They would walk up to 6 or 7 miles (10 or 11KM) pushing a barrow or carrying their goods with them to reach the market. Then they would turn around and walk back home after the market was done or when they had sold out of their goods, often purchasing what they themselves required to haul back with them.
This was NORMAL for so many people.
For folk who needed to do this daily, the idea of leisure time was so rare an occurrence. Other than Sunday after church, they had perhaps no more than a half hour each day before falling into bed exhausted. Then waking four or five hours later to go and do it all over again.
To find that place to write from, when we live now in a world where some people I've known won't get up and DRIVE five minutes to the store at a still reasonable hour because it's "too far" or they're "too tired" is rather hard to comprehend. Have I ever walked/hiked that far when it was not just for sheer leisure or hiking for personal enjoyment? No, I do not think I have. Not once, let alone day after day, carrying a heavy bundle or pushing a barrow, just to survive.
And I do not want to compare myself to those hard working people of the Victorian era but when I read these things I realize that, even today, this is why I seclude myself in the world of my choosing. Blocking out much of the outside world.
We live in a world that embraces bigger cars and trucks, more conveniences, more ease and comfort at the expense of, literally, our own well-being, more all-in-one stores, faster and further reaching ability to travel and more choices and options on everything and anything you can think of.
Now I am not saying I wish to live in Victorian London. Well, maybe in the world of Larkrise to Candleford. . . the books I've read certainly cover, in all the repulsive detail, the smoky darkness, the noise, the dirt, the smells and the discomforts just as well. But I DO feel that the idea of walking a few miles, of rising before the sun to accomplish or pursue goals, should NOT be a shock or a tribulation given our modern convenience filled world! It's certainly not a true hardship. And it should not come with the cry of others saying "oh, how horrible". Those Victorian market sellers are people who did what they had to in order to survive. To build a life. To feed themselves and their families. It was routine. It was just life.
In building the life I have now, I had to do a similar sort of "research". With the exception of a few Zen monastics I knew there were really so few examples in the city of people who chose to live with less. It seemed so out of the box to set out finding a place to live that was inexpensive, yet felt safe. A small, functioning town where we could get by without a car at all. Without highways and off ramps. Choosing to go with no iPhones or telephone data charges, no cable tv or satellite/dish. No eating out, which meant cooking all our meals at home from scratch. Using coupons all the time at the stores. Stocking up when something was really cheap. Now, the "research" in this case was close at hand. . . these were all things my mother and grandparents imparted to me, by their own life examples, as I was growing up. They lived thru and were part of the Great Depression and war-era generations that got by and sacrificed to survive. My own mother, a single mother working a service industry job, doing whatever she had to so we could be comfortable and safe. These were the very best examples I could have had, that much I know.
We never had much. . . but I never once felt, or look back now and see, a lacking of anything important in that life we lived.
Somehow over the years those sacrifices and willing choices became the signs of an "impoverished life". Again, I say, really? I know people who literally cannot cook a meal at home. Who can't navigate a grocery store without calling home on the i-Phone to ask where things are located. . . let alone those who would not be alright for one day without their cell phone on them at all times.
On my last two trips on a city bus before we moved I had two very different experiences that highlight the extremes. In one, on a bus filled with middle school age kids heading home from school. In the two dozen or so of them who likely take this crowded ride home every day, most were just being kids, laughing, yelling, sharing things from their Facebook and twitter feeds on their phones. In the midst of it all sat one girl, headphones plugged into an iPod, sketch pad out drawing away, oblivious to the din around her and, I like to think, daydreaming in a world of her own making. She didn't interact with the other kids at all though she clearly knew some of them. At every stop, as one or more of them rose to leave, they had a dozen kids that they had to say goodbye to as they made their way thru the crowd. When this girl reached her stop, three others got off there too. Yet she kept her headphones on and, with just a wave to another girl sitting nearby, she walked alone towards her home. I got a little misty eyed recognizing something inside her that was also in me at that age and I thought, "there's a girl who is always going to be just fine."
In the second experience, two high schoolers, boy and girl, sat on a far less crowded bus and the girl was sharing with him some of the trouble she was having at school. The boy, his face buried in the screen of his phone, was distracted, obviously. At one point she said something to him about it and he apologized, saying he had to keep an eye on his phone so that he would know where his stop was. She seemed dumbfounded, and said, "But you take the bus home every day!" and he replied, "I know, but I need my phone to tell me which stop is mine." I looked out the windows at the passing street signs, landmarks, restaurants etc etc and wondered how has it come to that? At 12 or 13 I used to navigate the streets of a fairly large city, take streetcars, make transfers and figure out how to traverse the maze-like streets and alleys if I had to get somewhere walking. I worry for kids like that because that young man has created a world too. One that it seems may not work to his best interests going forward. One that, in many ways, may limit his choices and shrink his world in not-so-advantageous ways.
For Sofie (who also grew up in a frugal minded family) and I, the choice was simple. Still is. We would not have been able to get to this point, making a full time living as makers-of-things, working from our home studio every single day, without having made those sacrifices at the start and without having had the experiences of our own childhoods when we had to rely on ourselves far more than most kids today ever will. We could not have done it without the examples of self sufficiency in our own families that showed us the way.
That's just a fact.
So, was it/is it worth it? No question. Do we feel like we sacrificed anything vital? No, not at all.
Today we are more self-sufficient that ever, I believe. We have zero debt, we have IRA's and a good little savings nest egg. None of which was a reality when we started this quest together and most of it is possible because of how we chose to live our life and how hard we work to maintain it. Yet we actually make LESS than we ever did working "career jobs" in the city when we couldn't seem to stay ahead.
By the way, we DO have a car now too. One that a little old lady drove once a week or so to the grocery store. Literally! We named her, in honor of Barbara, the woman who owned it for it's first 24 years, hence the name "Babs". So when we got Babs, that 24 yr old car had all of 16.000 miles on it. The woman's son, who was a friend of mine, just wanted the blue book value. . . which was $300. Babs runs like a dream and we continue to treat it as the previous owner did, driving it mostly for necessity too. We have had to put gas in it just twice since February. :) Our mechanic tell us if we take care of it as we are, she'll outlast most cars a quarter her age.
What did we give up then? Well, it's a short list. Being close to family. City conveniences. Looking outside of ourselves for entertainment. But even giving up those few things brought more "perks. . . less obligation, less opportunity for frivolous spending, less anxiety and, as far as "entertainment" goes, I personally have read more books in the last five years than in the previous 20. As a child, reading and discovering new books and new worlds was my salvation. . . so that has been like finding an old friend again.
I've had people tell me outright, "Oh, I could never live like that." and "You sacrifice so much!"
So much? To enable me to do the thing I've wanted to do all of my life instead of wishing and just shrugging my shoulders at the seemingly impossible thought because I won't entertain the idea of "world-building" a life that this can support? Those are the folks that I want to remind of what daily life was like for most people just 150 years ago. Heck just 40 years ago. Remind them of the days when, say, TV was free and you had to get up off the couch to change the channel . . . and likely get up again in 5 minutes to mess with the rabbit ear antennae to get the station to come in halfway clear.
Seriously, it was not that long ago that even those simple, everyday things were very, very different.
In writing stories about a world like the Bewildering Pine, it feels like such a comfort to dive in, once again, to creating another way of life. To explore world-building thru these tales of many different elven folk and the secrets their little world hides. It's not a moralistic tale at all or, at least, not in it's planning. The whole of the original plan really was to take two or three dozen of "those would be great characters in a book" people I have known or met in my life and set them at odds as elven folk within a world that is not quite what it seems. Each with their own part to play be it part of the larger quest or just figuring out how to live their own small lives and be true.
The book is also a nod to my own family roots. To that ancestry and their new beginnings. To the changes that passing time brought in their world and even to the lost language and customs of the "old country" they left behind.
Mostly though, it's just another way of continuing what I have been doing my whole life. Creating a secluded, safe world where I can disappear and let my own imagination be the only guide thru.
On the written page or in real life (and real life is what I am talking about here!) it's all really just a matter of world-building and, in world-building, one thing remains the constant. . .
ANYTHING is possible. You just have to create it!!
And as for that Zen lesson I mentioned, it took me awhile to get it. . . in response I used to raise my hands up in front of my teacher and say. . ."Good thing I have large hands!" :)