Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back from Sabbatical


Greetings my dear reader.

Wow, was that awesome! Two weeks away did wonders for my psyche. Nothing like an impromptu sabbatical from blogging to provide some added perspective. And it was perspective that I needed. For a while there, I felt like one of the things I had been relying on to help me through this process of simplification (blogging) had actually become an impediment to simplification. At some point, there were just too many comments, too many emails, too much COMPLEXITY. I have a feeling some of my fellow bloggers understand this all too well. Taking some time off was good in that it helped me find my focus again.


I want to thank the dozens and dozens (hundreds at this point?) of people who submitted a comment and/or emailed me with their own versions of the Plot. For those of you who received an envelope feel free to comment publicly, though I would ask that you do so anonymously. I will, of course, keep your email acknowledgements in confidence. Finally, I wanted to thank R. from a certain veterans group for helping me distribute some of the envelopes. I don’t think I could have finished without you.


I also wanted to apologize for not replying to any emails the past couple of weeks. I really needed total radio silence during this self-imposed sabbatical. I promise to get back to everyone as soon as possible.


Over the next week or so I hope to add a couple of links to sidebar on the voluntary simplicity movement. I have a feeling that some people stumble on this blog without any real sense of what I am doing, why I am doing it, or what Voluntary Simplicity really entails.


I’ve come around to the idea of adding comment moderation to all of my posts. As you may recall, I had originally rejected that approach a couple of months ago in favor of a more Millsean marketplace-of-ideas approach. The benefit of this new approach is not to stifle ideas but merely to make my job a little easier. Constantly reviewing the blog for troll comments and meaningless fluff is super annoying and time-consuming. Now that I have comment moderation turned on, I can review all comments at once and streamline the whole process. The underlying policy remains the same: anyone with a legitimate, cogent perspective may comment. Anything that is outright offensive will be rejected.

Monday, November 17, 2008



How about it, my dear reader? Do you feel like starting a little revolution? I’ve got nothing better to do and I figured it might be fun. :)


So, what are we rebelling against, you ask? Materialism. Consumerism. Apathy. Injustice. The feeling that all the problems we face are impossible to solve. And, above all, our irrational reluctance to love our fellow man.


If you are on board, then I think the operative question becomes: what can we offer to this revolution? More to the point, what do we possess that might prove useful to changing our world? Some people bring their own particular strengths to bear when it comes to overthrowing the old order. Lenin had an overpowering intellect and a ruthless purpose of mind. Margaret Thatcher had experience, intelligence and a charm all her own. Clinton was the consummate technocrat. As for myself, at this point in my life, I just don’t have a fully-defined world view and/or the real-life experience that could prove useful in a revolution. Give me some time and maybe I will get there. For now, all I can contribute is this:


I always wanted to be in the Sopranos:

I am leaving my law firm. Maybe I should consider a career at Chip ‘n Dales:


Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself:

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let’s start plotting our revolution!


The plot is actually fairly straightforward: give away a sizable amount of money I don’t really need to random people. Here are the basics:

*Stuff blank envelopes with bills of random denominations.

*Include a note with the following narrative:

“To the person who finds this envelope,

I am a person who has enough. Take this money and use it as you wish. In return, I hope you can search within yourself and realize that all that matters in life is love. So, call your family. Help a friend. Lend a stranger a hand. In the end, all we have is each other.”

*Drop off the envelopes at random and not so random locations throughout the East Coast.

*Separately, send anonymous donations to (1) a variety of organizations and non-profits I support; as well as (2) certain bloggers chosen at random.

* Hope that in some small measure, these hundreds of random, anonymous, convention-upending acts of social rebellion spark something meaningful and essential in the collective unconscious of our world.

Unrealistic? Probably. Idealistic? Absolutely.


Why don’t YOU get in on the fun? I challenge you, my dear reader, to take the time this very day to express your love and kindness to (1) someone you care about, as well as (2) a total stranger. There are sooo many things you can choose from:

*Hug your kids and tell them you love them

*Call your grandparents

*Help a friend move

*Sign up to volunteer

*Donate to a local charity

The list is endless. If you take up this challenge do let me know what awesome, SIMPLE, things you decided to do.

Spread the word. Remember: a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.


After the whole diploma burning thing, I came to the conclusion that it is a good idea to provide added context when it comes to some of my posts. I am still amazed how normal, rational people can have such intense, knee-jerk reactions to anything that appears out of the ordinary (have you seen some of the comments left on YouTube? Woa…). This time, I figured I would anticipate some of the questions/comments people might have. Here you go:

Come on, Jack, you must be insane!

Maybe a little. :)

If one of the prerequisites for insanity is the inability to reason then I think I’m in the clear. This didn’t happen out of the blue. I thought long and hard about how to do this the right way. I searched within myself to figure out what I want out of life, the kind of life I want to live and the kind of world I want to leave our children. I made a detailed budget that was realistic and incorporated contingencies, changing needs, and everything else that I felt I would need to live a simple, yet meaningful life for ME. After I finalized the budget I realized there was some money left over. This posed a quandary. Extra money meant that I had the following options: (1) leave the money in the bank to collect interest; (2) upgrade my lifestyle; or (3) give the money away. Leaving the money in the bank is certainly an attractive option, but I fail to see the point of keeping money stashed away for no reason. As for upgrading my lifestyle, that makes absolutely no sense to me. The budget I came up with, by definition, represents an opportunity to live the life I want to live without the need for anything but a steady, meaningful, super-low-paying job.

What’s crazier? Giving away money you don’t need OR voluntarily upgrading your lifestyle so that you are forced to spend MORE money, in order to have MORE stuff that would actually mean MORE headaches for myself and my family and putting MORE strain on our natural resources? I’ll let you, my dear reader, be the judge.

If people will find the money randomly, how can you be sure that people who need the money will actually get it?

I am, in fact, leaving some envelopes at certain targeted locations (missions, churches, shelters, etc…). Beyond that, I want to make something very clear: the focus of the Giveaway is NOT about giving people charity. My hope is that hundreds of small but meaningful surprises can lead to hundreds or even thousands of selfless, loving acts of kindness. The person who has nothing and finds an envelope with $50 dollars will, indeed, be ecstatic. The person who actually has something and finds an envelope with $20 dollars may be moved to give away $100 to several people who have nothing.

Why can’t you just give the money to family?

I’ve already made certain arrangements, particularly with respect to my mom. The budget I came up with takes this into account.

But, wait, if you are just giving cash away anonymously aren’t you missing out on 501.(c)(3)-type tax deductions?

Yeah. On the other hand, I’ve reviewed my tax situation for this year and as it turns out it will probably be a wash: I won’t owe anything AND will not be getting much of a refund. Ergo, declaring a charitable contribution won’t help me much. Besides, there is something about giving stuff away anonymously that may be lost if I had to declare it on my taxes.

Jack, you are nothing but a crazy lefty-hippie!

Far from it. I think most people would be surprised if they knew my political leanings. On the other hand, for any of you bona fide hippies out there keep in mind that I’m partial to free love and rock and roll. Specially the free love part…[Hint, Hint!].



As of today, the plot has essentially come to fruition. Only a couple of dozen more envelopes left to drop off. Expect additional pics and video later this week.

Friday, November 14, 2008


This week has been rather hectic. Who knew starting a whole new life would be so complicated? Ideas and desires need to be transformed into concrete plans; concrete plans need to be broken down into manageable tasks; and even those tasks need to be incorporated into an ever-expanding set of to-do lists. But hey, for the first time in my life this whole process is leading me somewhere meaningful. That’s what makes this transition so rewarding; all the planning and task-making is, in fact, reinforcing the process of simplification. In all the ways that matter, you cannot have simplicity without going through the process. And it is the process itself (with all its complexities, material purges, and inevitable emotional highs and lows) which lends simplicity meaning and definition.

Speaking of simplification, I’ve been putting together the finishing touches on something I’ve been thinking about doing for some time now. It’s definitely not for everyone but it sure makes sense to me. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dear Bank of America: F@%k Y&U


Another day, another step closer to freedom. Sometime this week, Bank of America card services will process a check with five figures on it. As of that moment, I will no longer have any remaining commercial debt to deal with. SCORE!!!!!!!!!!!

I would be pouring myself a little scotch right about now if I wasn’t still a bit hung-over from a well-deserved Sunday-NFL-watching-beer-drinking-all-day marathon…

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On Family


Boy, is this an awkward topic.

As I work to unhinge myself from a life that no longer makes sense to me I am becoming aware of all sorts of new possibilities and opportunities. On the other hand, I am also questioning a great deal of what I have been conditioned to believe constitutes happiness in the first place. In some ways, this is sort of inherent in this process of simplification. To question the need for a 3,000 square foot house, the virtue of becoming trapped in a lucrative but unfulfilling job and even the merits of living a lifestyle full of unmitigated excess is to question your own assumptions about the very nature of happiness itself. In all the ways that matter, the old paradigm is dead. In its place is an urgency to question all assumptions about what truly makes a person happy.

Which brings me to the third rail of the voluntary simplicity movement: do you need to have kids to find happiness? More to the point, is procreation a prerequisite to happiness?


When I first went to law school I felt like I was following the path of least resistance. The steps were pretty clear to me: finish law school, get a job, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. While I don’t think I had a very clear sense of why this seemed like the right path to take, in retrospect, this seemed like the right path precisely for the same reasons buying a huge house and coveting a high-paying, stressful job seems like the right path for so many other people. Our society conditions us to accept the “normal” path from the day we are born. To deviate from “normal” by choosing to forgo our right to procreation is to embrace the unknown and accept a life outside the mainstream. More importantly, choosing not to have children challenges the choices made by those who have found their own version of happiness in the realm of the “normal.”

This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with the “normal” path. Every day I surf my way through people’s blogs and I get a glimpse of what it would be like to have a family of my own. I won’t lie to you, my dear reader. There have been times when pictures of a family doing stuff together have left a heavy lump in my throat. I have seen myself in those pictures, holding something small and precious, something that can live on after I am gone.


But, is having kids really for me? Believe it or not, there are a growing number of families that have chosen not to have kids in the first place. Some couples base their decision on ethical concerns (“having children only adds further stress to our natural resources…”); others don’t feel they will be good parents; still others see children as a threat to their financial and social independence (i.e., a child born today will cost a family anywhere from $130k to $260k).

All of these reasons resonate with me. The last two, in particular, brings up all sorts of conflicting emotions. I know that, at least for the foreseeable future, I would be a TERRIBLE father. I am still too selfish, too damaged, too quick to assuage my own needs at the expense of anyone, or anything else. Things are getting better every day, but this is a process that has to take its own deliberate course. I need time to heal. Right now, I just don’t have the time and/or energy for anything else.

I’m also weary of the strain having a family will have on my long-term plans. How can I travel the world when I have to be at home and do the responsible parent thing? How can I take months-long bike rides when there is a little one depending on my emotional and financial support at home? How can I embrace simplicity when the very act of becoming a parent seems anything but simple?


“Stop your whining, Jack,” I tell myself. “Just be the best person you can and everything else will fall into place. In the end, you will know the answer.” That’s pretty good advice.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Book Simplicity


I was all set to do a post about books that encourage and/or inspire simplicity until I realized that aimee over at Cage Free Family sort of beat me to it. Here is select list of some of the stuff people suggested on her blog:

*Real Food, Nina Planak

*How Far to Follow? The Martyrs of Atlas, Bernardo Olivera

*Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

*Like Water For Chocolate

*Fifth Sacred Thing, Starhawk

*The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz

*Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon

*Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig

*The Passion, Jeanette Winterson

*Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson

*Gilead, Marilyn Robinson

*The Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon

What about you, my dear reader? What books have comforted you during dark times; nourished your love for nature, family, and friends; guided you as you took that next step on your own personal journey?

I know that, at least for me, it is all about The Alchemist.