Saturday, November 29, 2008

Earth Overshoot vs. Black Friday

There is a day called Earth Overshoot Day. It is the day that humanity will have used all the resources nature will generate this year, according to Global Footprint Network data. This year that day was September 23.

There is another day called Black Friday. It is the day in which retailers are in the black (i.e., turning a profit).

There is something terribly wrong when companies cannot turn a profit until a full month after the Earth's natural resources have been used up.

I am 43 years old. I have at least another 40 or 50 years left in me. I cannot see putting my faith in a system that cannot turn a profit a month after the planet's resources have been exhausted. I cannot see continuing to invest my money in this system. It cannot last another 40 years. It simply will not be there for me when I am old. The system that we currently participate in, the one we've been asked to pump $700 billion or more of our hard-earned tax dollars into, the one that asks us to shop shop shop while our young men and women die in the Middle East cannot last.

I want a real change. I hope that pulling out of the consumer trap will help.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Escape from the orderly lines

I read this in Peace Pilgrim's Book:
After a wonderful sojourn in the wilderness, I remember walking along the streets of a city which had been my home for awhile. It was 1 p.m. Hundreds of neatly dressed human beings with pale or painted faces hurried in rather orderly lines to and from their places of employment. I, in my faded shirt and well-worn slacks, walked among them. The rubber soles of my soft canvas shoes moved noiselessly along beside the clatter of trim, tight shoes with stiltlike heels. In the poorer section I was tolerated. In the wealthier section some glances seemed a bit startled and some were disdainful. On both sides of us as we walked were displayed the things we can buy if we are willing to stay in the orderly lines day after day, year after year. Some of the things are more or less useful, many are utter trash. Some have a claim to beauty, many are garishly ugly.

Thousands of things are displayed--and yet, my friends, the most valuable are missing. Freedom is not displayed, nor health, nor happiness, nor peace of mind. To obtain these things, my friends, you too may need to escape from the orderly lines and risk being looked upon disdainfully.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Right Livelihood

I found a web site with interesting articles about right livelihood called Yes Magazine. I think I have seen this magazine in organic health food stores. Anyway, I'm enjoying reading it as I approach the holidays with very little income, too much stuff and permission not to have to go Christmas shopping anymore. It's about simple living and other similar things.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Buy Nothing Day is coming up!

This Friday is Buy Nothing Day. As a cure to the wasteful consumerism encouraged on "Black Friday" (it truly is a black day for the Earth when we hardy consumers consume even more), we are invited to participate in Buy Nothing Day.

Almost every day is Buy Nothing Day for me, so I'll probably participate by default (amazing how good a cafe sandwich tastes when you never go out to eat anymore). I'm not buying Christmas gifts this year, either. I've managed to taper off over the last few years by contributing to Heifer International instead. Buying poor people goats and chickens is much better than buying rich people more gizmos and doodads that start out as oil and chemicals and end up as ewaste polluting China or plastic particles bobbing in the Pacific Garbage Patch.

Do the planet a favor and focus on love and family this year instead of unsustainable consumer capitalism.

(That's the preachy-est post I've ever made. Sorry about that.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bicycles keep coming my way

I found two more bicycles the other day. Both are Raleigh 3-speeds. I seem to attract classic bikes from the 70s.

I saw them leaning against some poles near my house. I decided if I came by later and they were still there that I would take them. I came by later and there they were. A men's and a women's Raleigh 3-speed.

Neither work completely. One has fenders falling off. The other has tires so cracked and worn they can't even be temporarily ridden on. I don't know if they shift or work properly otherwise. They look like they do. So I'll get some new tires and take 'em down to Bicicentro and see if I can get them working again.

I'll have to open up Piper's Classic Bicycles soon to sell all the classic bikes I keep finding. I still have the Schwinn 3-speed I found a few months ago. It still doesn't work properly. I'm no bike mechanic, but the bikes come to me anyway.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Change Everything

TrailHacker wrote a review of my book, Piper's Flight, on my personal web site. He said that it made him question his way of life. I'm finding that I'm not the only person to be thinking the things I thought about our modern way of life while hiking the PCT.

If you question our modern way of life, too, you might find this article titled Change Everything to be interesting. It is an interview with Gus Speth, a university scholar at Yale.

I'm glad to see that my conclusions about modern life that I had while living on the trail are being simultaneously, and much more concretely, addressed by smart people. People more on the fringe are thinking the same things, too, which means I think we're on the verge. Heck, I even picked up a zine at Bicicentro that said the same thing. We're on the cusp, baby. Time to march on Washington.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I am not a retail worker. I am just me.

Working in retail is humbling.

I have worked in retail before. This is not the first time. But it is humbling to do it again after having risen into the ranks of the middle class.

When you work in retail it is as if your former life never happened. People look right through you as though you do not exist. People feel a need to treat you a certain way, as a person below their station in life. It is a strange feeling because in any other context they might be looking at me as an equal or a superior.

I do not mind the hard work of retail. Keeping busy makes the time go by. And I do not mind helping the customers. I don't even mind being treated as a second-class citizen, either, because I know that I am not one.

When I go home, I'm a Web developer again with all the awe and wonder that entails. People believe you are a genius and a wizard just because you can tell a computer what to do. I'm also a hiker and a musician. These things, too, bring me a measure of status in others' eyes.

But really I am just me no matter what I am doing. I'm always me, whether I stand behind a counter and ring up sales or whether I push pixels around the screen or whether I walk a marathon every day for 3 months.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I'm lonely

I am lonely. I miss the culture of the trail. I also miss the culture of the workplace.

At one of my previous jobs I worked with a guy who was polar opposite from me on the political spectrum. But we got along really well. We talked shop all the time. He would teach me Java and I would teach him CSS. He'd call me over to the whiteboard to hash out some complicated program or schema he was working on. We had a great time inventing things and building them together. I miss that a lot.

I enjoy working for myself and my smattering of part-time jobs. But all these things are very solitary. I wear headphones working with the whale calls. I work alone most of the time at the pet store. The freelancing is mostly alone, and since I barely do much of it anyway, the rest of my time is spent alone trying to find work, writing, reading, practicing music and sometimes even hiking. I really wish that I had workplace friends. Without them I fear I'm lacking the keys to success.

I wonder if there is something I could join to give me workplace friends again. That would be great. We could go to the whiteboard and hash out plans. I could help them with CSS, HTML and JavaScript and they could help me with SQL queries and programming. We could learn and grow. Doing it all alone is difficult. Searching online for answers is not the same. I don't always know the questions. Having another person means learning to ask better questions.

I don't mind walking alone or working alone. Solitude is in my nature. But sharing camaraderie with others is where growth can happen and without it, I feel adrift and lonely.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Being a producer in a consumer culture

I found this interesting article online today. Ten More Quick Ways to Make Money. The article excites me not because it's a get rich quick scheme but because it speaks well to the complaints I have about our culture. Complaints I can never quite articulate well. We are all consumers, not producers. Our consumption not only ruins the planet but it is unfulfilling. I think this article does a good job of shining light on the unfulfilling part of it. Our culture wants to make us dependent and weak. If my hike showed me anything it's that I feel a craving to be strong and independent.

I love Web development, but sometimes it is too abstract. What real value does it provide to society? Not much, really. I enjoy it because it is creative and involves my mind. It pays well, too, at least sometimes. But it is not tangible.

Doing Web development day after day, month after month, 8 hours a day I end up feeling like my life is passing me by without meaning. It's one reason I left my job and hit the trail. When I returned to the trail it was months before I could bring myself to do Web development again. After living in a tangible world, doing something so abstract was difficult. I turned to organic gardening and working in retail. I wanted to dig and sweep and move rocks and dust shelves. It seemed more real.

At the bird store where I work, I recently sold a tree stand. It is a stand for birds made of a manzanita branch stuck on a rolling base so that it forms a little tree for the bird to sit on. The stand cost $250. The builder probably made $100 or so. My boss says the builder is a flake. I was thinking that maybe I could make a tree stand. I need to learn how to use tools to build the base or else find something to use for the base. I have tried to build a tree stand in the past. Using a pot full of plaster of paris works but it does not roll on wheels and the pot gets full of food and poo that the bird drops. A saucer for a plant works as long as it is strong and not too heavy. These can be hard to find and expensive. The tree stands the pet store sells looks like the base is made of kitchen counter top material. I would have to learn to use power tools to cut kitchen counter top material. I am afraid of power tools.

Another thing I've been thinking of making are bird toys. I could find things at Art From Scrap and use papier mache and other items to make fun bird toys. I can test them on my finicky birds. Too many bird toys are made of plastic or just big chunks of wood. Birds need to forage for their food. This activity is called enrichment. The bird store sells papier mache toys that you can hide food inside. I could make those, too. I could make other toys, too, that are more than just chunks of wood and plastic. Art From Scrap ought to have some good ideas for me.

The idea isn't to make a million bucks on bird accessories but to use wasted time spent in front of the TV or the Internet to make a little extra money. I could spend that otherwise wasted time making something tangible. Then I would feel like I'm not just living in my head being abstract all day, depending on corporate nannydom for my livelihood. It would be one more thing to add to my list that makes money, earns me a little more independence from Corporate America and brings me one step closer to the freedom I seek. The freedom to fly the trail again.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Our way of life is unsustainable and sad

I met a friend for lunch in Ventura today. I arrived early and sat on a bench outside the restaurant. While waiting, I observed the people arriving for lunch. What I noticed made me convinced that our way of life is unsustainable and sad.

Almost everyone who arrived to the restaurant was obese or morbidly obese. Many of them could barely walk. Some had swollen ankles like elephant legs. Some used canes. Most struggled to cross the parking lot, limping, hobbling or obviously in some kind of pain. When I walked the PCT we hikers would also hobble and limp across parking lots, but we had a look of health and aliveness. We were thin and strong. These people were sick.

I was observing what a lifetime of sedentary behavior and overconsumption can do to a person. It destroys health and limits the quality of life. Our overconsumption robs us of life while it is killing the planet. It is unsustainable and sad.

I met my friend and we talked about work. She works for a friendly company as a technical writer. She showed me the interesting things she does with XML to build different kinds of technical documentation. She used to run her own business and still does some freelance work on the side. At her company she is kind of like a free-agent inside the company. I, too, am a free-agent, working a couple of part-time jobs while I do freelance work on the side. I believe that in the future most of us with any specialized skills will be free-agents. Companies will be full of contractors or made up of small, entrepreneurial mini-companies. It is the only way I can see for people to stay current in technology and excited and alive about work and life.

Being a free-agent seems more sustainable to me than chaining people to cubicles with threats of loss of job, loss of promotions or other mind-games. Sure the money is nice, but it's in exchange for too much living. It seems unsustainable and sad to make people sit all day in an artificial environment. Cube farms breed people who limp swollen across parking lots to overeat deep fried fish or fill up their SUVs with unnecessary crap at big box stores. Or it breeds people who live their lives in fear, waking up every day convinced they will be fired. People who are awake and alive like me, like other PCT hikers, cannot abide a life like this. We need less. Less so that we can live more.

Less is the secret to living. Once enough people learn this secret, our way of life will become sustainable and fulfilling again.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I got a computer!

I popped open Craigslist last night and found a nice laptop with Windows on it and bought it. How easy! Now I can browser test on my own Windows computer. I also plan to run some web servers and of course, Cygwin, because I'll always have a touch of linux geekiness lurking beneath my ordinary demeanor.

I got the computer so I can do some work for a client. That's right, I finally have real web dev work to do for a client. I am doing a site redesign plus installing a content management system for the site. I'll be using Wordpress, which is my favorite blog software. It is so customizable and can be used for a web site that isn't necessarily a blog. My plan is to create custom templates and use the page creation capability to manage pages and includes and the blog management to manage a library of articles. There won't be blog-like stuff like comments or blog archives or anything bloggy like that. My client will be able to edit (most of) her own web pages without being nickeled and dimed by some lame pimple-faced web designer.

It feels good to be doing web development again. I really do enjoy it. I just was not doing it at a fun place before I left on my big walk across California. It is nice to use my creativity and I feel proud that I can scare up work for myself without having to depend on someone else. I am glad I was patient and did not let fear lead me back to the cube.

I get to go back to the learning process again and do real web development. Programming, creativity, whatever I want. Recently I even wrote a little Greasemonkey script to add a link to my Blogger dashboard in the navigation bar at the top of the page. It bugs me that there is a customize link but not a dashboard link. Now I have one.

On another note, so far people seem to enjoy my book. I brought it to my writing class last night and people were impressed with how nice it looks. I am not happy with the margins on the book, but otherwise, it is a wonder to behold a book with my writing inside it. Here is a link to my book.

Monday, November 03, 2008

My book has been printed

Proof copies of my book arrived today. The physical book looks nice. Better than expected, although the margins aren't quite right.

It's funny how bad my writing is in print vs online. That is why I self published. No real publisher would accept such poor writing.

I am going to change the image on the back cover and then I think I'll go ahead and approve it for general distribution. I am not going to worry about the inside margins.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The PCT never leaves you and never leaves you alone

In South Lake Tahoe I met a man with the trail name Palomino who told me that the PCT never leaves you and never leaves you alone. He's absolutely right, so far. It has been 3 months since I returned. It has been longer since I returned than I was out there.

The trail never leaves me. I think often of some of the places I walked. Days that come back to me most often include the day I hiked 28 miles to Cajon Pass, the day I hiked from the Liebre mountains into Hikertown and some of the Northern California forest the last few days before I left the trail. I think about the trail all the time. Visualize it. Talk about it.

The trail never leaves me alone. I long to be back. I carry the inner peace I gained out there still within me. I cannot get into a groove of hyperactivity and multi-tasking like before. I may begin to worry about things but the worry does not last. The peacefulness of the trail always comes back. It changed me. Made me kind of dreamy and happy. Nothing really matters because I know I can take care of myself on the trail.

The trail calls to me still. I suppose I should not be surprised. It called me for 33 years. Why should it stop now? What does it want from me? What am I supposed to do about its nagging? Go back? How often? When?

I fear my life has been ruined. I cannot live here but I can't live on the trail either. I'm in a dream state where I cannot wake up. How long until my rude re-awakening?