Sunday, November 29, 2009

On the Road Again: Fuck. Yeah.


I'm on the road again.

After generous portions of Thanksgiving lamb and more than a few bottles of wine I've arrived back in South America for three weeks of adventure.

The Plan: (1) try out my biking gear in preparation for a much longer trip down the continent next year; and (2) get off the bike long enough to do some serious sightseeing, backpacking and mountain climbing.

Up First: a “modest” 5 day bike trip between the cities of Medellin and Bogota. Not sure what to expect from this trip but if it's anything like what Nancy experienced recently in Colombia I'm in for the most challenging ride of my life.

Up Next: sightseeing in the Colombian capital, mountain climbing in central Ecuador, and a possible hike up to Machu Pichu in Peru.

Fuck. Yeah.

Friday, November 27, 2009

On Volunteering


After some fits and starts I've decided to start volunteering at a food bank on a weekly basis. I'm incredibly excited about this. The truth is that I have way too much time on my hands and this feels like a great way to spend my spare time. I'm also mindful that this could be the beginning of something much more meaningful in my life.

It's not like I've never volunteered before. I've been known to lend a hand at soup kitchens every now and then, particularly around the holidays. But hey, the number of hot chicks whom I've met over the years at these places always seemed to justify my participation. I've also done my share of pro-bono work as an attorney, though I probably was more focused on meeting the pro-bono hour requirement my firm demanded in order to “qualify” for a bonus.

The bottom line is that after close to 2 years of intensely personal, sometimes painful, changes in my personal and emotional life I'm ready to move on to something more essential. This, I think, is the inevitable result of embracing simple living.

Emerging from the harsh glare of materialism, consumerism and never-ending excess, my first instinct was to focus on the physical. Even as all the de-cluttering, the selling, and the donating progressed I began to confront a much more internal and much more personal journey, one that I suspect (hope?) will continue for the rest of my days. It is now, in the mist of this journey, that certain things have become too hard and too clear to ignore:

*I do not live in an island. What I do and what I DON'T do affects everyone around me.
*I am a person because I am defined by how others are born and how they live, work, survive, and die.
*Most importantly, this journey that I am on, a journey that has brought so much joy, beauty and serenity to my life...this journey cannot be made alone.

And so, I choose to volunteer. Not so much because “I want to help.” No. It's too early to say that. I want to volunteer because I recognize that I can understand more about myself and my relationship to the rest of the human race by giving my time and labor to others.

It is still a rather selfish endeavor, but I am hoping that greater empathy and understanding will follow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

GUEST POST: A Critical Reader’s Take


Below is a guest post from Anonymous, a Biglaw attorney and regular reader of this blog.

Let me just say that I generally agree with Anonymous´ overall critique. I actually don´t see a great deal of conflict between his argument and the content of this blog. How his critique fares against other facets of the Simple Living/Voluntary Simplicity movement is, however, another matter. But that is for you, my dear reader, to decide.

On a separate note, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the lack of critical guest blog submissions. I´ve received tons of submissions focusing on (1) the benefits of pursuing a Simple Living lifestyle, and (2) incredibly positive commentaries about me and this blog in particular. While I appreciate the enthusiasm it would be great to publish posts with a much more critical perspective. Nothing kills ideas faster than group think and intellectual complacency.

Bottom line, if you have ever been pissed by something written on this blog, or just generally disagree with some specific aspect of this nebulous yet wonderful thing called Simple Living, drop me a line.

A Critical Reader’s Take

I read Jack’s blog because, as I suspect is the case with most of its readers, I identify with Jack. My life often feels cluttered and weighed down by unnecessary STUFF. I yearn to spend my days hiking mountain trails rather than trapped behind my lawyer’s desk. I attempt to alleviate my depression by purchasing a new jacket, drinking an extra drink, taking home a new girl, thinking that THIS time when I get what I want I will be happy. But of course, when the newness dies away, I find I need something else; the brief moments of satisfaction do nothing to quench my desire for more. The cycle continues, until I find I have accumulated an apartment full of crap I no longer want and certainly never needed, a hangover I can’t shake and a phone full of the numbers of young women whose faces I can’t recall.

So yes, I certainly identify with Jack. And I thank Jack – I have done so in a personal email to him – for sharing his adventure with us. It is inspiring to “witness” his courage and boldness in forsaking the life of temptation and luxury. And moreover, I think Jack has stumbled onto something that is – at least in part – profound and wise. I agree that this life that we have been geared to build with our higher education and white collar jobs does not necessarily hold the key to happiness.

But though Jack and I agree on the diagnosis, we disagree on the cure. Or at least I believe that Jack’s only found the half of it. Jack seems to think, and from the comments it looks like most of his active readers agree, that the answer to the problem is to cut the STUFF out of your life. “Simplify” is the motto, which I take to primarily be a mandate to rid your life of the physical clutter (unnecessary possessions, money, etc.) and maybe also to rid yourself of the desire for this materialistic clutter. The ideal also seems to include some kind of ill-defined spiritual contentment that necessarily follows from a life of materialistic simplicity. (Clearly Jack or others in the simplicity movement will take issue with my characterization, and I look forward to correction and clarification).

Here’s my disagreement with the Simplicity strawman I just built: Simplifying is all well and good, until you come to define your happiness by how Simple you can be. How is being defined by how much clothing you lack any different from being defined by how much you have? How is thinking happiness resides in a tent in the woods any different from believing you will find it in a mansion? In both cases you are looking for it out there, in a reality that doesn’t exist. “If only I get (lose) the big screen T.V., if only I get (lose) the condo, if only I get (lose) the girl.” When the world is telling you that the T.V., the condo and the girl will make you happy, and you realize that it won’t, it is natural to swing back in the other direction, thinking it is the lack thereof that will do the trick. Too often I’m seeing those with good intentions get sucked into this trap (and yes, I would hate to see Jack, a man I admire, be sucked in as well).

I don’t believe that Simplicity is necessary for true happiness. At least not the capital S Simplicity for which Jack strives. Our STUFF is a convenient whipping boy, but I think there is something deeper and more nuanced at play. Our dissatisfaction lies not in what we have or don't have, but in our very need to define ourselves by these materialistic measurements - for richer OR poorer. It is not only our things and our relationship to our things that need to be re-evaluated. If we’re taking a serious look at where we can find real happiness, I think all of us, especially those in the Simplicity movement, need to consider our attachment to our lack of things as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dancing Update


It has been a relaxing couple of weeks. Nothing like some sun and more than just a few beers to relax the mind and reenergize the spirit.

Now that I´m back from vacation, I can now turn to several things that have been bugging me recently. Top of my list is how I´m doing on the dance floor.

Frankly, this whole learning how to dance thing is not going well. I JUST DON’T GET RHYTHM. Let me rephrase…I can generally hear the rhythm in a piece of music and can even clap the rhythm out for a bit. But I´m screwed when it comes to applying rhythm on the dance floor. You have no idea how stressful my lessons have become. I feel bad that I´m not advancing as fast as I should be. I am constantly apologizing to my teacher for taking so long to get the basics. I am always watching the clock, hoping that the hour passes as quickly as possible. In short, I´m really not having any fun.

But, hey, nothing worthwhile is ever easy. I´m going to take another shot at this thing with a new attitude. Maybe I´m putting too much stress on myself. The point, after all, IS to have some fun and learn the basics at my own pace. I´ll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Inspiration: The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off


Today Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity inaugurates a series of posts dedicated to people, places and things that have inspired me to embrace simple living/voluntary simplicity. I hope the subject of these posts help you on your own journey towards a more meaningful, more authentic, and more sustainable way of living.

And what better way to start things off than with Jonny Kennedy.

The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off: Jonny Kennedy
There are so many wonderful things to love about Jonny. First, it is obvious that Jonny was an incredibly charismatic individual. Whether he is joking about how he will fit in his coffin, or flirting with a British model by playing up his illness, the man definitely had a “presence” that cannot be denied.

Second, Jonny, unlike most of us, chose to live his life on his own terms. His illness gave him a perspective that few of us ever internalize: the ability to appreciate what trully matters in life. Gone is getting pissed because traffic is backed up; saving up to buy that new Prada bag; working like a dog just to get that promotion; etc...Nope. Even as Jonny's world was dominated by constant, never-ending pain, he understood that the most meaningful things in life are as simple as learning to fly a plane for the very first time.

Jonny 1

Jonny 2

Jonny 3

Jonny 4

Jonny 5

Monday, November 2, 2009

On Getting Laid


Confession: when I am NOT in a relationship I am just way too focused on having sex. With as many women as possible. All the time. As in every waking hour.

For the record, I can't quite claim to be the sleezy asshole who constantly lies to chicks in order to hide the fact that I'm sleeping with other chicks. Been there done that. It's an unmanageable, exhausting experience I don't care to repeat.

Nope. I'm the type of sleezy asshole who comes clean with just how much of a sleezy asshole I am. If I am sleeping with you it's because I have sat you down and had The Talk:

“Yes, making love to you was amazing”
“No, I'm not dating anyone right now”
“Yes, I would love to come by again tomorrow”
“BUT no, I don't want anything serious”
“AND yes, I will probably sleep with other chicks.”

The Talk: Scenario A
“Not a problem? Great! See you tomorrow”

The Talk: Scenario B
“Not into it? That's totally cool. I really had a great time. It was nice meeting you.”

Recently, after a rather serious downward spiral in my personal life, I decided to shelve The Talk for a while. The bottom line is that I have a sneaking suspicion that tons of meaningless sexual escapades would actually undermine some of the progress I have made in other aspects of my life.

Over the past year and a half I have found a certain kind of peace that I never knew was possible. It's a fledgling kind of peace, always struggling to solidify and define itself. Always striving to teach me that I am more than just a piece of paper, more than just a career, more than just a bank account, more than just a selfish asshole. This is a peace that is meaningful to me and I want to protect it any way I can.

This is not to say that I'm completely retiring The Talk. Old habits die hard. But I do think it's important to take some time to figure out how I can live my life without being consumed by something as fleeting and meaningless as getting laid.