Freedom. What is it?

I spent most of my life chasing after some idealistic notion of it but in all that time I confess that I never really caught more than a glimpse of it. It seemed popular culture always played ahead, using the shell game of substituting symbols for the real thing. Somewhere in the ‘60s cool and free became synonymous as the notion of freedom became inexorably bound with lifestyle. And the marketing arm of popular culture was somehow able to create a huge need for all the accouterments that went with that lifestyle. The lifestyle required owning the coolest stuff and doing the coolest things.  

All that required money which meant that a lot of free people had to temporarily set aside some principles and get jobs. And circular logic held that these same people needed to make a lot of money in order to become free again.

I wasn’t atypical although I subscribed more to poor hippie model than to the entrepreneurial hippie model which probably just meant that I got a later start acquiring the lifestyle. But eventually I went through a period of banal prosperity that lasted 30 years although my interest began waning rather unconsciously soon after my divorce. I managed to go through all the motions of career for another 10 years although my heart was clearly not in it.

I got free the first time in my adult life back in 1999 when I made my first break from the corporate world. I was 44 years old, I had a nice chunk of money in the bank and I thought why not? And I then asked myself, ‘Okay, you’ve quit the company where you’ve been employed the past 10 years, now what?’

The idea of keep doing what I was doing namely working to make more money didn’t seem to make a lot of sense especially in light of the fact that my father died young as did his father. And I had no intention of dying from a heart attack sitting behind some desk while I was preparing a PowerPoint presentation for yet another asshole meeting. And I had enough money and investments – or so I thought – to get me to wherever that next place was. And whatever that next place was, it was going to be more satisfying than the place I’d just left.

But I still had no idea where that was. I guess that I was counting on the fact that I had always been lucky and that I had always landed on my feet. I was convinced that if I made myself free then I would be available for that next best thing.

I paced around the house for a couple of weeks before taking another long trip to South America. I walked the Inca Trail. Then I went back a year later and walked it again. aussie&me
I had a really good time but it was eventually time to go home. So as usual I went back to California and paced around the house for a few weeks. I went for a run every day around Folsom Lake. I sat on my deck in the evenings and smoked excellent cigars and drank good rums.

Then later I’d fix dinner while some beautiful music played in the background. I’d read for a while and then go to bed. I was free to do whatever I wanted to do but my life wasn’t any different because I was still doing the same old stuff as when I was working; I just had a lot more free time.

And yes, I had friends. There were women I could see. And one or two of them wanted to marry me but my cynical self could only see them wanting to marry me for all the wrong reasons.

I sold my house in California and moved east where I built a pretty cool house in the mountains just south of Asheville. I thought maybe a severe change of venue coupled with building a house would be the answer. And frankly I always thought that designing and building a house was a top 20 life-list thing. But as it turned out, while it was a great house, the novelty eventually wore off and it became just another possession.

So there I was living in a different place and doing slightly different things but I found that my life really hadn’t changed; I still smoked good cigars, drank excellently, cooked most every evening and had plenty of friends and women in my life but nothing as I had said really changed.

After 5 years of spending lots of money, living good, traveling, and having a great time I took a job in Washington, DC working for an aerospace company that built satellites. After they sold that division I went to work for a big defense contractor who worked on government contracts. It didn’t take long for the work experiences to sour to the point where I could clearly remember why I bailed out of the workplace 8 years prior.

But at least I was getting closer to answering the question of ‘now what?’ because I was finally starting to learn point by point what it is was that I didn’t want to do and what freedom wasn’t.

If you’ve read much other of the stuff that I’ve posted to this blog then you pretty much know what I did next; my running and sandal making interests put me on the huarache trail which I followed until I found my way to Michoacán.

So the ‘now what?’ question has been answered for the time being. And I think I can even sort of articulate what freedom means to me.

But first I think the notion of freedom needs a context; meaning living free necessitates having some sort of purpose. Otherwise you are just another person who has a lot of time on their hands. So if you want to be free you’ve first got to discover a reason to be free.

The definitions of freedom I leave to the poets and the philosophers. The only thing I can add experientially is that freedom seems to go hand in hand with a whole lot of responsibility. I really can’t explain the entirety of what exactly that means except to say that living out here on the frontier as I am comes with obligations to community and family that I never recognized back when I was living in a culture of abundance.

Shortly after arriving in Sahuayo I asked Pancho why he thought I was here. I asked him because he knows, like I know, that people expat for the damnedest reasons and not many of those reasons are particularly honest or honorable.

He looked me in the eye and said, ‘You came here to find a better way to live.’ And you know, I did.