Friday, February 20, 2004
THE PRELIMINARY NOTES
Here are my major motivations for publishing this weblog: 1.I plan to take a road trip out West in a few months and would like to have a site to post my journal with pictures etc. 2.I also like the idea of journaling and making it public to lend an air of danger to it. 3.I want to have an outlet for any urges for creativity I may have - something not possible in either my current job or life elsewise.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE FIRST PERSON:
I live in a small city in central North Carolina. I have been married 9 years to a girl I've been living with for 11 years. We have two children, a 6-1/2 year-old boy in first grade, and a 19 month-old girl. We live in a ~3000 heated square-foot 2-story house with a 1100 unfinished square-foot basement and a 500 unfinished square-foot walk-up attic - we live in a nice middle-class neighborhood of mostly families like us. We own a Honda Pilot and a Honda CRV. We have 3 Dell computers in our home, and too many (6) TVs. We own a mountain of stuff (mostly junk) accumulated over our lifetime. We are among the masses formerly befuddled by affluenza, but now recuperating. My wife and I are what the current health-care climate would label as primary-care providers. We met during a 3rd-year clerkship in medical school, became close friends never intending to marry, but ended up couples-matching into the same University hospital for our residencies, then went ahead and got married during our second-year of medical residencies. After some initial struggles with paying off debts and turbulent health-care job-markets, we are now relatively settled.
We have recently chosen to dramatically alter our lifestyles in order to minimize our consumerism. We have chosen to reduce our work hours voluntarily in order to spend maximum time with each other - my wife actually does not work at all for now and I work 2 days per week. We have eaten out just twice in the past 2 months, whereas we used to eat-out twice a day everyday. We no longer visit malls, shops, or stores just out of boredom. We no longer ruminate over mail-order catalogs - we quickly dispatch them into the rubbish bin. We watch just a couple hours of television per week. We no longer buy toys for our son just because he asks for them. We frequent the public library instead of purchasing books online or in stores. We have completely stopped purchasing any soft-drinks and avoid purchasing junk-foods. We have however elected to keep our son in his private Montessori school for now but are very close to taking him out of private school. We have over the past couple of months been able to reduce our montly expenses by 35-50% by adopting this lifestyle. We have also found that we are actually healthier, happier, and more content with our lives (as well as accrueing money rather than losing it). The impetus for our change in lifestyle originated about 6 or 7 years ago when I first saw the Affluenza documentary on PBS. Over the years, I became more convinced that anti-consumerism was the way to go as we spun-out more-and-more into the suburban-middle-class-American nightmare. I recently re-looked at those PBS affluenza documentaries, read the companion book, and read Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robins' Your Money or Your Life. I finally made the decision along with my wife to embrace this wiser and more frugal lifestyle just 4 months ago.
WHAT MAKES MY LIFE FUN
I enjoy watching my son go about his life - he is a blue belt in Taekwondo, an activity he has been involved in for over a year now.
He has also been taking piano lessons since last year. He is discouragingly tone-deaf, but I believe strongly in the intellectual invigoration of a music education, and he is doing surprisingly well with music reading. My son also does well with reading, writing, and getting along with other kids - all things to make any parent happy.
I enjoy watching my toddler daughter develop into a human being - she can't really talk yet, but is able to communicate in a rudimentary manner. She is good at walking, running, climbing, yelling, and feeding herself. She can say "mama," "daddy," "eyes," "uh-oh," and "ish," as well as a conglomeration of primitive Ur-words. My son and I have grown fond of calling her "Ish" instead of her given name.
She has a very well-developed, strong, stubborn personality but also can be very gentle and loving. She has a sparse head of hair and can be very entertaining to watch. We humans have evolved to appreciate the rounded and outsized heads, eyes, and cheeks of babies, as well as the endearing clumsiness of a toddling child.
I enjoy reading books, magazines, journals, websites, newspapers. Lately I've been reading Time magazine and Sports Illustrated cover-to-cover weekly. I peruse my local papers weekly, read various news websites daily. I am currently reading The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. I most recently read for fun a bunch of books about Tea (Okakura's The Book of Tea, Pettigrew's The Tea Companion, etc.), E.Annie Proulx's most recent novel (I thought her worst to date actually) and Andy Rooney's Common Nonsense (aptly named and poorly-written for someone who claims to be a good writer). The best book I've read in the past 12 months? Actually it was Barrie's Peter Pan which I read to my son. This is a surprisingly well-written book full of subtle metaphors about life and sexuality. My wife and I have of course read dozens of books to our kids over the past year - some of our favorites: Pinocchio, Swiss Family Robinson, Roald Dahl's collection. Some books with critical acclaim but very shoddily written and conceived in my opinion: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Richard Russo's Empire Falls, and unfortunately Carold Shield's last book Unless. The last really fantastic book I remember reading is Carol Shield's Larry's Party. I wish I had time to read all kinds of novels, but because of limited free time, I've chosen to concentrate on award-winners and avoid all pop-trash novels though they can be fun sometimes. I like to read non-fiction too but they are usually pop-trash also - the last fun pop-trash book I read was Goldberg's (Goldman?) BIAS about the news media.
I enjoy watching movies like everybody else. Lately we've been renting videos every few weeks or so instead of purchasing DVDs or going to the theatres and such. There are very, very few good movies out there. It's hard to remember the last decent movie I've seen among the newer ones. One outstanding movie I saw on the TCM channel a few months ago was a silent movie called The Crowd, directed by King Vidor. I also thought the pop-trash movie The Hulk was very exhilarating and entertaining (I screened it by myself to see if my son could see it - I decided he should definitely NOT see it because of the stabbing the mother scene). I thought Tarantino's Kill Bill was absolutely awesome and can't wait for Kill Bill II. I think Quentin Tarantino's movies are absolutely horrible for society - it sustains and feeds the antisocial, druggy, violent American culture - yet, his movies are kick-ass entertaining as hell.
I enjoy keeping aquarium fish and reading about them - I own a small fortune in aquarium books and aquarium paraphernalia - a residue of my erstwhile affluenza.
I enjoy(ed) electronic merchandise - my most recent piece of hardware is the Kyocera 7135 Smartphone with its palm interface which I use at work for it's drugbook and other medical references. I have become addicted to playing solitaire on it during my down-time at work also. I sometimes use the photosuite on it, the MP3 player also. I enjoy making movies of my kids and taking digital pictures also - I have a Sony DCS PC110 which cost me about $2500 4 years ago, and a Canon G2 is my digital camera. I have sworn off drooling over more electronic merchandise including computers. Yet the disease beckons at various times.
I enjoy taking long (4-5 mile) walks with my wife through our city parks when the weather permits. I enjoy even more talking walks through national parks but vacation time is hard to use this way with 2 young kids. My wife and I have visited and camped at these national parks over the past 10 years: Big Bend National Park in Texas, Shenandoah NP in Va, Great Smoky NP, Yosemite NP and Kings Canyon NP and Sequoiah NP in CA, Mt.Rainier NP in WA, Grand Canyon NP in AZ, Petrified Forest NP in AZ, Bryce Canyon NP, Zion NP, Arches NP in UT, Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP in WY, Badlands NP and WindCave NP in SD, Fundy NP and Cape Breton Highlands NP in NS. Before our kids came, we used to be semi-avid mountain bikers and our most memorable biking trip was on the Tsali Trail in the NC mountains back in the early '90s.
I used to think I enjoyed travelling. My wife and I took a European trip to Paris, Florence, Venice, Milan, Luzern back in '96 and had a blast. We've been on one Royal Caribbean cruise to Jamaica, Bahamas, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel and had our fill with that decadent fat-tourist activity. I also went to Europe after my college graduation and visited all over Germany West (and East at that time), Austria, Italy, France, Holland, Switzerland. My conclusion is that travelling can be enriching and fascinating but after the first couple of days in any new location, ennui sets in quickly and you just want to get the hell out of there and back home. Places I'd like to visit before I die: Glacier NP in MT, Alaska and the Canadian Yukon, New Zealand, Kyoto and Tokyo, Patagonia, London and Thomas Hardy country, Sweden. If I don't get to visit any of these places before I die, I can live with that.
ON THE IDEA OF BEING NOMADIC
I'm planning on taking the family out West across Kentucky toward Kansas City, then up northwest into South Dakota, Wyoming, and to North Dakota before returning across Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, W.Va. This could occur at the earliest in June 2004 - it would cost us thousands of dollars in combined unearned income + expenses. This is a very affluenza thing to do but the itch to do a road trip is unbearable. I recently saw Ken Burns film about Horatio Nelson Jackson's automobile trip from San Francisco to Vermont back in 1904 (the very first transcontinental crossing). It put that urge to meander across the vast plains of the American Midwest back in me. Along the way I was planning to visit the various roadside Kitsch like the competing World's Largest Balls of Twine in KS and MN and the Spam Museum, and the Corn Palace, and Wall Drug, and the Giant Muffler Men etc. We wanted to show our son Badland's National Park and the last remaing herds of American Bison in the Dakotas. We also wanted to do some camping again. I'll post notes and pictures from such a trip here if we decide to do it. I saw Jack Nicholson's recent movie About Schmidt and I think this movie along with that HN Jackson story on PBS really got me into a roadtrip again. It's interesting how a compulsion to do something seems to be always a Multi-Step Process (like promoting the development of Cancer). About Schmidt made me think about the old movie Lost in America with Albert Brooks - my wife and I, 5-6 years ago, seriously considered selling everything we had and purchasing an RV to live in full-time. I read an RV life-style book, I researched RV life and technicalities. I investigated the expenses and the hardships of such a life. In the end, I met up with a man who owned such an RV and lived in it. When I visited his rather luxurious vehicle, I was hit with the stench of his bathroom. It seemed the smell of bowel movements and liquid wastes permeates your RV no matter how well you try to clean your plumbing. The typical environs of an RV park are rural ghetto - mostly destitute families living on the outskirts of shabby towns adjacent to major highways. The dumping stations of the typical RV park were rancid cesspools harboring unmentionable diseases requiring the donning of and frequent sterilization of Level-4 infection-control outfits in order to dump out your own black and brown waters. The Canyonlands vistas you always see in Winnebago ads are a brief fugue-state - in real life, you couldn't live day-to-day for sustained periods in such national parks due to excessive costs. Thus the rural ghettos of the highway RV park. I decided to abandon my idea of becoming an RV-lifer about 4 years ago.