Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Making a Living, or Making a Life?

Hi readers.

What follows is the text from a column in the local (Memphis, MO) Democrat. Dancing Rabbit submits a column each week. It's about something I think about a lot - the following is rather brief, for two reasons:

1. It goes in the local rural Missouri newspaper, who's readers often think we're a bunch of freaks. We started the column years ago as a form of transparency - here is what we're doing, and why. Our column is often about what we're growing in our gardens, what we're canning, how we car share, our visitor program. Interesting, but safe. I'm a little bored with this, so am trying to gently stretch the boundaries.
2. The column is not my own personal sounding board - it is for Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage info. I figure I can expand on my ideas here, where it is all about ME.

The following appears in the January 8, 2009 edition of the Memphis Democrat:

This is Alline again, enjoying the opportunity to chat with you weekly (at least until the rest of the column writers return!).Thank you so much for your many thoughtful replies to last week’s inquiry about what you would like to see in future columns. I will share them with the other writers and we will address them in the coming weeks.

Now, however, I am facing what can only be called writer’s block. Except that I’m not exactly blocked – I’m overwhelmed. Writing as a representative of Dancing Rabbit is a bit, well, intimidating. I can only express my own views, and try my best to be as inoffensive as possible. And frankly, either you are interested in what we’re doing, or you’re not. But how to share the details of our lives without coming across as “greener than thou”? That’s the part I’m not clear on. So I can only plow ahead, give it my best shot, and hope for the best (and mix as many metaphors as possible).

A question that came up several times was how do we support ourselves, how much money do we need to live here, and what did we do for a living before we arrived at Dancing Rabbit? While I could easily list the numerous ways we all craft a living here, it seems more important to look at the big picture. By leaving the world of high rents/mortgages, 40-hour jobs, commuting and consuming we are able, for the most part, to live on smaller incomes. This does not mean that we do not work – I’ve never worked harder in my life! What it means is that our time, our energy are directed towards different priorities. We are working for ourselves, and our lives, instead of our “jobs.”

It is not a simple leap to make. None of us here at Dancing Rabbit will ever earn the salaries that we earned with “real” jobs. For that reason alone it is challenging for people with debt to move here. But by giving up our “big jobs” we get more time – time to nurture a garden and preserve the food at the end of the growing season, time to build our own homes, time to learn, and time with our partners and families. It is our way of embodying the over-used but still meaningful Gandhi quote “ Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Because our disposable incomes are fairly low (we are all independent from one another financially, so this varies from person to person), we don’t have the coolest clothes, or the latest styles – in fact, if you were to mention the names Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik you would get blank stares (but mention Chacos, Birks or Muck Boots, well, we’re your people!). We are trying to find real value in our lives, find what is good and true, without buying in (literally) to what advertising, movies, magazines and TV say we should value.

We don’t have hot cars, either. We’re really excited when they run and aren’t covered in mud – to heck with fancy paint jobs, rims that twirl or spoilers. We share them, which is often inconvenient – but we each save thousands of dollars a year by working together.

Strawbale construction. Notice all of the reclaimed (i.e.: de-nailed, used) lumber.
Photos from the Milkweed Mercantile construction.

By building our homes using materials that are primarily reclaimed, reused or sustainably harvested/produced, our costs are significantly less than those incurred with conventional construction (although they often take more time to build). By cooking with whole foods (i.e.: dried beans, fresh vegetables, homemade pasta and bread, cakes from scratch) instead of buying packaged mixes and already-prepared ingredients we get to eat healthier and for less money. Yes, it takes more time. But that is one of the choices we’ve made. Many Rabbits belong to a food co-op, where each member only has to cook one day a week – the rest of the days a fabulous meal is waiting for you every evening at 6:30. Do you always like what has been prepared? Possibly not. But it’s that prioritizing thing again.

Do I miss central heat and air conditioning, with that oh-so-handy timer so that the house can be warm before I get up in the morning? You bet I do – especially when I’m carrying in firewood. But it’s one of a million little trade-offs that I’m willing to make.

In the end, though, it is really not about the money. While one can certainly live here inexpensively, Dancing Rabbit is not intended to be solely a place for cheap living – our mission is to live sustainably and to share what we are learning. In exchange for membership and the opportunity to live on the land trust at incredibly inexpensive rates, each member is expected to participate in our growing community, and to contribute time and skills enabling our village to function well. This is also a lot of work – it is much easier to move to a community where everything is already decided. But what is it worth to be able to design a village based on principles and values that are important to us as individuals and to the health of the planet? To misquote the MasterCard commercial: for us, it’s priceless.


Stacey Nicholas said...

This is good. A good deal of the present "go green" campaign is about how easy it is. While some things can be done easily, I am glad to hear you discuss the challenges and joys of working in a community and working for the common good of the community.

Indiamommy said...

This is one of my favorite articles you written.