A friend requested a bit of back-story about cutting the umbilical cords from the city. How did we do it?
I think the first umbilical that was severed was the desire and/or need to be there. At a certain point in one’s life, the city has a basic appeal. But that allure is eventually satisfied and the initial purpose of the city diminishes in many fundamental ways. It is, after marriage and children, no longer the desired bigger and best gene pool, for instance. For most people in their say, forties, interest in the gene pool wanes. But, by then, habit has taken over. Inertia is often the major influence behind how many people live.
After taking the kids away on a long journey one year, I came back with ambivalence towards urban living. I don’t quite know how that transition happened exactly but the ‘family adventure’ marked the beginning of my antipathy to the cul de sac. Somehow my inertia was moved. That was likely step one.
I then kinda aggravated my condition by ‘virtually’ exploring different lifestyles on the internet and quickly settled on off-the-grid-ism. Part of that attraction was the people I met on the Mother Earth News forums. I just started to look away from the city after our extended trip in 1999.
To be fair, the actual move was made much easier for us by our children soon being away at school. Both of them went to other cities to study. And that helped a great deal. After making sure they were settled in, we just told them that we were going and that their home would soon be gone. “You are officially fledged”. But a new home would soon be available up on a remote island. They handled that very well (just minor fledgling-like squawking and screeching).
Secondly, I have worked most of my life on my own. With a few short exceptions, the last twenty years were as a self-employed mediator and arbitrator. So there was no boss (‘cept Sal) and my work obligations were only as long as the current case. I really wasn’t tied to a career or a company.
Sal was, though, and so we waited until departing felt right for her. That took a couple of years. But the time was spent productively with me learning and salvaging, planning and dreaming. I put the time to good use. In effect I was in school. Put succinctly, even though our umbilicals were many, they were not strong and it still took us two years to cut ourselves free. More like four when you factor in the mental adjustment and learning time.
The actual umbilicals were pretty simple. I had eight telephone lines. Home, business, three cell phones, the kid’s phone, a dial-up internet and a fax. We had four TVs. Three cars. And cable TV. We had a lawn service, a pool service, cleaning ladies and two needy, insecure hair cutters that expected us every month. Plus, of course, we had friends and social circles, community activities and expectations to deal with. We were towing multiple drogues even when the seas were calm.
Probably the most illuminating moment in the whole process was a month or so before we left for our long family adventure around North America and Europe. Sally told me that we had to leave ‘money for the house’ while we were gone. We had just paid off the mortgage and so I was caught somewhat off-guard. “What for?”
After Sal’s lengthy listing of monthly payments from Hydro to phones, from car insurance to BC Medical, from lawn and pool care to personal insurance and cable and miscellaneous, I understood. We had to leave $1800 a month for five months or $9000 for a house that we were not living in!!?? I estimated that, at current tax rates, I was obliged to make at least $2500 a month NOT to live in my house!!??
It was then and it is still is, complete madness to my way of thinking. More than that — it is a form of enslavement. It was not right, healthy or even productive for me to live and work to pay for stuff that was attached to me like leeches. It horrified me. I was nauseated to think to what extent I had become a host to so many parasites.
You might argue that the umbilicals were not parasites but services. And the argument would, on the surface, be a good one. But for one thing: most of those services were only in aid of my being able to work. I did not have eight phones for fun. I did not have a lawn service because my legs did not work. All these umbilicals were supports for me to continue paying for the supports.
By the time I figured out where most of my time went, my gasoline went, why I had the clothes I did and how we lived our lives, I was convinced that, despite the golden hues, the umbilicals, habits, behaviours and overhead of it all were just subtle handcuffs. I was living to work, not working to live.
It was not in the least difficult to cut the umbilicals then. In fact, it was impossibly hard to stay after that realization. I couldn’t cut them fast enough.