Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

It’s been years since I’ve been taken in by the New Year’s resolution racket. I’ve always thought putting together a wish list before the New Year was, as Milan Kundera would put it, utter kitsch. After all, if resolutions are supposed to be things you covet, things that you truly want to accomplish, or even things you want to change about your life why would you wait until the end of the year to enumerate them?

On the other hand, maybe taking stock as one decade ends and another begins makes a great deal of sense.

Unlike some of my prior lists, these resolutions are, by design, more selective, generic and ill-defined. They purposely lack a sense of measurement and accountability. And maybe that’s a good thing. Letting go of checklists and time tables allows these resolutions to breathe the open air and become, collectively, what they really represent: a long-term hope that I can become a better person.


*Be More Open to Love: I think I might be getting beyond this. And this. And definitely this. I want to be in love. Now, if I could only figure out how…

*Be More Open to Others: I am recognizing that a person cannot understand the contours of love without first caring for others. And not just people you happen to know. Beyond family. Beyond friends. Beyond even yourself. Love without boundaries is my goal. I have a lot of work to do.


*Delve Deeper: I’ve been hinting at this all year. The more I embrace Simple Living, the more I recognize a vacuum somewhere deep inside of me. I’m starting to take the first tentative steps towards filling that vacuum. Let’s see where it leads me.


*New and Improved Diet: After a new-found focus on my diet, I’m gradually moving towards a more cohesive sense of how I want to eat. Still dealing with the basics: less red meat, more salads, more fruit, and more awareness of what’s in my food and where it comes from. It will be interesting how this one evolves this coming year.


*Be More Organized: It’s probably the dude in me. I usually don’t let it get out of hand but when I do my place becomes an obstacle course of clothing, empty water bottles, and pizza boxes. I find that I have more energy and a clearer mind when everything is in its place. I think it helps that I have almost nothing at this point. But still…

*Stop Rushing: Yup, I’m one of those people. If I have a meeting somewhere I will wait until I have just enough time to get moving. What ends up happening is that I suddenly drop what I am doing and rush over in a panic to make sure I get there on time. There is just no need for all that stress and frustration. I think the solution is to plan to get to meetings 5 minutes before I have to be there and to leave a lot earlier than I do now.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Jack as Santa: Merry X-mas!

That's right my dear reader. That is an actual photo of me waiting patiently by an elevator right before walking into a family X-mas party to play the part of Santa.

And how did it go you ask? Well, let's just say that (1) the right-hand side of my beard started falling off as soon as I walked into the apartment, and (2) Santa had to walk barefoot because otherwise it would have been obvious he was wearing jeans and flip flops. But all was well...not sure the 3 and 4-year-olds noticed a thing...

Merry X-mass everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Follow Your Dreams. Always

Still recovering from my trip to Ecuador. There will be plenty of time to talk about the raw beauty of the Ecuadorian countryside and the wonderful indigineous culture I encountered. Truth is, mountain climbing is still on my mind.

While I was able to climb the northern side of the Illinizas volcano I stopped short of summiting Cotopaxi (5,900m/19,347 feet) by about 350 meters. At that point, I made the decision that I just couldn't go on. And it wasn't because of the altitude. From the start of my ascent I had been battling the worst stomach bug I've had in years (thanks to a couple of yummie street donuts I ate on the way to the volcano) plus I had developed severe congestion in my sinuses. Every breath up Cotopaxi was laborious. Every step a reminder that my stomach wanted to explode.

At about (5,550m/18,200 feet) I had a flashback to a time of similar distress somewhere in the Oregon desert. Back then, a bit vanity and bravado mixed with just plain stupidity put me in a pretty dangerous situation. Not this time. At that point I turned to my guide and said, “no mas/no more.” It was a good decision.

I may not have made the summit. But at least I tried. I fucking tried. And that is more than some people are willing/able to do.

I've said it before. I'll saw it again. Follow your dreams. Always.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bogota, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador: Visit to Colombian Congress and Other Stories

[Actual photo of me standing where the president of the Colombian senate sits during a private tour of the Colombian congress. I think I would have made a great dictator...]

After a crazy 12-hour bike ride into Bogota from Villeta my trip was just beginning.

Surprising Bogota
I have to be honest, Bogota was just not what I was expecting. I was picturing a pretty rundown urban mess but instead I found a super modern metropolis with a pretty crazy nightlife. Beyond having to bike an additional 2 hours to get to my hotel once I crossed the city limits (let’s just say I’ve never been that close to death on a bike), my stay was pretty awesome. I need to come back and see more of this place.

Visit to Congress
One of the highlights of my visit to the Colombian capital was being able to take a private tour of Congress, courtesy of a local contact (thanks Isabelle). From sitting in the chair where the president of the Senate sits to discussing how the internal conflict has affected Colombian politics in congressional staffers, this was truly special.

The most intense moment came when I passed by a poster (see below) with a photo of kidnapped military and police officers, some of whom have not seen their families for over 10 years.

Colonial Quito
After a quick stop in Bogota, I took a flight over to the Quito, Ecuador where I began the gradual process of acclimating to high altitude. Check out a photo I shot walking/puffing up the various hills that make up the Ecuadorian capital. While this was pretty awesome, the focus remains climbing Cotopaxi later today. Wish me luck.


Bogota, Colombia

Quito, Ecuador

Sunday, December 13, 2009

GUEST POST: On the Body



The following guest post was written by Rhiannon, a regular reader of Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity. I think Rhiannon's post shows that embracing simple living goes beyond de-cluttering your house and eschewing materialism and consumering. It can be a process as internal and personal as embracing the person staring back at you in the mirror.

I, like you, have a story. And it can be told... but how best to get my point across? You see, some people’s story can be told by the company they keep. Some by the place they reside or the car they drive. Some by the job they hold or the degrees they display. Some by the photographs of family sitting on the mantle piece. Some by the way the walk or talk. Some by the words they write.

Me? I guess mine can be told by my clothing or, rather, the lack there of!

My story may sound similar to a soap your mom watched at home each afternoon while you were at school: mom and dad become alcoholics, mom and dad begin swinging, mom leaves dad, dad divorces mom, dad dies of cancer, their daughter gets married, has a few kids, husband has affair, husband leaves wife,
ex-wife/daughter, well... gets fat!

I guess it’s fair to say, my story can be told... in my thighs! The swell of my breasts. The girth of my waist. The movement of my curves.

Because within this story, within these full folds of flesh, between these lines. I fret. I fret about my health. About my looks. About the example I teach. Fret... Fret... Fret...

And... I doubt. I doubt myself being true to who I really am. That others will truly be able to see me. That I’ll ever feel beautiful enough, worthy enough, sexy enough, to get out into that big fish bowl of men again. Doubt... Doubt... Doubt...And... I am mean. Mean to my soul. Mean to my heart, my lungs, my knees. Mean... Mean... Mean....
And I wonder. Does all this, fretting, doubting, meanness, serve me?

A healthy self image is something everyone talks about. Something everyone wants. A sexy body is something women want and men desire. I'm no different than everyone! But there seems to be two of these images. One others see and one I see. The two merging would seem to benefit, would they not? But they won’t. No matter how hard I try, the me others see (confident, funny, strong willed, self assured, woman) just will NOT merge with the me the mirror sees (chubby, unsure, scared, selfish, single mama). And although I only see this other me when I happen to be standing in front of a mirror or looking into a photo or in a room full of "pretties," it's still there, looming!

So one day, as I stand in front of the mirror I begin to wonder. Is this image I see in front of me the same one others see? And I already know the answer. So then I question, how can I take away all this fluff? How can I see ME? Just ME?

And the thought hits me. Could it really be that SIMPLE?

So as I stand there in front of the mirror... I begin to peal. Peal off my shirt. Peal off my socks. Peal off my pants. And as I peal, I look! I look and I look. And then I do it... I take off the little bits. (Okay not so little!) And I stare! I examine. I poke. I prod. And I enjoy! I enjoy this piece of art, this vehicle of mine. I spend the rest of the day, walking around the house, cooking meals, doing laundry and I realize I LIKE MY BODY! I like me a lot! Is it super model? No. But it’s mine! My very own story... of making it through.

Will it ever change? Sure! Hard work has proven that. Will I like it even more. Probably! But this body, the one I have now, it’s served me. Because I've lived and I've loved and I've cried and died a million times over. And my body has enjoyed and hated it all, right along with me. My spirits vehicle, will do my every bidding. So for sure I can! I can love me for who I am right now at this moment. The me I see, the me others see. They are all, after all, just me!

Would YOU dare take it all off and see? It is Voluntarily Simple!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Doradal, Colombia to Bogota, Colombia: Bat Snuggling, Floods, and the Toughest Climb Ever

Miles Per Day: Day 4=75; Day 5=47; Day 6=REST; Day 7=REST; Day 8=REST; Day 9=52.

Total So Far: 256

Inspiration: the smell of clear mountain air (it smells different somehow); Colombian women; the many rivers along the route; Guns n' Roses; the natural beauty around Honda.

Spirits: HOT; strong; amazed; pensive.

Things Seen on the Road: a bat in my motel room; the Magdalene River; flooded roads; hot, hot hot Colombian women; snakes crawling along the road.

Favorite Quotes: After telling a local that I was heading to Honda: “Oh, so you are heading to the furnace of Colombia.” [translation] After telling a hotel guest in Villeta that I was climbing up to Bogota via La Vega highway on a bike: “Only a Gringo...”

What a crazy week it's been. This short trip turned out to be the toughest, most intense I've ever had. But it has made me realize that I can, in fact, tour outside the US without too many problems. The one thing that I need to better plan for is the mountainous terrain of countries like Colombia. Gone are the days when I could cruise 70-80 mile several days at a time. If I am to do more trips in this region I have to be prepared to slow down on distance and embrace the inevitable, unending elevation change.

Natural Beauty of Honda
Heading into Honda, Colombia, I witnessed some of the strangest natural beauty I have ever seen on a bike. On both sides of the road, for miles around, I saw what I can only describe as mountain sculptures. They looked like rocky outcrops that have been weathered over time and that are covered with the greenest of vegetation. I had to stop a couple of times to take a closer look just make sure I wasn't on the set of a Jurassic Park movie.

I think I was just stupid, but coming past the Magdalena River I saw that the road was flooded in several places. There was never a place where the road was completely flooded, but it is clear that recent rains had flooded the entire countryside and water was now spilling over the main highway. Just check out the video below...I probably should have gotten off the road. But everyone that was driving past didn't seem to mind. Not good on my part I think.

Of course, snuggling with a bat in Villeta was a highlight this past week. And just to be clear, I left the bat in the motel room with the window open. I just hope the critter was able to leave on his own.

Climbing to Bogota From Villeta
Total elevation change=>2,200 meters (>7,000 feet) in less than 18 miles; road temperature change= 90f to 45f; change in climate= hot and humid to freezing rain.

Absolutely, positively, undeniably the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike. Period. Man was it fun!

Photo ROll


Monday, December 7, 2009

Snuggling in Bed With Dracula

So, I get to this small village called Villeta right around 7 pm. It's already dark and I am absolutely wiped. The heat on the road has been almost unbearable and the day's elevation change totaled close to 1,800 meters (>5,700 feet). By the time I stumble into my motel room I'm a bit delirious. I immediately strip naked, run into the shower and let the cool water wash away all the grime and dirt I've picked up from the day's ride. I dry off and collapse on the bed face down, naked and exhausted. The room in pitch black.

By this point, there is a part of me that is absolutely starving and wants to go out to forage for food, but there is also an equally demanding part of me that says that what I really need is a good night's sleep. It is in this fog of indecision that I first hear what I can only describe as chirping or crackling right above my bed. At first, I'm not even sure the sound I am hearing is real. I am sort of going in and out of consciousness and the chirping/crackling is being drowned out by the sounds of salsa floating up from a couple of bars right below the motel.

And then, it happens. Twenty minutes later, still lying on my chest, butt-cheeks up in the air, in the pitch blackness of a Colombian motel room, something suddenly falls on my back. SMACK! CHIRP, CHIRP, CRACKLE, CRACKLE! I jump 10 feet in the air and reach for the light. Fifteen seconds later I record the following video. My apologies for erasing my 10-year-old girl screams.

Those of you who follow me via Twitter and Facebook know that after my initial bat-induced heart attack I decided to rent a separate room for the night. I didn't want to alert management because I feared they would just kill the poor critter. I had left the window open hoping that it would scamper out into the night. But I just didn't have the energy to move all of my stuff into the new room.

This morning I went back to the scene of the crime. At first it looked like my plan worked. I cautiously went through all of my things, one at a time. Everything checked out all right, until I looked inside my bike helmet. It's hard to see in this video, but believe me, it's in there.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Medellin, Colombia to Doradal, Colombia: Intensity and Natural Beauty All Around

Miles Per Day: Day 1=31; Day 2=27; Day 3=24.

Total So Far: 82

Inspiration: the crisp mountain air of the Andes; strange, beautiful flowers along the route; the smiles of the people I meet along the way (people here are super friendly);

Sprits: elated; exhausted; content; amazed.

Things Seen on the Road: a talking parrot in the middle of the road; tons of trucks; tons of poverty; school children running alongside my bike as school was letting out.

Favorite Quotes: Colombian soldier with an automatic weapon walking up to me at an abandoned bridge: “So, you are riding on this road all by yourself, huh?” [translation]

So far, this trip is turning out to be tougher, more intense and more interesting than anything I ever did back in the States. It was probably not a good idea to start riding into the Andes with just a few weeks of training under my belt. The elevation has also been a factor. By the time I hit the Rockies back in Colorado I had increased my elevation tolerance pretty gradually. I can't tell you how weird it feels to go from 0 to 4,500 before climbing to 8,500 feet on a fully loaded bike in just a few days.

But, hey, what an adventure this is turning out to be. I'm not sure all the photos and videos in the world would be able to capture all the “realness” and beauty I am seeing from my saddle.

It's a beautiful time to be alive.

Let's just say that I should have known better.

Apparently, there are two ways to leave Medellin towards the small town of Rio Negro, my first destination on this trip. I could have traveled over the Andes via Las Palmas OR I could have reached Rio Negro via the mountaintop town of Santa Elena. One would mean a tough but workable 2,800 foot climb into the Andes while the other involves an absolutely insane 4,000 foot climb over just 12 miles full of 14 to 16 grade inclines. Guess which I chose.

Beyond the sheer intensity of that climb, despite not having had the time for adequate training and conditioning, and even though the altitude quickly became a problem, the one thing that really destroyed me that day was the NOT KNOWING. Unlike my Bike Across America trip, I didn't have a good sense of how much further I had before reaching the top of the climb. The map I am using is pretty useless in that respect and the internet is hit or miss when it comes to planning this trip. You have NO idea how frustrating it is to reach what you think is the very top of this monster climb, only to realize that there is another mountain range worth of pain to go. I definitely need to invest in a GPS device for my next trip.

Heading from Rio Negro to Doradal the shittiness of my local map became evident. You see, I had decided not to buy the local topographical maps (not all that helpful for bike riding, in my opinion) and instead invested in a more general road map with an elevation graph in the back. Looking at this graph the morning of the second day I thought I had it made. The graph showed a clear 6,000 foot drop between Rio Negro and my next destination, Doradal. Heading out that day I was feeling pretty good. Until I hit the first of three monster climbs. Seems like the graph failed to show intervening elevation climbs between random towns along the route. Half-way through the second climb I gave up. The sun was horrendous and I had NO idea how many more climbs I had left before reaching Doradal. When I found a roadside motel I decided to stay for the night.

Map frustration aside, the evening of my second day on the road was just awesome! I had stopped at a roadside motel that consisted of a primitive restaurant on the first floor and a super mall room on the second floor with what I guess was considered a shower in the back. There was NOTHING around for miles. That evening, the owner, an elderly lady in her 60's, cooked me TWO separate dinners of rice, beans and steak while the family and I watched Colombian soap operas until 10:00pm.

As I headed upstairs, I did my best to avoid stepping on hundreds (thousands?) of insects of all different shapes and sizes. Attracted by the only lights around for miles, these insects filled the floors, ceiling and all the walls along the hallway right outside my room. Not thinking much, I turned the lights on inside my shack/room to do the basics: organize my stuff for the next day, brush my teeth, and get ready for bed. Ten minutes later I noticed them...dozens and then hundreds of insects crawling into cracks along the walls, all of them attracted by the lights inside my room. I quickly shut off the lights and turned on my portable headlight. Let's just say that I fell asleep that night with tons of creepy crawlies walking all over me...



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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jack Has a Job


Jack has a job.

At this point, all I can say is that (1) this job is, in fact, in the non-profit sector; (2) the organization in question is flexible enough to allow me to work while I do some of my long-term bike trips; and (3) it is a position that I was offered by a regular reader of this blog.

That last point is key. Not sure I want to have a repeat of what happened during my firm's Christmas party last year. :)

The bottom line is that I'm pretty excited about this. What's just soooo awesome is that this is the very first time in my working life that I am choosing a job just because I like what I will be doing. Money, status, “career advancement,” etc...went out the window a while ago. All that matters is that I am doing something that reflects my values and adds to my long-term happiness.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

GUEST POST: Misfortune and Metamorphosis


The following guest post was prepared by my friend and fellow blogger Dana over at Miles Before I Sleep. While I do think the content of this post speaks for itself, I did want to emphasize the obvious: DON'T wait to live the life you've always wanted. And don't ever, EVER, take anything, or anyone, for granted.


In my opinion, Jack's entire blog is devoted to change. It's devoted to his search with in himself to try and find out who he was, is, and who he wants to become. It seems to me that it is in this search that we have connected. Both searches, his and my own, have hit road blocks but we both are still living and enjoying the metamorphosis. Therefore, I've decided to write about HOW and WHY I came to this changing point in my life. I'll apologize now if you find my story a little graphic but we all have a breaking point and mine was July 21st, 2006....

Before this day, you could sum up my existence quite simply. I was with Ryan and we had 3 little boys. We both worked full time, struggled to pay our bills, were mass consumerists, and were exhausted at the end of each day. There was no "out" for us in sight as it seemed. We just hoped that someday we would be able to pay our bills on time and just live. Unfortunately, that day never came with us doing it together.

On July 20th, 2006, Ryan and his father were at our house trimming our trees. They had finished the back two and were heading to the front tree when I left to prepare for a garage sale. An hour later as I'm driving towards home, I can see lights flashing in the distance... they appeared to be at my house. As I parked, I saw the ambulance doors close and speed off...

As I pulled up to my house, I was stopped by his father who informed me that Ryan had fallen off the front porch roof. My first thought was, "Great... bet he broke his leg and now we're gonna be short money for time off work." (In reflection, isn't it sad that THIS was the way I thought?)

Then I noticed the pool of blood on the sidewalk, and the hysteria on his father's face. One of the firemen took pity on me after I explained that I was a nurse and to please tell me the truth. I still remember his words exactly, "Your husband fell 15-20 feet off the roof, onto his head. He was unresponsive on the scene and he was bleeding from his head, mouth, nose, and ears. They intubated him and he just left for the hospital."

Deep down, I knew my husband was going to die.

Still, I prayed over and over again on the drive to the hospital. I prayed when they wouldn't let me back to see him. I prayed as they decided to life flight him to Iowa City.

Ryan suffered many things in the one brief instant when his head hit the ground. He suffered a comminuted, displaced, and depressed skull fracture spreading from the base of his skull outward to his jaw, and upward to his forehead. A piece of skull severed his main artery to the brain. He suffered 2 strokes. His brain then herniated due to inter-cranial pressure. He was unable to have the pressure reduced because he went into a DIC (Disseminated intra vascular coagulation-- a massive hemorrhage from all open orifices of the body). He was bleeding to death. He was on life support and was given units of blood and platelet infusions. He went into a multi-system organ failure and I finally turned off his life support machine in the morning of July 21st, 2006.

He died.

The wonderful human being I loved, the father of our three children had died.

The hardest part was telling our oldest son, Zakari, that daddy had died that day. I still look at his face and remember how he cried that afternoon... I'll always remember Izeah and Zane asking for daddy, yet there was no more daddy.

That was my breaking point. The time after his death was chaos. I went through many stages of grief... crying, pretending I was fine, being a full time mommy during the day, binge drinking at night, engaging in promiscuous sex, making excuses. I did this for about a year after his death. I make no excuses for any of it now. I did it all by choice and since there is no actual "right way" to grieve, I've since accepted what I went through as my road to healing...

This event in my life was an astonishing wake up call.
I was tired of working full time and never enjoying my children.
I was tired of being part of this mass consumer way of thinking.
I was tired of working just to keep up with the Jones'.
I was sick and tired of who I was.

So I changed.

I gave up my full time job and now work a schedule that I make. I spend more time with my children then ever before. I've taught myself to be productive and more self sufficient. We're trying everyday to turn our lives into a more sustainable living lifestyle. I work everyday to not burden the earth but to help her. We live more frugal and I love it. We all take trips together, children and all, to explore nature, cities, music, our passions. Would I have done any of this before? Probably not.

I also managed to meet another wonderful man, John, who I married 3 weeks ago :)

Everyday of my life I remember this one event that changed my whole world. Ryan's death made me pause for a minute, if you will. It made me realize that I was wasting my time being what everyone else wanted me to be. I realized that I could be a much better parent to my beautiful children. I realized that it is much more satisfying to live simply and fulfilled then to always be wanting. I learned to look up at the stars at night with my children and discuss how many there are and how beautiful they are. I learned how to SHOW the people I love how just how much I love them. I learned when John came along that I had been blessed not once, but twice with an incredible partner, one that I'll be damned I was going to let get away :)

So Jack, kudos to you for changing your life. Some days are still hard for me, as I'm sure they are for you, giving up things that used to make us comfortable. When this happens to me though, I try to put myself back in that day, remember what happened and remember that Ryan never got to experience this life style.

I know I don't want to die without ENJOYING my life and this "life" I speak of is the one I'm living now.

Peace and love,

Ryan a few months before he died with Zakari and Zane.

Our family 3 weeks ago... John, me, Kayla, Zakari, Izeah, and Zane (age order :)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On Getting a Vasectomy


I'm seriously considering getting a vasectomy. Yeah, I know...

To voluntarily allow a sharp, pointy object anywhere near Jack Jr. ranks right up there with looking inside Jeffrey Dahmer's refrigerator. And yet, here I am, googling the procedure like mad, trying to understand my options.

The benefits are clear. As someone who doesn't want children, having a vasectomy would largely eliminate any nasty surprises going forward. Plus, it would be wonderful to have the freedom to make love to my partner without fumbling for a condom, or relying on their own contraception method.

There are definitely some drawbacks. First, a vasectomy is not a sure thing. But WHAT is ever a sure thing? Also, it's not a procedure that can be easily reversed. On the other hand, there is nothing stopping me from freezing a batch of little Jacks in case the love of a wonderful woman happens to change my mind.

I have a lot to think about...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Have Too Much Money


Trying to shake off a recent downward spiral in my personal life I came to a rather strange conclusion earlier this afternoon:

I have too much money. Again.

If you recall, I drafted a preliminary budget about a year ago and decided to donate/give away any extra cash that I just didn't really need. At the time, I thought I was pretty conservative in assuming a decrease of 20% in my portfolio given the onset of what we are now calling the Great Recession. By the market lows of March/April 2009 I was down close to 40%, mostly because I'm all about long-term investing and wanted to catch the inevitable upside.

As of noon today my long-term investments are up close to 29% YTD and over 13% from my initial budget projections. This does not even take into account some pretty serious gains I made over the past couple of weeks buying short in the energy and financial sectors. In fact, I made enough mula over the past 10 days to pay for most of my upcoming trip through South America.

Under normal circumstances this would actually be a good thing. After all, why would anyone bemoan having MORE money?

Fuck that. The truth is that having “too much” money corrupts the soul. It leads to unnecessary excess. It feeds the baser instincts of our nature. It certainly doesn't add substantally to our long-term “happiness.” The bottom line is that having “too much” money blows.

What's so beautiful about the simple living movement is the fact that “too much” is something that each one of us should decide for ourselves. My budget might be extravagant for some, inadequate for others. In fact, I have plenty of wealthy friends who currently lead a perfectly happy life on their own terms, but who would gag if they were forced to live on my budget for even a single day. Just as I would break out into a cold sweat if I was forced to live the life they seem to enjoy.

Don't ever feel guilty about having more money than others. But always be fearful that you might lose your soul if you have “too much.”

So, what now?

I don't know. I guess I could do another give-away. A couple of small donations to some VA hospitals and an animal rights organization might also do the trick.

On the other hand, maybe the thing to do is to keep investing and then dole out extra cash over time. I rather enjoy this investing racket and it would actually feel good to keep increasing the donation pie over the long term.

Ummm...maybe an Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity foundation is the way to go. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Need a Drink

All of my world is empty tonight. There are feelings somewhere still, but they have scampered off to places I no longer recall. I regret nothing. How could I? The alternative would be to live a lie I am no longer prepared to live. And to die as someone I am not.

You are inside me now. Never forget that.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a drink...


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dancing Simplicity

There is no reason to deny it: I dance like a douchebag.

Seriously. Force me onto a dance floor after 3 beers or so and you might actually see something like this:

Well, I've had enough. It's time to slay my inner dancing douche. Starting today, Jack is officially a student at a dance studio. That's right. Over the next 3 months I will work to master the basic ballroom dances (waltz, foxtrot, tango...etc), something that will hopefully prepare me for some of the more modern stuff.

I'm actually excited about this. Dancing is not exactly something I enjoy. But there is a great deal of freedom in learning how to do something I've always found unapproachable and totally beyond my control. I'm not sure I would have had the time, the patience, or even the inclination to do this before leaving Biglaw. Just goes to show how a change in perspective can lead to unexpected places.

Monday, October 5, 2009

South America Dreaming


After some research, a scouting trip, and plenty of consultations with fellow bike tourists I have decided to start my South American adventure next spring. The bottom line is that if I were to leave this month (as I had previously wanted) I would arrive in southern Chile and Argentina just as winter is settling in. Not all that enthused about biking in the remote wilderness of Patagonia in the middle of a never-ending blizzard.

At this point, it makes more sense to start focusing on other things. In the meantime, I have a feeling I will be dreaming of getting dirt on my face, camping under strange stars and leaving civilization behind. It’s just a matter of time.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

GUEST POST: My Date with Jack

[image: api.ning.m]

Today Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity is inaugurating a series of guest posts from fellow bloggers, friends and assorted “simple living” cronies. The intent is to encourage ongoing dialogue regarding all aspects of the voluntary simplicity/simple living movement. Each approved guest post will be published as written without any editorial oversight so long as the following guidelines are observed:

*Posts must be at least tangentially related to the voluntary simplicity/simple living movement or must focus on a topic previously covered on the blog.

*Draft posts that are critical of me, the blog, and/or the voluntary simplicity/simple living movement are ABSOLUTELY ENCOURAGED. However, please note that posts that contain unnecessay venom and vitrolic insults will not be published.

If you would like to submit a guest post feel free to email me directly with a brief description of the topic you would like to tackle. Note that certain suggested guest posts may be declined for editorial reasons (topic may have already been covered by a previous poster; draft post is poorly written, etc...).

The following guest post was written by Nancy Vogel, author of the Family on Bikes blog:

My Date with Jack
“What if he really is a pompous ass?” I thought to myself as I sat on the bus for the 4-hour journey into Medellin to meet Jack in person. “What if – for all his talking about making these fundamental changes in this thinking - he’s still that pretentious, arrogant, puffed-up son of a bitch he talks about?”

The internet is a strange place – you meet people and forge friendships without ever knowing what they look like. Jack and I had read each other’s blogs for well over a year, emailed many times, and even talked on the phone. I had told many people about my lawyer friend who was making the transition to a life more simple, yet I didn’t even know his real name. What if, after all that, he really was an asshole I wouldn’t want to be found within shouting distance of?

But then I walked up to the door of the museum we had agreed to meet at and he walked out with his boyish grin, and all that was forgotten. Here was Jack – in his old brown t-shirt, jeans, and three-day-old beard. The Jack I had pictured after all.

Gracious, kind, gentle, giving, and warm as the summer sunshine, Jack was the kind of person I could sit and talk with for hours – which is exactly what we did. We chatted in a cafĂ© while drinking fresh lulo juice, we chatted as we walked the busy streets of Medellin towards the bike store, and we chatted while in the taxi to the mall.

In so many ways, Jack and I are on the same journey. I suppose I started a couple years ahead of him, but we’re on the same path. I remember those days all too well – those days when I struggled with the idea of giving up all I had worked so hard for, of giving up the American Dream I was supposed to want, of walking away from society’s expectations to make my own way on this planet… It was fun to listen to Jack voice the exact same thoughts I went through a couple years earlier.

But there were still a few strings attached – strings pulling him back. Or maybe they are ropes. Or cables. That uppity lawyer mindset doesn’t relinquish its hold easily.

“I’ve got to go buy a pair of shoes,” Jack said. “Want to come to the mall and help me pick them out?”

Shoes? New shoes?

“I’ve been invited to a law conference tomorrow,” he explained. “And I need to be dressed for it. I’ve borrowed a suit and tie, but don’t have any shoes.”

I admit it – if it had been me I would have borrowed the suit and then worn my Birkenstocks rather than go buy new shoes. But I digress…

And so we found ourselves at a posh, swanky mall filled with generic high-priced shops looking at stylish Colombian leather shoes. Is this really the Jack I thought I knew?

“I love my 3-day-old beard!” Jack told me, “but I think I’ll have to shave it off for tomorrow. I don’t want to, but…” Those old law-firm expectations obviously still have their grip on him in some ways – those bony fingers still have the ability to reach in and wrap themselves around his new-fangled way of thinking…

But what I love about Jack is his utter honesty – with himself and others. He’s grappled with the fundamental ideas of what’s important – what’s really important. He’s one of those rare individuals who has the courage to thrust aside all those expectations placed upon him – from his colleagues, his mother, his friends, and yes – from himself. He’s looked at the demands of society and come to the difficult conclusion that the American Dream may not be all it’s cracked up to be after all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

State of the Blog: Taking Stock

[photo: media.guelphmercury]

Someone asked me the other day why I haven't been blogging much this month. I told them that I just didn't feel like it. Besides, I've been rather busy traveling up a storm and I just haven't been able to catch my breath long enough to think about blogging.

But things are different tonight. Tonight I am feeling rather introspective. Introspective in a pensive, let's-take-stock-of-where-life-is-taking-me sort of way. To say that stuff is starting to crystalize and solidify in new and unexpected ways would be an understatement. There is much to talk about:

*There is definitely some movement on the career front. I think some of you will love where things are heading.

*I definitely want to tell you about what I learned on my recent trip to South America to scout out potential bike routes and get some one-on-one tips from other long-distance bike tourists.

*I've also come to the realization that I am absolutely starved for spiritual nourishment. In some ways, everything I have been doing up till now has been just been a precursor to a much more essential internal journey that I am only now prioritizing.

And this is just the tip of the iceburg.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reflections (5): I Don't Want Children


I don't want children. Period.

I've moved away from some ealier ambivalence on this issue. I think there is still a part of me that questions whether I could have the patience and commitment necessary to be a good parent. There is also a measure of selfishness in not wanting to place an irrevocable limitation on my finances and my personal life.

But what has completely transformed my thinking on this issue is a new-found understanding of what, specifically, I want out of life. There was a time when essential life decisions (education, career, love...) were clouded by social, cultural, and class expectations, by other people's opinions, and by perceived familial obligations. No longer.

Jack's new life paradigm is rather simple: (1) figure out what I need to secure long-term “happiness,” and (2) go out and find it. Anything that I don't consider an essential componet of this theoretical “happiness” is just not prioritized. And guess what? I just don't find child-rearing to be essential to my long-term happiness. After some soul searching I have come to the conclusion that I just don't have an overwhelming need to pass on my genes. I also don't believe that children are required to sustain meaningful love between two people. And, more importantly, I strongly suspect that the valuable lessons a person learns as a parent can be learned thorugh other endeavors.

This is not to say that I will NEVER have kids. It just means that having them is not a personal priority. I could see a situation in which I meet a person that becomes very important to me and who does prioritize child-rearing. At that point, a decision will have to be made that might very well change my life forever.

[Reflections introductory post]

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Update on Nutrition

nutr [image:]

I thought it was a good time to check in regarding the nutrition plan I brought up last month.

The truth is that I've been too busy and too nomadic to really sit down and put together a more oranized long-term nutrition plan. On the other hand, I have spent more than just a few hours perusing some of the titles referenced in the comments section of my previous post. In fact, during my visit to NYC a couple of weeks ago, I spent an entire day perusing several copies of Pollan and Weil texts (recommended by Marissa, LAS, Meg, and others) at the Barnes & Noble right on Union Square. This is in addition to the many hours spent surfing the web doing independent research.

I still want to sit down and come up with a more concrete plan. If you've read this blog you know that I have a penchant for list-making and goal-setting that is, for better or worse, all-encompassing. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that I am swayed by the views of people like Amy, Debbi and others who advocate a much more body-centric view of nutrition. Maybe the focus should be on how my body feels after eating certain types of foods and gradually recalibrating how I eat going forward.

Regardless of how this plays out, I'm already taking baby steps in what I think is the right direction. I have already started to limit the amount of red meat I eat (right up to July, I ate red meat with almost every meal, save for breakfast) and have greatly increased my intake of fruits and vegetables. And though I haven't completely moved to organic stuff I have a feeling I will be a convert before long.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Follow the Road


There is no denying it any longer. I’m getting the bicycle tour bug again. In a BIG way. It’s hard to describe. It’s almost as if I’ve left a part of myself out on the road…and I’m not going to feel completely whole until I get back on that bike and start pedaling again. Walking around town, hanging out with friends, balancing my portfolio, grappling with career next steps, and every other mundane and not-so mundane thing I’ve been doing these past couple of months has all felt like a prelude to something much more pertinent and essential. Suddenly, life, in its most pure, simplest form, only exists (lives?) out on the open road.

That is not to say that I have not enjoyed my time off the bike. There is something to be said for resting your mind and body and reconnecting with those most important to you. But I definitely think a shift has taken place. Whereas traveling was always a welcome, (albeit short) respite from the comfortable and predictable routine of work/bar hopping/work/family stuff/work/bar hopping/work…traveling has now taken over my imagination in ways that I am still trying to come to terms with. The old routine is now a necessary respite in between moments of pure joy and adventure.

So, what’s the next adventure you ask? Well, here it goes:

I’m aiming to travel the length of South America. From the coast of Colombia to the tip of Patagonia in Argentina. By bicycle.

I’m still in the planning stages so I can’t really share any details other than to say that this trip is probably several months away. But I’m already having dreams of setting up camp on the highest peaks of the Andes, hiking up to Machu Pichu, and sleeping under Southern stars. The road beckons. I have no choice but to heed it’s call.